General CBF

Unconventional Gifts

Doris Nelms with United Hospice of Atlanta reflects on the spiritual gift of hospitality, often overlooked amid the preaching, healing and evangelism that dominates the spiritual gift landscape.

“Doris, you have the gift of hospitality. Why aren’t you uncovering those dishes and serving the food?”

This came from a Vice President of our organization who was leading a promotional meeting for a new client.  I said to her, “I didn’t know I was needed to help,” to which she responded, “of course, you should help me serve our guests.”

A long time ago, a minister friend told me that I had been given the gift of hospitality and my question to him was, “Why do you say that?”  He said, “You are always helping; in the kitchen serving or washing dishes; welcoming people; do you not know that you have the gift of hospitality?”

No. I didn’t know there was a gift of hospitality. In Sunday school studying gifts, I’m sure there wasn’t a hospitality gift listed.

When I was teaching high school, I remember reading Romans 12:6….”we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let each exercise them accordingly…or he who teaches in his teaching…” Aha! I had the gift of teaching. I was the oldest child of four when my teaching practice began. Then I was a high school teacher, a college instructor and a corporate trainer. So the gift of teaching is instinctive, natural; it is something I am good at doing and something I have been doing most of my 64 years. But the gift of hospitality? That’s more complicated.

Both stories occurred in different contexts, yet two different people named me with the hospitality gift. What do they see in me that caused them to say that?

I try always to be welcoming and I have a sensitivity to others, an intuition that has grown over the years. I notice the person in the crowd who is uncomfortable, which happens often when new students or volunteers come to me, so I make an extra effort to make them feel comfortable. I’m the person who pats the empty seat beside me or goes and gets an extra chair when there are not enough chairs, especially when someone comes in late and is embarrassed by the fact that the meeting has already started.

In my growing-up community I had many funeral home experiences.  And what I observed people said to grieving  family members was often shocking,  amazingly inappropriate or so out-of-touch with the pain of the moment that I was frequently embarrassed for those speakers who had no clue how their words were received or remembered.

I work with a hospice organization, so I spend an extraordinary amount of time with people who are sad, angry or feeling alone and lost, and my words are seldom comforting, no matter the words. Besides, they don’t hear my words; my presence and my touch, however, makes a world of difference. I learned in both settings that hugs speak loudly and you don’t have to “amend” anything said with a hug.

So whatever my gifts, I believe that people don’t need my teaching; they don’t need my words; they don’t need my advice and they don’t need or want me to be right or wrong with them. They need my presence; a welcoming, embracing, open armed hug.

And if I say anything, it’s usually, “I’m here with you, I’m here for you and I will be with you.”

The gift of hospitality? The extroverted teacher has learned that silence, hugs and presence provide all the space for someone to be welcomed, to be comfortable or to be comforted.

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