In his book, The Wounded Healer, Henri Nouwen says that hospitality is “the creation of an empty space where the guest can find his own soul.” I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea lately, especially in the context of need. The Bible is chock-full of the message that we should serve one another, putting others before ourselves, laying our lives down for another. What I can’t find in there is a caveat to this, if you feel like your need is greater, more obvious, or time sensitive. Everyone is in need, whether we like it or not, and everyone is called to serve one another. And Christianity is all about honesty, so we’re not called to pretend we don’t have needs.
What to do, then? How do we serve others in spite of our weaknesses? Maybe we’re not supposed to serve others in spite of our weaknesses, but through them. Maybe our need is an opportunity for us to be hospitable. Maybe inviting others into our vulnerability is the open door into that space Nouwen is talking about. It’s kind of a paradox, I know. Putting others first by asking them to come in and put us first?
In the idea of hospitality—of hosting—we say to our guest, “Come in and give me your time, attention, and presence, all for your sake.” We assume, really, that our space and company will benefit the person we’re inviting. With the idea of need—of vulnerability—we say to our guest, “Come in and give me your time, attention, and presence, all for my sake.” But I wonder if this has to be the case, or if the two ideas are not actually as divergent as we have made them out to be. Hosting can have elements of selfishness, and vulnerability can have humility in it, so maybe they overlap. Maybe there can be hospitality in our needs.