“Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space in which change can take place.” –Henri Nouwen, from Reaching Out
“Change” is a word which we have heard thrown about quite a bit this political season. There is no doubt a growing sense of disillusionment with the powers that be in our country. And like it or not “change” is inevitable. The question is not so much if or when change will happen but how. Each of us as individuals must assess how lasting change comes in our own lives and from that realization we can move to make change happen in the world around us.
How much energy do we expend trying to change ourselves and others?
We hate things about ourselves and vow year after year to live differently only to fall back into the same ruts of behavior and outlook. Everybody wants change and yet real change seems so illusive. Is it as simple as infomercials and talk shows make it out to be? Not likely, or we would see more change for good in the world.
To use an analogy from a previous blog—change has much more to do with gardening that building. We’ve all heard the saying, “You can’t legislate morality!” With this I am very inclined to agree if for no other reason than seeing the compelling evidence in modern society. Perhaps the best we can do is to create an atmosphere where change can happen—to plow the ground, plant the seeds, and provide proper water, sunlight, and nourishment for the things that matter most.
In my years as a campus pastor at SLU I saw student after student who had been raised in strict religious homes, who had been shielded from the corrupting influences of society by home-schooling or “Christian schools” (and I use that term very loosely because often “Christian” schools have little to do with Christianity or education, in my opinion) who, upon entry into a university for their freshman year quickly abandoned their Christianity in exchange for the path of hedonism and promiscuity. On the other hand I met a good many students who were genuinely seeking truth, who may have been caught up in heavy drinking and drugs and sleeping around then became sincere followers of Christ. And then there was another group of incoming freshmen who had been raised in Christian homes but who were given more freedom to learn Christ for themselves. This third group of students not only kept their faith but kept growing in their faith even in the midst of an environment that was at times very hostile to faith.
If we are to experience change in our own lives or to bring positive change in our world we have got stop trying to impose it on ourselves or on others. I have realized something about myself, and it only took me a good 30 or so years to figure it out—I am incapable of changing myself! As much as I hate certain things about myself—I am powerless over them. If I have experienced any change it has only come from making space where change can happen. This has meant coming to terms and accepting who I am with all my faults and accepting my own inability to change myself. Once that pressure is off then I’m open to the workings of God’s grace. It’s in this place that I experience God’s unconditional love for me as I am—warts and all! It’s ironic that in the very act of letting go, of surrender, of giving up, that the seeds of true change begin to sprout through ground of my heart. With this understanding change is redemption, renewal, restoration that can only be received as a gift. I have a profound understanding at this point in my life that any change that I have made for the better has been a gift—not from my striving and stressing, nor from my shame or my efforts to keep things hidden. What’s more is that as I have experienced this gift of grace I have been able to offer this same grace to others. How many times did I hate things in others only to find that they were the things I loathed about myself?
It is very tempting to think that change in this world is in the hands of politicians and power brokers, bankers and business tycoons. Yet change, true change comes from another place.
As Greg Boyd put it in his book Myth of a Christian Nation,
“When God flexes his omnipotent muscle, it doesn’t look like Rambo or the Terminator—it looks like Calvary! And living in this Calvary-like love moment by moment, in all circumstances and in relation to all people, is the sole calling of those who are aligned with the kingdom that Jesus came to bring. …Participants in the kingdom of the world trust the power of the sword to control behavior; participants of the kingdom of God trust the power of self-sacrificial love to transform hearts. The kingdom of the world is concerned with preserving law and order by force; the kingdom of God is concerned with establishing the rule of God through love.”
We can begin to live this type of love and to bring this type of change as you and I receive it, as we let God accept us, broken as we are.
God give me the grace this day to create hospitable spaces in every area of my life, whether with my coworkers, my neighbors, my family members, or the random people which I run across in the grocery store, on the road, or in the coffee shop. Help me to extend the same hospitality to others that you have extended toward me.
I offer you my fears.
Replace them with your love.
I am your student today.
Let me hear your voice wherever it may come from.
Let my eyes be open to see you, even in the places I wouldn’t expect to.