Little Bits of Virtue: An Open Door and a Cup of Tea

My husband likes to tell the story of one of the first times he visited a women’s monastery, and one of the nuns offered to make him and his friends something to eat. Politely, they declined. She offered again, and again they politely declined. Probably knowing that there was no way a group of college boys could possible not be hungry, the nun insisted saying, “Listen. I’m not a very good nun. I’m not good at praying. I can’t sing. But I can cook. So please, let me cook something for you.”

I feel you, sister.

Showing hospitality seems to me to be the virtue easiest for each of us to cultivate. For all us Marthas out there (I know I’m not alone), putting our instinct for hustle and bustle into service for Christ is a tiny step in His direction. When I think to myself that I am miles and miles from ceaseless prayer or from inner stillness, I remind myself that at least I can offer someone a cup of tea.

Now, mind you, I’m not talking about dinner party, Pinterest-perfect hospitality. There is certainly some goodness in that, but perhaps there is a greater temptation for our deeds to be seen by others such that “hospitality” becomes a cover for vanity.

What I mean is something more like the everyday openness our homes and our hearts can have to those around us. In the midst of crayons on the floor, children who refuse to wear clothing, and a kitchen that probably only gets mopped every eight weeks, when it’s not glamorous and asks more of us than we were prepared to give–in that moment, when a friend or stranger comes knocking at your door, you open it to find Christ Himself standing before you.

I love this account from one of my all-time favorite books, A Severe Mercy. Sheldon and Davy, the couple whose story is being told, loved good conversation, books, and friends and were known for always having an open door, especially for young people who were coming to know Christ. One day, however, everything that could go wrong went wrong: it rained, the fireplace shot soot all over the living room, they were scrambling to keep themselves together, and then, Sheldon recounts

At that moment came a cheery tattoo on the door knocker. Davy and I looked at each other in the smoke with mad red eyes and, in unspoken agreement, did not move. The knock came again. We did not stir. Whoever it was—we never found out—gave up. Heels went away. Probably it was Jesus.

Opening up your door to friend and stranger in order to invite Christ in is a practice we can all cultivate. Even those of us who do not yet have our own homes can open our bedroom doors to our mothers, attend to the hearts of our siblings, talk to a stranger at church, and invite a friend who is struggling out to coffee.

An open door and a cup of tea (and a listening ear and a friendly prayer) can do wonders for the soul of another. Perhaps I am committed to this small virtue mostly because I’ve been so often on the receiving end of its joy and peace. I often think that the women who showed me that kind of kindness–who never minded when I just wanted to stop by, who said, “please stay for dinner,” no matter the night of the week or the state of their homes, who embraced me when I was in the midst of dark times–those are the women who have formed me into the wife, mother, and Christian that I am (trying to be) today.

In their attempt to serve Christ through me, I met Him in their gracious, tender love and care.

So here’s a small Lenten challenge, dear ones. Open your door. Put on the tea kettle. And then thank God that He has deigned to enter under the roof of your house.

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