Dealing with chronic illness while trying to live a life of hospitable welcome can seem downright overwhelming. But there is good news! Check out these 8 tips to living with both chronic illness and a hospitable heart.
Practicing Hospitality with Chronic Illness
“Go to bed Katie.”
She stood at my sink with her hands submerged in soapy water, scrubbing our dinner dishes.
“I can’t. I have work to do. I’ll just sit down for a minute.”
Watching her wash our dishes was so hard. I wanted to jump up, to rally the kids, to whip up dessert, and get the dishes done myself before I called it a night.
“Go to bed Katie. I know how to do dishes and the kids will be fine.”
She scrubbed pots and pans that our families had just eaten off of and turned to meet the needs of children as they ran past.
“I can’t. You are our guests and I need to be here.”
She stopped. Put down the dish in her hands and turned to me.
“Go to bed Katie. We are sisters in Christ and this is what family does. You need rest.”
I wiped tears from my eyes while I slowly made my way down the hall to my bedroom.
Writhing in pain, my pride had been wounded but my heart was full.
Chronic Illness and the Hospitable Heart
I have a chronic illness. I don’t need to go into nitty gritty details but it does complicate life. It has taught me much about God’s faithfulness, continual care, healing power, and enduring patience.
It has also taught me about my own sinfulness and selfishness. I don’t always handle this illness well, but God is faithful to use it to work in my very broken heart for His glory. For that, I am thankful.
As I said though, it does complicate life. Especially in the area of hospitality.
The questions I continually battle with include:
- What in the world am I going to cook that other people will like and I can eat?
- What if I get sick when someone is on their way or already here?
- How much do I need to do ahead of time so I can take a break if I need to?
The list goes on and on..
Everyone has difficulties in their lives. That is part of living on earth. It is part of the fall of humanity. It is a long-standing effect of sin. This suffering makes us long for the heavenly home which will enfold us one day and take away our pain.
Everyone also has struggles that effect our willingness and ability to welcome. My personal belief is that this is true primarily because Satan doesn’t want us to welcome. Our Christian lives and our evangelism are benefited so much by community that Satan wants to keep us far from it.
Consequently, we face hindrances to our hospitality.
Some of those hindrances, admittedly, come from within us like excuses and incessant busyness. Some of them come from external circumstances like finances and living space. Others come to us by way of providence, like chronic illness.
Chronic Illness ≠ Isolation
Just because I am chronically ill does not mean that my Christian life is meant to be lived in isolation. My illness forces me to be humble (admitting I am not super woman), patient (primarily with myself), and willing to receive (instead of feeling like I can be the ultimate giver).
I am Type A personality (no… I don’t know my ennegram type). I am very task-oriented and love the feeling of accomplishment. I don’t like to admit my need for help and I do my best to anticipate and meet every need, not only in myself but also in others.
When my illness reared its ugly head for the first time in high school I was sent into a tailspin as doctors tried to figure out what was wrong with me and I attempted to maintain my workload and volunteer activities.
In 2017, after several years of relative remission, my illness showed up again with full strength. In the midst of this, God has been teaching me more and more about the ministry of hospitality.
How to Practice Hospitality with Chronic Illness
Give yourself grace
You do not have to be the super human who opens her door to every available guest every day of the week and has a perfectly pristine home and well-behaved children. You would not expect this of a friend, you should not expect this of yourself, especially in a time of physical struggle.
Do what you can, but focus primarily on showing off the love of Christ. You don’t have to be perfect or have everything done perfectly. Life is messy and hard. Let people in to see that. This is where true discipleship, fellowship, and community are born anyway.
So often we want to give the illusion of perfection when our guests would benefit far more from seeing that we are just like them. Our lives are not perfect but we are moving together toward our perfect God.
Allow yourself to receive
You don’t always have to be the giver. I have several friends who are always giving of themselves. This is a tremendous blessing to me! But ,the times when their families have been sick and they have allowed me to come with a crockpot filled with dinner have been a tremendous blessing to me as well. I am blessed as I am able to be a blessing to them.
I am so thankful for the friends that call and say, “I know you haven’t been feeling well, why don’t I bring you dinner tonight?” Life is hard. Living it in relative isolation (something I have experience with) makes it feel almost impossible.
On a day when I have struggled to get dressed or out of the chair, a friendly face with steaming food and two minutes of distraction for my kids is so incredibly healing for my soul.
Allow yourself to receive. It will be a blessing to the giver. It will be an encouragement to you.
It is my genuine desire that my home be a place where people feel comfortable to stop over anytime! But, even if this is not your desire, you should plan for hospitality. It is a vitally important aspect of the Christian life (see why I say that here)! Welcoming others should be a part of our everyday. Hosting others in our homes is one way (but not the only way!) to do this. So plan for it.
My general rule is to plan dinners that could include two others along with one or two meals a week that could include as many as 6 additional people. Sometimes this means that we have leftovers for lunch the next day but most of the time it means that I am ready for unexpected guests who make their way into our walls. I love that!
Perhaps your illness means that you are truly unable to host regularly. That is ok! There are a lot of ways to welcome others that don’t mean as much of a physical burden on you (this post has some good ideas even though it isn’t specifically about that).
Sometimes it is not possible to plan ahead and, if you want people to feel comfortable to stop over regularly, it may not be possible very often. But, as much as possible, plan ahead. Know what is coming in your day.
Doing this allows me to schedule carefully. Because of my illness I know that asking my body to withstand more than one physically exhausting task a day is just too much. I cannot stand in the kitchen long enough to make more than one homemade meal a day. This means that if we have guests for lunch then dinner will be sandwiches or something similarly simple. I also cannot go from one outing directly into another. I used to be able to do this with ease but since my illness came back I cannot go from one party to another without at least a few hours of rest in between.
Those limitations are hard for me. However, knowing them means I am more equipped to truly welcome.
There are times when I need to welcome even when the circumstances are not perfect for my own wellbeing. In those moments I lean on the sovereignty of God, believing fully that He knows my physical needs and when something comes up out of my control, He also knows how to meet my need in the moment so that I can be a gracious welcomer.
Your physical needs will probably be different from mine. That is ok. Learn your limitations. Embrace them, not as hindrances to hospitality, but as gracious gifts from God that He will use to grow your faith in his provision and increase your creativity in hospitality.
I am the type to overplan. I try to fill every available space with something to do. Often that means having a planner that people are shocked to read but usually it also means exhaustion and things left undone. I honestly believe that this was a primary contributing factor in my illness coming out of remission. A body can only take so much stress.
This is one of the big reasons I believe my illness is a grace of God. If I overplan too much I won’t be able to function. If my days are too full I know I will need time to recover physically and mentally. If I spend three days without a break then I know I will need just as many days in my pajamas barely getting dinner on the table. This is not me being dramatic, this is life with my particular illness.
I think that is a grace from God because it is not good for anyone to live in complete busyness. We are not the Savior of the world; we need not act like it. Things will move forward, God will have His way in our world and our work even if we take time to breathe.
He has made us creatures who need sleep so that we are reminded daily of our limits and His abilities.
We work to glorify Him; we rest to glorify Him.
Easy does it
Don’t fall prey to the wrong idea that living a life of welcome means gourmet meals and perfectly kept houses. If you love to clean and your house is usually pristine, awesome! Go with that! If you are a chef and want to bless your guests with elaborate meals, that is great! Invite me 😉
But if neither of those are your giftings, remember you can do things simply and easily. You can order pizza and invite college students from church over. You can make a box of brownies, buy ice cream, and invite a young family over for an evening out. You can even invite people over for an afternoon conversation and serve them only a cup of coffee (or tea!).
Don’t stress, don’t try to give the illusion of perfection. Enjoy your guests and allow them to enjoy you. Welcome with your life rather than trying to impress.
Regular home prep and shopping plans
This ties in well with our previous points but I truly believe that regular routines for cleaning and shopping make life so much easier! Decluttering our house has been one of the BEST things for me as I deal with illness! If there is less to clean up, it follows that it will take less time to clean. I love that!
Materialism has taken far too much of a toll on our Christian life anyway in many places (America supremely) so decluttering is a chance to determine if something really benefits my family or adds beauty to our lives. If it does neither, why would I hang onto it?
Having certain routines in place like everyone picking up their rooms and making their beds daily, dishes done after a meal is completed, and a day of the week when the bathroom is thoroughly scrubbed really help to minimize the stress of guests coming. When the house is regularly a mess and guests are coming it is much more stressful and, as a result, much more difficult on a chronic illness.
This is also true, in my experience, of shopping plans. If I know I have food in the house for a week then I am not concerned when someone stops by because I know I will have a snack to offer them or a meal that can be prepared.
Those things have drastically reduced my stress level in relation to hospitality over the last year!
Welcome People to the Throne of God
Being honest, there are seasons that make hospitality hard. I learned from Rosaria Butterfield (who seriously loves hospitality!) that doors have hinges for a reason – they can close.
But that doesn’t mean that your heart should not still welcome. Sometimes our lives go through seasons where hospitality is difficult (like bringing home a new child, time after surgery, etc) and for the chronically ill person, these seasons may last longer than others.
But hospitality is about welcome. It is about an attitude that welcomes others truly. This can be done is variety of ways.
We touched on some earlier, like being willing to receive from others in a gracious way, etc. But prayer is often overlooked as a legitimate avenue of hospitality. Even if you can’t have someone in your home or go out somewhere with them, you can welcome them to the most important place – the throne of God.
How do we do that? We pray – earnestly, fervently, desiring their good and the glory of God in their lives. We bring their names and their lives before God in honest prayer. When we do this we are welcoming our family, friends, church family, and even strangers in the most beautiful of ways.
If you can’t physically welcome right now, embrace your God given position that puts you in a special place to welcome others to the home of our King.
If you, or a loved one, are chronically ill, hospitality can be a challenge. Remember there are a lot of ways that you can welcome. Give yourself grace and take it easy. Plan ahead and incorporate as much as you can into your regular routine. Bathe all of these efforts and the people you welcome in prayer.
Live a life of welcome and the God who gifted you with chronic illness will provide for your need and the needs of others He brings to you.
This is the latest installment in our Hindrances to Hospitality Series! Check out the rest of the series starting here!