What if we saw life as God’s act of hospitality to us?
Kathleen Norris writes that God extends “ever-present hospitality in both nature and other people” (Dakota p.202). The days we have been given are an invitation to becoming fully alive in God. As Moses put it, “Teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart” (Psalm 90:12).
Researcher Jane McGonigal recently noted in a TED talk that a study of frequent regrets made by people in hospice care–folks on their deathbeds–includes, “I wish I had let myself be happier.”
“Happiness” is one of those tricky concepts. It can lead us down devastating paths in pursuit of bobbles, bubblegum, and glittering unicorns. That donut won’t make you happy. (Really, it won’t.) But happiness is also a shorthand for well-being, that sense that things are right–in the ways that matter most–in our lives. After we’ve been around for a while, most of us start to realize that the path to that kind of well-being isn’t straightforward. In fact, sometimes the most brilliant moments of happiness stand at odds with what’s going on in our lives. This is the complexity of being human: joy and sorrow, healing and brokenness, life and death are rarely undiluted. Happiness sparks at the fission between those deep realities.Happiness can be elusive in rural life, not least because of the niggling sense that Big Things are happening elsewhere–maybe off in some air-brushed city. It can seem like our lives mirror the smallness of our surroundings. Happiness belongs to others.
At the same time, there’s so much to do in rural places. The kids can’t just choose one sport. If they don’t play them all, there aren’t enough players. And we’re sunk up to our ears in boards (school, community, church). It can seem like iron commitment defines us in small towns. Happiness is secondary to duty.
The common danger is that is that we lose the invitational quality of life. Just as in all places, God has extended hospitality to us, the possibility of living meaningfully where we find ourselves. We can be happy. God has invited us.
Perhaps we need to recover that sense of God’s hospitality–God’s invitation. It’s God’s invitation to be at home. It’s God’s invitation to be happy.