When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.
– Romans 12:13 (NLT)
Until recently, I always thought that the GREAT divide within the church was between married people and single people. It’s common to hear stories of married couples who essentially check out of their friendships with single friends, never to be heard from again. That kind of change is painful, and it causes the divide to seem great.
However I have recently been made aware of a different “great” divide: the divide between couples with kids, and people without kids. Prior to moving to Chicago, I hadn’t truly been confronted with this problem. Hardly any of my friends back home have children. Sure, there were the occasional conversations between young mothers that, try as I might, I could not break into. And sure there were times when I was never invited to walk around the mall with friends because I didn’t have a baby to bring along. Yes, those moments stung, but I had so many friends without kids that it easily rolled off my back.
Now that I live in a new place without that same network of friends, the divide has been thrown into stark relief. I don’t know why, but in the time I’ve lived here I haven’t met one married couple that does not have kids. Now, I wouldn’t mind that social dynamic at all if it weren’t so difficult to overcome. Some of the difficulty is due solely to the difference in schedules–once kids come along, you don’t have the same degree of freedom as you did before. That’s just a reality. But there is also a degree to which I can feel left out or even excluded because I’m not a mom. I can’t go on play dates. I can’t contribute to conversations about teething or potty training.
As a difficult as this has been, I understand why this happens and I don’t think it is AT ALL intentional. If I had children, I think I would be so delighted that I could not help but talk about it all the time! It is natural for moms to talk about their kids–especially since that is the main focus of their every days. Nor has every mother led me to feel like an outsider. Some of the women I’ve met have been genuinely welcoming and warm, going out of their way to reach out to me.
Having said that, my present circumstances are a great reminder that these divides between life-stages are fundamentally about hospitality. So often we define hospitality as the ability to put on a good dinner party, or how often you open your home to others. But hospitality is much more comprehensive. Hospitality has less to do with your dinner party skills and more to do with your lifestyle. Do you make people feel welcome? Do you spend time with women who are at different life-stages than you? Are your attitude, your marriage, AND your home all welcoming environments for others? You might be the Martha Stewart of table displays and casseroles, but you can still be an inhospitable person.
Living a lifestyle of hospitality takes work, and it is not for married couples alone. Every Christian is to be hospitable. What does that look like in practical terms? Well first consider Merriam-Webster’s definition of “hospitable”:
- Given to cordial and generous reception of guests
- Promising or suggesting generous cordial or welcome
- Offering a pleasant or sustaining environment
With these definitions in mind, consider the “environment” you create with your attitude and body language. Consider what your conversation topics and how you spend your free time are communicating to those around you. Are you someone who only spends time with people just like you? Are you only able to carry on conversations with people who have a family or background just like yours?
I would particularly encourage married women and mothers to reach out to single women and women who struggle with infertility. Too often we assume that these women wouldn’t want to spend time with us, that our families might somehow be a source of pain for them. This is almost never true. Sure, there might be moments of jealousy, but I have never in my life heard a single woman bemoan the fact that her married friends always want to hang out with her. Instead it’s just the opposite–it’s a blessing to be included.
So no matter where you are in life, consider whether you are a hospitable person. Do you have a hospitable marriage? Do you have a hospitable attitude? Do you exude a warmth of spirit that creates a hospitable environment wherever you go? Showing hospitality is not just for those who are naturally gifted, but for all Christians. It is how we strengthen our community, how we share the love of God, and how we show the world that our unity in Christ transcends our circumstantial differences.