I don’t know why his words resonated with me so deeply.
Maybe it was because that day was the first anniversary of my father’s death, and my heart was raw from the emotion of approaching the “last first” in the calendar of grief.
Maybe it was because I was struggling to make sense of a friend who no longer seemed to care about me.
Maybe it was because I just needed to hear it.
Whatever the reason, I sat on a hard pew, blinking back tears, as I listened to a sermon about radical hospitality—actively embracing those in our society who have been marginalized, abandoned or disenfranchised. Although his words were more specifically concerned with the social upheaval of the summer, I took his message on a very personal level instead.
In the days that followed, I started thinking about how this concept of radical hospitality fit in to my life. To be sure, it is far easier to practice radical hospitality in the abstract—to issue a blanket statement of welcome and support to a nameless group of strangers. To write a check or change your Facebook profile in support of a lofty principle.
The world is awfully good at that these days.
But I think where we are in desperate need of radical hospitality is in our every day lives. In the seemingly mundane interactions with our family, our friends, the strangers we pass on the sidewalk and even our adversaries.
What if we approached a political or controversial debate with radical hospitality? Instead of shouting over each other, we could see nuances and admit to ourselves that there are more shades of gray than we often acknowledge. We would remember that respecting someone’s opinion is not the same as agreeing with it.
What if we practice radical hospitality with our friends? Instead of competing endlessly for things that don’t matter, we could appreciate the differences among us, instead of letting them drive us apart.
What if we practice radical hospitality with ourselves? What if we enthusiastically gave ourselves the grace that we give freely to others? We could relish in the small joys, and embrace the imperfection in our lives as a sign that we are living in each moment, instead of rushing through them all to win some imaginary race.
What if reacted to hostility with empathy instead of contempt? What if we met anger with compassion instead of more anger? What if we countered exclusion with inclusion? What if we approached an unfamiliar situation with vulnerability instead of arrogance?
What if we just love hard, even when it seems hard?
That’s what radical hospitality is at its core: loving hard—not when it is convenient or noteworthy, but when it is complicated and messy and uncomfortable. In the moments when everything in our hearts and our heads tell us not to. In the face of people who seem unworthy or unkind. After all, they are the people who need it most.
It’s not easy. It goes against everything in our “fight or flight” nature. It requires us to sacrifice our pride, our insecurities, and our self-righteousness on the altar of humility.
But try it.
Because when we do—when we meet those everyday situations with radical hospitality—we stop the cycle of animosity and loneliness and unhappiness from perpetuating itself.
Even if it’s just for one tiny moment, we show the person standing in front of us that there is something bigger and brighter and more powerful than all the bad stuff in the world combined.
What if we just loved hard? Even when it’s hard. Especially when it’s hard.
Author: Cameron Reeves Poynter
Image: Olivia Mew/Flickr
Editors: Emily Bartran; Yoli Ramazzina