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The Hidden Art of Hospitality

alec vanderboom

(for Joann)

I started teaching First Grade Sunday School today. (I'm supposed to call myself a "Religious Education Instructor, but old Protestant habits of the tongue die hard). God played a great joke on me. My favorite grade got "stolen" from me during our RE planning meeting. I was so sad and convinced that I would find teaching the "little kids" exhausting after spending 50 hours a week caring for my own small crew.

I trudged up the stairs to an new classroom with a heavy heart this morning. Instead, I walked into a delightful group of four smiling faces, two boys and two girls. I love my class! They are so sweet. They are so talkative. I found our discussion today to be joyful and creative.

My job today was to "introduce Jesus Christ" and teach the Sign of the Cross. Jesus is our "friend" was the theme. So I started in this generic attempt to say "who has a best friend?" "what are some things that we do with our friends?"

The kids told me "My best friend is mean." "I have three best friends, one is mean, one was mean but now is nice, one is always nice but I'm not allowed to play at their house anymore." "I don't have any friends."

At first, I sort of thought they misunderstood the questions.


Going over to their house. Sharing toys, etc.

My hidden agenda was to say "just like we go to our friends house to play, Jesus wants us to come to his home in heaven forever!"

But the kids just stood there.

This playing at other peoples house, that wasn't something any of them did anymore.

I started to object--I remember going over to lots of friend's houses as a kid. But then I remembered. I HOMESCHOOL, and know lots of other sweet homeschooling families in my parish and its still like pulling teeth to get anyone to come over our house. It's once in a blue moon to get an invite to go over to THEIR house.

Hospitality is mostly a dying art.

Then it hit me that the Devil was pretty sneaky. Because if we're all "too busy" to have friends over to play. Or if all the Moms are too embarrassed to have people over because of the mess. Or if you have to set limits on "going over to X's house" because they have sinful MTV video's playing, or snacks with dangerous peanuts, or whatever else is going to harm your kid's spiritual, physical, or emotional health--

then when your Sunday School teacher says "Jesus is your friend and wants you to come visit his house in heaven" you give her blank looks. They don't have friends they can see. How are they supposed to understand a friendly Jesus they can't see?

Today at 11 AM, I just looked at four kids who all attend a small town elementary school and yet have no play dates to look forward too in the coming year--and said

"Oh no! Well you can all come over to my house!" (I meant it too!)

The smiles I got back were priceless.

I'm 37. I'm not in the least bit cool to a six year old. But Jesus wants me to extend friendship to 6 year olds and 86 year olds. My house is Mary's house, which means we're open for play dates and no one is a stranger in my parish family. It's a blessing to learn the art of hospitality late in life.