I haven't had the opportunity to read the book yet, but listening to Shauna describe how she views her life's calling to hospitality, I felt my heart moved within me. My husband and I have felt similarly, to the point of intentionally trying to orient our lives to open our homes to the people we live with. That includes the four kids that we have been given in our seven years of marriage, our friends, our family, our neighbors, and the people we work with.
It's not a new idea to me that hospitality is at the heart of the Gospel--it has been a transformative concept. In this presentation from several years ago, my friend Kelly gave me Scripture to rest on in my quest for hospitality: Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God (Romans 15:7 ESV). As I receive the hospitality of God, as I embrace how he welcomes me into his family with such genuine love and acceptance, I can in turn give this same hospitality to others--my kids, my husband, my friends, acquaintances, and even strangers.
Last year, though, I found myself in a new and uncomfortable place with hospitality. We were at a new school, and my husband's new job provided housing right across from campus. We were ecstatic--getting to host college students in our home at least once a week (and usually much more than that)...it was our dream! Like Shauna described in the podcast, we love to make our home a space for people just to come and be fully themselves and eat food.
But I found myself being apprehensive. I was an unknown to these students. They didn't know that I was funny or intelligent. I was afraid that all they would see was the fat wife of an English professor. Why would they want to take the time to get to know me? Why would they want to come into my house and share my food? I wasn't cool or hip or stylish (God knows that running after three small kids does not normally yield a rested and put-together mom...in my case, at least).
Every Thursday before our weekly coffee gathering, I would get nervous. What do I have to give these kids? These beautiful people? These skinny people? (Of course, the students ranged in body types and sizes just like in any other group of people, but in my mind, I was bigger than them all and I felt on the outside.)
I had to make a choice. In Shauna's language, I had to make the intentional choice to be present over perfect. I had to trust that the hospitality I offered was about loving these students well and not about how they saw me. If they chose not to come back because I was fat, that was just how it was going to be.
Looking back on this weekly choice I made, to be present as my fat and hospitable self, over being perfect, I see that there were (and still are) barriers to fat hospitality that I have had to push through.
1. I have to offer hospitality to my fat self.
When I am a guest in other people's homes or when I have people into my home, I am worried about what they will think about what I wear and what I eat. Is this top flattering, appropriate for the occasion? Do I serve 'healthy' snacks so they know that I am trying to be a good fatty (particularly the work-in-progress fatty)? Can I eat this delicious cake they are putting in front of me, urging me to eat up--and have seconds?--without them judging me? Do they have chairs that can accommodate my fatness? Ugh, I hate that I can't just go anywhere and know that I will fit--literally.
This is where offering myself hospitality comes in: I give myself permission to be myself, wherever I am. I am not just allowed--I am welcome to eat what someone offers me. I am not just tolerated--I am a beautiful and loved inhabitant of this flesh. Yes, I take up more space than a lot of other people, but I give myself permission to do so without self-condemnation. This is an important first step in fat hospitality. If I can't accept myself just as I am, how will other people believe me when I tell them that I love them for who they are? Jesus calls me to love my neighbor as I love myself...and that means offering my fat self the kind and generous hospitality of the Gospel.
2. I have to believe that the hospitality I offer just as I am is truly a gift.
Because I believe that I am called to hospitality, I crave to create a place, in my heart and in my home, where other people will come to rest and thrive. I want to know what's going on in their lives, I want to rejoice with them, I want to mourn with them. When I choose to open my home--and therefore myself--up to vulnerability, that means that people see me with their eyes, obviously. It's a risk, opening up oneself to being rejected, to being misunderstood, to being judged on externals, or just to being overlooked in friendship and life in general.
But in opening up my home and heart with hospitality, I also take the risk--the glorious risk--that these people will also see me with their hearts. I choose to have faith that the love and care I am offering to them by having them in my home will translate into the truth of how valuable they are, despite my physical appearance. Now, you may say--Of course people will receive this gift from you! You're probably right, but in a world that demands physical and decorative perfection, it's still something I struggle with believing. Do I have something to offer? Do I something worth saying or being heard about? Will others trust me with the details of their lives? Will they see that I am trustworthy? Caring?
I have found that in my feeble and brave and awkward and genuine attempts at offering this fat hospitality, my risk has been greatly rewarded. Friends made. Tears cried. Laughter shared. If I had hidden behind being fat, if I had let that keep me from opening up my home and my heart, I would be the lesser.
Now thanks be to God who always leads us in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of his knowledge in every place! (2 Corinthians 2:14 NKJV)
Originally published at FatinChurch.com in September 2016