These thoughts arrive after a pathetic night of sleep due to Josiah’s cough along with his apparent lack of consideration for his dad’s mental and physical health when asking if I could retrieve a bowl of cereal at the ridiculous 3am hour. Isn’t it reasonable to expect a three-and-a-half year old to share concern over how much quality sleep his dad receives?
These days I'm learning just how hard and humbling parenting actually is. More often than not Josiah and Micah don't instinctually do what we've asked of them. They cry and whine and demand of us and as referenced, at the most inconvenient of times.
After a few years of working with the street community of Denver, the mentally ill, chronically homeless, and addicted much of the same things can be said. Many of those friends of mine cry and whine and demand of me and often it seems they do it most when I'm tired and emotionally and physcially drained. But they - those 'others' - often get a gracious pass from me. They're the poor and we've been told it's good and right to care for the poor.
Both the poor and children fall into the distinct category of Xenos, meaning a foreigner or stranger or as I have come to say, 'the other'.
And I acknowledge my terrible struggle with Xenophobia or the fear of 'the other'. And if I'm not aware of this phobia I react to the stranger in ways I will undoubtedly regret later. When it comes to my friends on the street, when I react to them out of my xenophobia I see them through the lens of judgment, I make assumptions, and I go through the motions of serving them because that's just what christians are supposed to do.
It's even more embarrasing when it comes to my own children. For them my xenophobia shows itself through carelessness, not listening attentively (at best) or when I'm especially tired, raising my voice and becoming angry to get them to fall in line.
The xenophobia is amplified in the relationship with my boys due to that phobia and insecurity that comes when I consider how they mirror and represent me. Ultimately, it comes down to my own feelings of shame or rejection. It's so easy to assume that I own them (notice how I instinctively call them my boys).
On Josiah's first birthday I had some friends of ours read the following exceprt by Henri Nouwen,
Children are their parents’ guests. They come into the space that has been created for them, stay for a while – fifteen, twenty, or twenty-five years – and leave again to create their own space. Although parents speak about “our son” and “our daughter,” their children are not their property. In many ways children are strangers. Parents have to come to know them, discover their strengths and their weaknesses, and guide them to maturity, allowing them to make their own decisions.
Father Henri is referring to transforming my xenophobia into philoxenia, meaning the art or practice of receiving a guest graciously. Nouwen's word for this in much of his writing is simply hospitality. Regardless of the context, relationship, or amount of sleep the question I'm being asked is "Am I being a gracious host?"
In Reaching Out, Nouwen speaks so well to this,
"When our heart is filled with prejudices, worries, jealousies, there is little room for the stranger. In a fearful environment it is not easy to keep our hearts open to the wide range of human experiences. Real hospitality, however, is not exclusive but inclusive and creates space for a large variety of human experiences."
Parenting or any committed relationship for that matter challenges us to create space for a large variety of human experiences. No doubt the range of experiences will include the strange and foreign which serve to stretch and expand our vision and understanding of what it even means to be human. The type of host we choose to become makes all the difference to the type of people our guests become.
I am unspeakably grateful for the opportunities I have to practice hospitality along with the grace I receive when my hosting goes bad...
...but, Lord, I could use another hour or two of sleep.