Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Hospitality on the Tongue

by Bethany Hudson
"She opens her mouth with wisdom, And on her tongue is the law of kindness." (Proverbs 31:26)

As with so many virtues, hospitality begins in the home. And, not just when guests turn up. Hospitality begins with the family. Are you always ready with a freshly baked pie or batch of cookies for your weekly bible study? Try treating your family to the same delights. Do you light scented candles when your girlfriends come over for the evening? Maybe your family would feel appreciated if you made such an effort for them on a dreary night. Do you always find kind words to offer to that "difficult" someone at church? When's the last time you bit your tongue around your husband or kids when you wanted to give them a piece of your mind? You see where I'm going with this.

Your family ought to be the primary recipients of your ministry of hospitality. God has entrusted you with the especial care of your husband and children (or eldery parents or in-laws or whoever else may dwell within the four walls of the place you call home). It is always important, as Christians, to reach out to guests, neighbors, strangers--but never to the neglect of those nearest and dearest. Additionally, it's infinitely easier to serve those guests and neighbors and strangers with skill, ease, and a generous heart when we gain through praciticing hospitality on the members of our own families.

I'm not just talking about becoming a good cook or baker through practice in the kitchen each day, though practice does make...well, if not perfect, then certainly better. I'm not talking about having a clean house when unexpected visitors stop by because you keep it regularly in order for your family; though who wouldn't want to give up the perennial greeting, "I'm sorry the place is such a mess"? What I'm talking about is the heart of hospitality, the attitude, the discipline. The more we offer hospitality in our thoughts, words, and actions to our family members each hour of each day, the more practiced we will be in offerring a hospitable spirit to others.

One of the primary ways we can cultivate a spirit of hospitality in our homes is with our words. The beginning of Chapter 3 of the Book of James has a lot to tell us about the power of the tongue, namely that it can do as much damage as a forest fire! Jesus Himself takes a similar stance on the power of words to do evil, or at least to reveal that evil which is already present in our hearts:

"Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man...” (Matthew 15:17-20a, emphasis mine)

Here, we find that from the evil of our hearts, evil words are spoken. And, from these evil words, all sorts of sin may follow. Words are powerful. Whoever started the whole "sticks and stones" thing never took a good look at this passage from Matthew. Words can hurt--and not only the ones they are directed at but those who utter them, as well, since wicked words are the utterance of wicked thought and can lead to wicked action.

Incidentally, the most common occurrence of words that "defile a man" in families are often not intended to be evil or even unkind. They are intended to be funny. That's right: sarcasm, jokes, name calling, teasing. These things may not be malicious, but they proceed from evil thoughts--no that's not too strong a term--and they can lead to dischord and sin within a family.

I'll never forget an incident from my youth. My parents and I, all of whom consider ourselves to be accomplished wits, were eating lunch with my friend, Jonathan. Now, Jonathan's family was a bit of an oddity to many who knew them. A nice oddity, but an oddity nonetheless. He and his parents and three siblings were so nice. Oddly nice. They never argued that we could tell. They never called each other names. They loved being together--more than they enjoyed being with their friends. When you consider that at the time of this story they ranged from age 13 to age 21, that is pretty remarkable. What teenagers would rather be spending time harmoniously with their siblings than out with their friends--probably making fun of their parents and siblings or in any case ignoring their existence?

Well, Jonathan joined my parents and me for lunch one day. While we were eating, Jona went on a rather long-winded story about his last hiking trip with his family, during which he had obtained a rather impressive walking stick, which the siblings began calling the staff of Moses. After several minutes of non-stop storytelling, my mother exasperatedly, though not wholly unkindly said, "Hey, Moses, enough!" Well, that was it. Jonathan virtually refused to speak for the rest of the meal. Overly-sensitive he may have been (who isn't at 13?), but the root of the matter goes deeper. Jonathan, unused to sarcasm, name calling, and teasing was deeply wounded by my mother's words--words which in our family would have been laughed off...unless, of course, they hit a nerve. I remember being impressed with this realization even at the time. I told myself that that was what I wanted: a home where unkind words, even in jest, were so out-of-place that I would no longer find such sarcastic comments humorous but see them for what they were: the utterance of some part of my sinful nature that is attempting to pass itself off as cute or clever.

My husband also comes from a family of sarcasm slingers, so I can tell you that it is not easy to implement this in our family. But, I have a vision of our thirteen-month-old baby becoming a thirteen-year-old girl and sitting bewildered at a friend's table, wondering why anyone would find it funny to call someone a name or cut them down with a sarcastic joke. Brian and I may have to work to re-sensitize ourselves to the sinfulness of sarcastic language and teasing, but I pray that we will not work in vain, and that as a result, our daughter will never become desensitized to it and never
use it.

With the Psalmist, in the hope of Christ, I pray:

"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight,
O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer." (Psalm 19:14)


Bethany Hudson said...

Alicia (or Hannah, I'm not sure which of you posted it) I am so glad that you enjoyed my post. It's nice *meeting* someone else from WA! I hope to get to know you better in blogland.
In Christ,

Anonymous said...

It was Lanita who posted your article. I love your blog and glad that your post on the tongue was put on LAF, it was so needed in this day and age of disrespect from just about everyone.

Anonymous said...

I just went back to look at your blog. I didn't realize you live in WA. We are north of you, in Lake Stevens. I look forward to reading more on your blog.