Mind and memory are such a tricky thing, aren’t they? We don’t always have the luxury of controlling what we’d like to remember – or forget.
Some memories are as slick as a greased watermelon, big and colorful but impossible to hold for very long. Others lodge right behind your eyes, an interminable loop that grates your senses to a stringy pulp.
Some memories anchor the past to the present. Even when they’re good, that’s probably not the best thing, but when they’re bad, it’s downright awful.
What I’m trying to say is you can’t always choose what you remember and that can be frustrating.
Think about all the great speakers you’ve listened to–maybe your pastor on a Sunday morning or the leader at your weekly Bible study; a fantastic NPR segment or interesting podcast. Classroom teachers, special events, conferences, work training, political addresses, retreats or whatever…. We hear people talk a lot. But how much do you retain?
Me? Not so much.
Because I forget more than I can remember, I’ve started paying better attention to what I do recall, the same way I listen to my tears to hear what they’re saying.
I remember how you make me feel after we’ve spent time together.
This landed on my radar after I heard Shauna Niequist describe true hospitality as “when someone leaves your company feeling better about themselves than about you.” That’s not an exact quote – the only place it’s recorded is in my heart – but the sentiment perfectly articulated something I’ve sensed.
I’m not a grudge holder and don’t keep a running tab of injustice, but…if I’m honest…I have a hard time shaking hurt feelings. I don’t get mad. I have no interest in returning insult. I’m eager to forgive but I can’t seem to forget that kind of thing.
An assault on the heart leaves invisible scars.
This view of hospitality doesn’t wait for a party or large gathering; it can take place in every conversation you have. Every conversation you have is opportunity to encourage or discourage the person you’re with. Every conversation you have has potential to linger long after the words have stopped.
Do you routinely think how you’re making someone feel when you’re talking to them? What does your body language signal? Do you use your words carelessly?
Do you check your phone, thinking it’s okay because you’ve offered an excuse? (For all the good cell phones offer, they sure have made us a rude people.) Are your eyes scanning a crowded room, looking for someone else to talk to? Are you fully present in conversation or everywhere else but there? Are you engaged or just being polite? The thing is, people know whether or not you’re fully present.
Even a child knows whether or not you’re all there. Have your own children ever taken your cheeks in their tiny little hands and turned your face to look them in the eye when they’re speaking? They know.
This view of hospitality takes practice. It requires intention. It means you actually view people – family, friends, acquaintances, strangers…and even people you aren’t naturally drawn to – as children of God, worthy of love, acceptance, kindness, and esteem.
It grieves me to know I’ve hurt others by not being fully engaged when they’re right in front of me; to know I’ve considered myself more highly than them. To have used my words carelessly.
Not treating others well undermines your credibility. It damages your reputation. It makes me think less of you.
If you are in a position of influence, if you lead a ministry, or have opportunity to speak to groups, be careful.
Your peers, contemporaries and those who sit under your teaching, will remember how you made them feel, too. I don’t want you to misunderstand what I’m saying – God is whom we’re to magnify, the One to make much of, but careless words reveal our hearts and what we really think. I couldn’t believe my ears when I overheard a Christian speaker make fun of people who sit close to the front at events – she had a name for them, one I’m not inclined to repeat. I’ve never viewed her the same, but shame on me for not finding a way to lovingly confront her.
There is incredible power in loving well the person right in front of you.
Recently I was at a women’s retreat, and I found myself in conversation with one of the workshop leaders, a casual acquaintance. Her personal interest in me was unexpected. Even while we were talking, I was aware of how well she maintained eye contact. She asked questions of me and seemed genuinely interested in my answers. Later, we found ourselves together again. Our conversation went much the same way, so much so, I wanted to encourage her by telling her that the way she engaged others was a rare and special gift. She explained how a mentor of hers had challenged her always to love well the person right in front of her and she had taken it to heart. In less than 30 minutes over the course of two conversations, she esteemed and inspired me to follow suit, her actions a simple but impactful lesson in loving well. Though I recall little else about our conversations, she treated me like I mattered.
I have never forgotten how she made me feel.
Every one of us may not have the gift of hospitality as it relates to entertaining, but in light of this definition, all of us can – and should – practice hospitality. Maya Angelou captured it beautifully ~
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said,
people will forget what you did,
but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
…which I hope I’ll never forget.