When I came to Manna House this morning at 6:45a.m., I had to make a decision. The temperature was hovering right around 32 degrees. There were already eight guests waiting, lined up on the sidewalk and standing along the fence, and I’m sure most of them had spent the night outside. For the past few weeks, when the temperatures were in the 20’s, as soon as one of us who come early to plug in the coffee would arrive, we would open Manna House. To make people wait until our usual opening time of 8:00a.m. did not seem right when the temperatures were so cold. But this morning, with the temperature barely above or just at freezing, I had to decide, would I open early or not.
I decided not to open early. And perhaps this decision is like a lot of decisions at Manna House when we face great need with our limited humanity. Such decisions may not be right, but they are the decisions we have to make. You can’t be in the work of offering hospitality to people on the streets without getting your hands dirty in this way. Somewhere along the way, those of us who do this work for the long haul face our limitations and realize our energy, our love, and our patience are not endless.
This morning I was too tired, physically, emotionally, and spiritually to open the doors at 6:45a.m. I needed the next 45 minutes, before other volunteers arrived, and before the lists for the showers, for socks and hygiene, and Room in the Inn would be taken, to prepare myself for the morning’s work of hospitality.
I needed time to read, to pray, and to reflect. I needed time to experience something of God’s hospitality for me before I could offer hospitality to anyone else. I needed to prepare some soul space for offering hospitality. When I decided not to open, I felt my finitude in my physical, emotional and spiritual limitations, and I felt my fallibility in wondering whether I made the right decision to not open early.
In some ways this is yet again the question of boundaries in the work of hospitality. When do we say “no” and when do we say “yes”? How can we be consistent and committed for the long haul and practice sustainable hospitality? For three weeks we opened early during the coldest weather. But we can’t open early all of time. We would get worn down, exhausted, and unable to keep offering hospitality.
In the end as I prayed, I took some solace as I remembered even Jesus had to recognize his limits and take some time for quiet and prayer. “In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went to a deserted place and prayed there” (Mark 1:35), and, “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16) (and see also Matthew 14:13).
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