I recently heard a sermon about radical hospitality, the unexpected and unselfish care of another person. The pastor, Judith Fulp-Eickstaedt, asserted that such radical hospitality is the beginning of dramatic change, and she gave two examples.
The first was Zacchaeus, a biblical figure who was not just a hated tax collector, but the chief tax collector, the man who skimmed off the top of those who skimmed off the top. When Jesus chose to dine with Zacchaeus, the community was shocked. Jesus’ radical acceptance of Zacchaeus led him to give away more than half of his wealth and restore four-fold anyone he had cheated.
The second example was that of mountain climber Greg Mortenson. When he nearly died descending from a failed attempt to ascend K2, the people of a small village in Pakistan saved his life and nursed him back to health, sacrificing their own food to restore his strength. Mortenson was so transformed by their act of hospitality that he made it his life’s work to build schools in the area, as related in his fascinating book, “Three Cups of Tea.”
So what does this have to do with relationship counseling? I want to suggest that every time we fight the urge to be defensive or critical, it is a form of radical hospitality. It takes radical hospitality to listen to your boss’ “constructive” criticism and simply take it in to consider if any of it might be partly true. It takes radical hospitality to listen attentively to your 5-year-old when you are tired and would rather watch the game, check email, or just check out. It takes radical hospitality to assume positive intent from your partner when a part of you fears the worst. It takes radical hospitality to turn toward your partner when it feels safer to turn away.
When given generously and with respect for the other, radical hospitality can be the beginning of change in many relationships. It makes space for the other person, softens defenses, and encourages win-win thinking. What would radical hospitality look like in your relationships?