In this series on being a neighbor, that is, on what it means to fulfill the second of the Great Commandments—“You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:39)—I want to look at what it means to be a neighbor to some of society’s most vulnerable people: orphans.
My wife is the hospitable one in our family. I’m more like the ogre who would rather stay in his cave while the world swirls outside. She’s taught me a lot about what biblical hospitality means and how to extend love to the people around us. She grew up in a family that regularly had people over for dinner, opened their home to foreign exchange students, and never met a stranger. She’s brought that culture of hospitality into our own home, shining a light on my own selfishness and lack of love for others.
We both knew that we wanted to foster and/or adopt children long before we met each other and were married ten years ago. Neither of us knew just how much it would stretch and strengthen our ability to be hospitable, to love our neighbors as ourselves.
The Bible is clear about the role that hospitality should play in the Christian life. We see it through examples such as Abraham entertaining angels in Genesis 18, Boaz extending mercy to Ruth in the book of Ruth, and Abigail’s caring for David and his warriors. We also see it commanded:
[Jesus] said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:12–14).
He [an elder] must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. (Titus 1:7–8)
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. (1 Pet 4:8–9)
It took me quite a while to realize that this hospitality can (and should, in my opinion) be extended to foster children. And, let me tell you, it’s one thing to sponsor a Compassion child (a good thing!); it’s quite another to open up your home, full time, to a stranger.
My family has been fostering Andrew[i] for nearly two years now. There have been lots of lows, and not a few highs. It’s made us stronger as a family, and it’s shown us the heart of God for other people. There were many, many nights during that first year that I didn’t want to be woken up by a screaming child who wasn’t “mine.” And for a while, I resented that my wife lost so much sleep caring for another couple’s child. And I struggled with having to devote attention to Andrew when I’d rather be spending time with “my” kids. If you’re a foster parent and experience similar things, you’re not alone (and please email or Tweet at me if you don’t already have a support system).
What does this have to do with hospitality? God used Andrew to peel off a lot of layers that sin, selfishness, self-importance, and lack of love that I didn’t even know were there. It turns out I was fine being hospitable to people so long as they left my house after dinner. The real test—if that’s the right word—came when God put a completely helpless, dependent-on-us-for-everything person in our home. That is how I learned what hospitality really looks like. And it looks just like you’d expect, I suppose: putting others above ourselves, counting another’s needs as more important than ours, deeming another’s well-being more important than our sleep, and all the other ways we are tempted to love ourselves when instead we should be loving our neighbor.
Friends, I’m not writing this to make anyone feel guilty or to uphold myself as some exemplar of hospitality—spend a day with me, and you’ll know I’m not that. I’m writing to urge you to consider how loving our neighbors extends beyond welcoming guests for dinner or a few nights in our homes. It means, at least in part, welcoming children without homes into our own homes for however long God will have them there and loving them as we love ourselves—that is treating their wants and needs the same way we would treat our own wants and needs. That kind of hospitality is hard.
[i] Name changed to protect privacy.
Russell L. Meek (PhD Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) is a speaker, writer, and professor who specializes in the Old Testament and its intersection with the Christian life. You can visit him online at RussMeek.com.