Monday, August 18, 2008

Hospitality On the Tongue

"She opens her mouth with wisdom, 
And on her tongue is the law of kindness." (Proverbs 31:26)
Nowadays, we tend to think of hospitality as something that we offer guests. And while it's true that hospitality, like so many things, begins in the home, it's not just for the visitors. I may be ready with a freshly baked pie or batch of cookies for my weekly bible study, but can I truly call myself a hospitable woman if I never treat my family to the same delights? 

Do you enjoy lighting scented candles when your girlfriends come over for the evening? Maybe your family would feel appreciated from the same offering on a dreary night. I may find kind words to offer to that "difficult" someone at church, but what does it matter if I daily fail to bite my tongue around my husband or kids when I feel like giving them a piece of your mind? You see where I'm going with this.

My family ought to be the primary recipients of my ministry of hospitality. God has entrusted us with the especial care of our husbands and children (or eldery parents or in-laws or whoever else may dwell within the four walls of the place you call home). It's 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 practicing 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 offering 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)

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 discord, sin, and ultimately division 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, I'll call him Joe. Now, Joe'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. 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's pretty remarkable. What teenagers would rather be spending time harmoniously with their siblings than out with their friends?

Well, Joe joined my parents and me for lunch one day. While we were eating, Joe 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. In the middle of this retelling, my mother exasperatedly though not wholly unkindly said, "Hey, Moses, let someone else get a word in!" 

Well, that was it. Poor Joe virtually barely spoke 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. Joe, 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. Never again did I want to pass off my sin 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. We 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)


  1. That's so true! Both DH and I are very bad at that. I know that I'm often unkind to my 11 year-old and then I see his face. I don't mean to be unkind, just to get my point across, but it hurts him just the same. I love him so much and I need to show it in everything I say and do. Thank you so much!

  2. Bethany,

    What a beautiful post! I'm also very sensitive to sarcasm, even in the form of jokes. I hope to build a home where everyone feel loved and welcome.

  3. First off, the more I'm retroactively reading through your blogs, the more amazed I am that I didn't take the time to read it sooner. You are an amazing person and a deep thinker.

    I agree completely on this point. I had my own sarcasm-conversion when I was about 14 years old. I was smart mouthed, incredibly quick witted, and had a devil of a tongue. I took so much pleasure at being able to talk circles around anyone who dared to oppose me, and I wore it as a badge of honor.

    I don't know how it came about, but one summer, I realized that my brain was not primarily meant to cut down my peers, and I literally went cold turkey on "humor" with dark undercurrents at that tender age. In many ways, it was a defining moment that built the foundation for the man I was to become.

    I think your plan for pure and loving speech within your household is commendable!

  4. Wow. What a thoughtful post.

    Our family tends to have a very dry sense of humor and often employs sarcasm and/or jesting as a way to communicate .... but I'm rethinking that now.

    This was a key line for me: "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."

    It's funny, because I've been thinking about this topic for awhile now, but you really put it together for me. Thanks.

  5. A few years ago I was reading a book written by one of Saturday Night Live's first comedy writers.(Unfortunately,at the moment I remember neither the author's name nor the book's title) At a point in his life when he had strayed very far from God he visited a monk friend he highly respected,and told him a dumb blonde joke he'd created.The monk listened carefully but was puzzled by the punchline.The author repeated it again thinking the monk didn't get it,and this time the monk was silent a few moments and then said,"Well, that isn't a very kind thing to say about anyone,is it?" At that the author's pride at his cutting edge wit deflated, and profoundly affected by this exchange,he eventually left Saturday Night Live and the world of biting sarcastic comedy for a more spiritually positive lifestyle.He also returned to God.

  6. What a wonderful post! And I agree with you. May I put a link on my blog to this post?

  7. Lara- Certainly, you may link to this post. I would be flattered. And, thank you for asking my permission first.


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