I was on a walk the other day with a troubled friend. She was troubled not because of circumstances going on in her own life, but because of the circumstances of people with whom she walks closely. Two of her friends are ending a decades-long friendship with each other.
There was no betrayal, there was no one-sidedness, and no socially awkward situations. The reason this formerly treasured relationship is being dissolved is due to spats over political differences and protective mask-wearing philosophies. ‘Tis the season, right?
The more my friend and I walked and talked, analyzing the situation, the feelings involved, and the words uttered, the root of this relational fracture became clear to me. It’s not a political issue. Or a personality issue. Or a philosophical issue. It’s not even an anger issue or a pride issue (well, maybe).
It’s a hospitality issue.
As most of us gather around a Thanksgiving table with friends and family, we tend to think we’re engaging in hospitality—especially if we’re the ones hosting. But in a controversy-fueled, pain-filled, divisive election year in the midst of a pandemic, there is a need for biblical hospitality to adorn our tables, lace our hearts with grace, and season our speech with love.
For a long time, my understanding of hospitality was wrong. I assumed I had the gift of hospitality because I’m at ease with entertaining—no matter the size of the crowd—because I’m a decent cook, and because I’m relatively friendly.
But just a few years ago I read a book that radically and eternally challenged my perception of hospitality. In that book, The Gospel Comes with a House Key, author Rosaria Butterfield writes:
“Living out radically ordinary Christian hospitality means knowing that your relationship with others must be as strong as your words. The balance cannot tip here. Having strong words and a weak relationship with your neighbor is violent. It captures the violent carelessness of our social media–infused age. That is not how neighbors talk with each other. That is not how image bearers of the same God relate to one another. Radically ordinary hospitality values the time it takes to invest in relationships, to build bridges, to repent of sins of the past, to reconcile.”
Butterfield’s words ultimately pointed me to what Scripture says about biblical hospitality. 1 Peter 4:8-9 tells us: “Above all, maintain constant love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining.”
The church in Peter’s day was suffering hardships and persecution. Christians were obliged to share what they had with those passing through who were attempting to find refuge. And they were to do so without complaining.
This should be an object lesson to those of us who claim Christ as we break bread with those who share—even ardently so—differing opinions from ours. Peter was writing to the church about persecuted believers with trials. Yes, that’s an exponentially more dire situation than many of us face amid pandemic-related suffering and ideological squabbles. But we can apply the same principles as we strive to approach this holiday season with a spirit of charity and biblical hospitality when we encounter loved ones who like to debate. In fact, the gospel demands we show preference to such people.
Most of us haven’t had the best year of our lives, and we’re in need of grace. Earlier this year, Bible teacher and author Jen Wilkin posted this message on social media: “Friends, if you are feeling like you’re not the best version of yourself right now, remember that everyone you interact with is likely feeling the same. Kindness and gentleness and generosity of spirit will see us through.”
2020 hasn’t been a great year for most of us. Let’s show hospitality, setting aside the short-lived satisfaction of “winning” an argument with someone who belongs to a different ideological tribe than us.
Christlike hospitality defers to the other. It says, “I care more about your soul and our relationship than about the secondary issues that divide us.”
A Resolve to Be Peacemakers
With the earthly relationship in mind, we should approach our Thanksgiving tables with a resolve to be peacemakers. Long after the dishes are cleared, the leftovers are consumed, and goodbyes are said, we will have each other. Hospitality is about making sacrifices—let’s sacrifice our desire to be “right” for the sake of our relationships.
But keeping the peace with people at our Thanksgiving table goes far beyond the preservation of treasured relationships. Our commitment to show kindness, patience, and humility when our ideologies are challenged bears witness to the power of the gospel. The most important impression we can leave on our Thanksgiving companions is not how skillfully we “owned” someone in a political debate.
We leave an eternal imprint when we demonstrate the sufficiency of the Holy Spirit to quench ideological bloodlust at what should be a joyous occasion. And in doing so, we point those who are far from God to the peace that passes understanding—and invades our hearts and covers our speech when we’re tempted to let pride have the final say. Let’s show them a better way.
Tensions run high. The conditions are primed for holiday season disagreements. As we prepare to gather with those most dear to us, may peace wash over our hearts as well as our tables as we show preference to those who disagree with us. And in doing so, may God be glorified.