Carolyn Lacey: How to See People
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Carolyn LaceyCarolyn is a writer, speaker and pastor’s wife. She serves alongside her husband, Richard, in Worcester, UK, where they live with their two teenage children. She teaches the Bible regularly at women's events and conferences, and loves looking for ways to apply God’s grace to the mundane moments of ordinary life.
So few of us really “see” people, giving them our time and presence. Author Carolyn Lacey discusses welcoming non-Christians into our lives like God does.
Carolyn Lacey: How to See People
Carolyn: You know, let’s not assume that everybody needs the same from us; you know, look around: “Who seems a bit distracted this week?” or “Who do you know that might be caring for an elderly parent or a special-needs child?” or “Who’s gone through a difficult life situation?”
- What will be most helpful to them?
- What will most communicate God’s love?
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: People that have visited our house for dinner, or an afternoon—or you name it, even just if it’s an hour—when they get to the front door, and we’re saying goodbye, they always say the same thing. What do they say?—always! I mean, like it’s not 99 out of 100; it’s 100 percent of the time.
Ann: They say, “Dave Wilson has the best football stories ever.”
Dave: No, that is not what they say. [Laughter]
Here’s what they say/they usually—I said 100 percent, so I can’t say anything’s
100 percent—but almost every time, they say, “We just had the greatest time with you guys! We don’t know why, but it was just great. Thank you! Blah, blah, blah.” And then, they leave.
And I know why. Come on! You don’t want to say it, because—
Ann: Well, I’ve heard you say this before. You think it’s because we’ve asked them questions the whole evening.
Dave: No, not ”we,” you! [Laughter] You ask questions; you just invite them into conversation.
Ann: I love hearing people’s stories. I love to hear what they’ve done, what they’ve been through, how God has worked; or maybe, their frustration with God. I’m fascinated by those stories.
Dave: Yes; and I mean, I always chuckle, because I’m like, “The whole time you were here, it was about them,” which is what you designed it to be. You’re just great at this!
Ann: Aw, you’re so nice. I don’t feel like I am that good at it.
Dave: Oh, you’re good at it.
Anyway, we’re talking about this because we are talking about hospitality today with Carolyn Lacey, who wrote a book on this. [We’ve] already had a great conversation. Carolyn, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Carolyn: Thanks! It’s great to talk to you again.
Dave: And I love the title of your book: Extraordinary Hospitality (for Ordinary People).
Ann: That Ordinary People: that pulls us in, for sure.
Dave: Yes, because that’s who we are and how most of us are. We have a tendency—we’ve already talked about this a little bit—to think people that are really good at hospitality have a gift that we don’t have. That’s not true at all; is it? It’s really something every single person can do; am I right?
Carolyn: Yes, definitely. And interestingly, the commands in the Bible to practice hospitality or to offer hospitality without grumbling—they are not given to pastors or church leaders—they’re for all of us. And I don’t think you have to have a special gifting; you don’t have to look a certain way; do things a certain way. We’ve all received God’s welcome, and so we can all show His welcome to others.
Ann: When you say: “The heart of God is a heart of hospitality,” what do you mean by that?
Carolyn: God loves to welcome people into relationship with Him—He delights in it; He doesn’t hold back—He’s not half-hearted and grudging. He’s not like: “Oh, look at these people, messing up life! I’d better go and try to do something.” But He delights in drawing people into relationship with Him, and His heart is for people.
Ann: When I was young in my faith, I used to come before God—if I hadn’t been with Him, reading the Bible or praying in a day or two when I was young in my faith—I used to think He was so disappointed in me that I hadn’t been there more often. And the older I get, the more I’ve understood His love for me. All I feel when I come before Him is: “I’m so delighted! I’m so excited to be with you today!” And that self-condemnation; I don’t think that was from God, because He’s always delighting in being with us.
As we experience that, that’s helped me to delight in other people and being in their presence. Have you experienced that, Carolyn?
Carolyn: Yes, definitely. The more I reflect on the way God delights in me—inspires isn’t a strong enough word, really—the gratitude just overflows; doesn’t it?
Carolyn: You delight in sharing that same welcome to others. When you were sharing that, I was thinking about the story of the prodigal son, and the father runs to him—
Carolyn: —to put his arms around him. That’s how God welcomes us. You know, even as you think about that picture, it makes you want to run to someone to do the same for them.
Dave: Well, you know, it’s interesting; you quote 1 Peter 4, which I, as a pastor, have taught on before, which says, “Practice hospitality without complaining.” I’ve got to be honest; there have been times where I’ve practiced it in complaint—you know, afterwards—or even sometimes it would be like Ann is trying to get the house perfect.
Ann: That’s true.
Dave: It means I’ve got to do a lot of work; and I’m the guy walking around like, “It doesn’t matter; it doesn’t have to be absolutely perfect.” But we sort of have this idea that we want our house and everything—the meal—just to be pristine.
Is that what we’re going for?—or should we sort of lay some of that away and say, “It doesn't have to be perfect. You can do it in an ordinary way, and you can actually do it without complaining.”
Carolyn: Well, I mean, that’s what makes it so burdensome; isn’t it?
Carolyn: You know, the thought of all the work before-hand, getting ready; and then all the work afterwards, recovering and clearing up. That’s what makes that kind of hospitality feel really overwhelming and exhausting. It’s a big burden. If we could relieve ourselves of the pressure of that, I think that would help with the not complaining.
I mean, it strikes me that what Peter’s saying there is: “Don’t just do hospitality, but be the kind of people who love to do it,”—you know—“Don’t have an inner grumble.” Because some of us, myself included, can be quite good at doing it nicely; but inside, thinking, “Really? Are they still here?!”—you know, there’s an inner complaining.
I think—yes, getting rid of some of that pressure that it’s got to look perfect, that I’ve got to clear up—really, what we want to do is welcome people into our lives. And our lives aren’t pristine; they’re complicated, and they’re messy. You know, there are jobs in the house that need doing; because that is real life. If we want to invite people into our real life, they need to see that. We’re on a tight budget, so food isn’t always fancy. If we’re inviting people into real life, they need to see that.
It’s kind of a fake hospitality—isn’t it?—it’s a very superficial hospitality if it’s all about the surface—what looks good; what’s impressive—rather than: “This is what my life’s normally like, and I’m just glad for you to come and share it with me a little bit.”
Ann: I remember hearing a story of a young woman, who was invited to a house where they were believers, and she wasn’t. She was super skeptical—you know, like, “Oh, they’re going to share the gospel! This is all about them wanting me to give my life to Jesus,”—and so she had this idea of what her time would be. She said, “Yes, I’m going to come.” She was dreading every minute of it, coming into the front door.
I remember her saying, “I walked into the front door. The house is a wreck! There was laundry that needed to be folded; there’s a laundry basket that’s sitting there. The kids were all young, and they were running around the house.” She said, “It was nothing like I thought. I thought she would have everything perfect.”
Then, the woman who invited her said, “Hey, can you watch the kids for a second? I need to do this.” So they’re kind of doing dinner together. She didn’t have anything made; she said, “Could you help me make dinner? I don’t know what we’re having.” She [unbeliever] said, “I was brought into this family. I thought it was going to be so awkward as I sat, and they asked me questions.” She said, “I was brought into their mess, into their realness, into their home.”
“And it is so funny,”—she said—“And then, they prayed.” And she said, “They sang a hymn!” She goes, “I didn’t even know what was happening! All I remember is thinking, ‘I want this. I want to come back to this messy, beautiful, real family, and this Jesus that they just portrayed. Because their life looks messy like mine; and yet, they allowed me to see that and they allowed me to be in their prayer.” She said, “It was one of the most intimate things I’ve experienced.”
And she started coming back, week after week. They would just invite her and some other people. She ended up giving her life to Christ, and the main reason is she saw Jesus in them. They let her into their world, the messiness of it.
Dave: You know, that story is a non-believer who had different beliefs about sexuality and different things, coming into a Christian’s home. You comment about that as you write about this. How do we approach that kind of thing?—you know, different beliefs/different people coming into our home, in terms of hospitality?
Carolyn: I think we just do what Jesus did. I mean, the story in John 4 of Jesus approaching the woman at the well, and striking up a conversation with her, is our model. She wasn’t living a particularly clean life. We don’t know all the details; but certainly, there’s suspicion around her. Jesus didn’t hold her at arm’s length, and I don’t think He asks us to do that too. I think a good thing to remember is: the goal is not to get somebody converted on the first night.
Ann: Right; right.
Carolyn: You know?
Carolyn: Otherwise, we’re not going to have them back. The goal is to just start to see people as they are, and to love them as they are, and to pray for opportunities. And people catch on really quickly if they know they’re just a project.
Carolyn: But I think, if they know that we really do love and care for them, and interested in them, that makes a difference. We’ve tried to do that with our neighbors, and they do come to some things at church with us; but they also know that it doesn’t matter if they say, “No.” We’d still like to hang out with them—we’d still like to go out for a curry with them; we’re still happy to help them—because we actually really, really like them and are interested in them.
I think we just follow Jesus’ example there, and ask the Spirit to work if He will. But if we don’t put ourselves in the place of loving those people, who will?
Dave: That’s a great comment.
You know, I want to dive into some of—you talk about seven ways to welcome like Jesus—I want to get your thought on this before you jump in there; and that’s this: when you offer your home—or somebody—welcome/inviting them in, and you’re married—now, it’s a married situation, because you have a husband or a wife, who may or may not think differently about this. Like, sometimes, I’m complaining when Ann’s inviting someone over; maybe it’s the other way around.
How does it work as a couple?—and you might have kids!—so it’s really a family thing. It isn’t just me being hospitable; it’s us. Is there tension there? Do you have to get on the same page? What can that look like?
Shelby: You’re listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Carolyn Lacey on FamilyLife Today. We’ll hear Carolyn’s response in just a minute; but first, as a listener of FamilyLife Today, we know you believe God does some of His most amazing work in homes, just like yours—whether that’s a small group Bible study, or laughing on the floor with your kids, or sharing a meal with your neighbors—the home can be the launching pad for God’s work in this world.
You can help make an impact for more families and spread that vision by financially partnering with FamilyLife. All this week, as our thanks for your partnership, we want to send you a copy of Carolyn’s book. It’s called Extraordinary Hospitality (for Ordinary People). You can get your copy when you give this week at FamilyLifeToday.com or when you call with your donation at 800-358-6329; that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Alright; now, back to Dave and Ann’s conversation with Carolyn Lacey and being hospitable, as a married couple, especially when you have different personalities.
Carolyn: Yes, I think a good thing to do is pray together. I’ve been talking with a friend about this; because she is a grade-A extrovert, and her husband is an off-the-scale introvert. So this is a challenge for them. I’ve encouraged them to pray together, and maybe set some realistic expectations: “Is it okay if, on this night, every other week, we maybe have somebody from small group ‘round?” We’ll talk about who it’s going to be and how it’s going to go.
But that doesn’t mean that the extrovert can’t be hospitable the rest of the time; but maybe, in a way that’s sensitive to the family: maybe meet somebody for lunch in a work break, maybe invite someone out for coffee. Perhaps say to your introvert husband, “You go home and get the food on after church, and I’m just going to go for a walk for half an hour with that person who I saw sitting on their own.” We can also be creative and think of other ways to show welcome that are perhaps sensitive to the people we live with.
I mean, similarly, if you live with unbelieving family, you want to be sensitive about that. You might want to be creative and look for opportunities to show welcome to people outside the home sometimes.
Ann: Are you and your husband always on the same page in how you’re doing this and what it looks like? What’s he like?
Carolyn: Well, he’s a pastor, too; and he’s just shuttered most of the time; because life’s really full-on, and he’s out a lot—
Carolyn: —at meetings. If you’ve got one free evening a week, sometimes, he’ll just think, “Carolyn, I’m completely depleted of all my energy; it’s not going to work.” And we’ll just talk about it: “Is this the right week?” And sometimes, it isn’t; and I can see that. And sometimes, we both say, “We’re not really up for it, but we need to push on through.” And we end up being really encouraged and blessed by the person we had ‘round. So we probably both face the same challenges.
Carolyn: We just have to spur each other on a little bit.
Dave: Well, pick any one of these—or a couple of these—“Seven Ways to Welcome Like Jesus.” I mean, we’ve got: generosity, compassion, humility, persistence, awareness, inclusive, and self-sacrificing. Which one comes to your mind first?
Carolyn: Let’s talk about the awareness thing. The chapter’s called “Tailor-Made Hospitality”in the book, and it’s about how we can be aware. When Jesus was here, it’s so interesting that He treated people differently, according to their different needs. He welcomed people differently, and He initiated contact with people differently. Sometimes, He invited Himself to someone’s home, like Zacchaeus. Other times, He initiated conversation in the streets, or by a well, or in the synagogue, or in the temple. He just had this wonderful way of seeing people as individuals and tailor-making His welcome to meet their needs.
I think we can be very formulaic—like we were saying before—“The house has got to be clean,” “The food has got to be good,” “The conversation’s got to be entertaining,”—this is what hospitality has got to look like; and if I can tick these steps off the checklist, then I’ve done a good job.
But actually, to be aware—to look at people as Jesus did, as individuals, and think, “What would it look like for that person to experience welcome? What would make them feel seen, and heard, and valued?”—that might be sometimes a really nice meal, that could be a really great treat for someone; it might just be sitting for two hours with a cup of tea and letting them pour out their heart and share their stories. It might be offering to take them places: take them to the doctor’s/take them to whatever appointments they’ve got.
I just think starting to think outside the box, and think more: “What does this person need?”—rather than—“What do I want to do for them?” or “What do I think hospitality for them should look like?”
Is the best thing to come for lunch on a Sunday?—perhaps not, for them. I had a friend, who went through a difficult time a number of years ago, and I just used to go to meet her at her place of work for lunch once a week. She just needed somebody to come and remind her that, in this particular trial she was going through, “God is good; and He’s wise; and He’s loving; and He’s with her.” That’s what hospitality looked like: meeting her in the cafeteria and sharing a bowl of soup.
I think to be aware of people’s needs rather than what we think we want to do for them is something that’s good to think about.
Dave: I remember—you know, as you were sharing that “tailor-made”—my first year in Detroit, which would have been over 40 years ago, I was playing pick-up basketball with some guys I didn’t really know, because I was new there. We get done; and this young guy—who’s probably seven, eight, ten years, maybe fifteen years younger than me—as we’re taking off our shoes—his name was Paul—he says, “Hey, man! So what’s different about you?”
I go, “What do you mean?” He goes, “I just notice something. You’re totally different than anybody else I’ve ever played basketball with.” I’m like, “Oh, you think my three-point shot’s good? What are you talking about?” He said, “No, your attitude.” And I literally turned to him, and I go, “I don’t know what you saw, but it’s probably Jesus in my life.” I mean, I went right there with him. He was like, “Yes, that’s interesting.”
We played again the next week, and something between us just bonded—I liked him; he liked me—we started talking. That’s where it hit me; it’s like, “I want to see if I can have an impact in Paul’s life.” I could tell by what he did that the best way to do that would not be, “Let’s go to lunch,” but “Let’s have a conversation about Jesus.” So I said to him, “So you work for STANLEY Doors®; right? I need a new front door. You want to come help me put a front door in my house?”
Long story short, he ends up at my house with a door. As we’re putting in this door, we’re having conversations. I’ll never forget: after we put the door in, we’re sitting on my couch, drinking a Coke®. He turns to me and he goes, “Hey, by the way, I just want you to know something. I don’t believe any of that stuff you believe.” I go, “What’s that mean?” So we have this conversation, and I find out that he was sort of homeless. His dad left—he lived on the streets in Detroit—never finished high school.
But he kept saying, “There’s something about you and your family. I keep wanting to come back here.” He kept coming back to our house for little house projects. Paul ends up giving his life to Christ, gets married, has kids now. It’s one of these amazing stories that, as you were sharing, Carolyn, I thought, “Wow! It all started with a tailor-made invitation.” That was tailor-made to what would bring him into our life and us into his life.
Ann: It’s so funny, too, how you think, “Oh, we’re going to bless him! We’re going to do all these things!” And he ended up being like this incredible gift to us—
Ann: —his personality, his gifts, his strengths, the wisdom that he carried as a young man—he was remarkable.
I think that often happens—you think, “Oh, I’m going to bless them! I’m going to bring them in. I’m going to maybe share the gospel,”—we think we’re going to pat ourselves on the back; and yet, what happens is we gain so much.
Dave: Yes, and I think as you just said, Carolyn—the whole idea of awareness—what I hear you saying is: “There are Pauls all around us.”
Dave: There are people that God’s bringing into our life, and us into others’ lives, that if we have our eyes open and are aware, we’ll be like, “Oh, my goodness! This isn’t just a chance encounter with my neighbor,” or “…even this stranger. God’s trying to get me eyes to see that I am His light in their moment of darkness—to be generous/to welcome them—just as Jesus has welcomed us.” I know I’m preaching your book. [Laughter] But that’s really what you’re talking about; right?
Carolyn: Yes, it is. And I think the same goes, even within the church family. People come to church/Christians come to church—in different states—don’t they, every week? You know, let’s not assume that everybody needs the same from us; you know, look around: “Who seems a bit distracted this week?” or “Who do you know that might be caring for an elderly parent or a special-needs child? Or “Who’s gone through a difficult life situation?”
- What will be most helpful to them?
- What will most communicate God’s love to them?
That’s something we can all do; but it just takes a moment of thought, and prayer, and being prompted by the Spirit rather than assuming that everybody needs the same thing from us.
Ann: I love the idea of our listeners/of us taking a moment. Maybe we could even post it on social media: “This week, I’m going to become aware; I’m going to be looking.” So we begin looking for people we can bless or we can talk to—or that tailor-made situation—of asking: “What does it seem like they need right now?” But to step out, because it’s so easy to get lost in our own world. So many of us are going through pain, worry, anxiety, depression; there’s something about getting our eyes on someone else, even when we’re hurting ourselves, that really does miraculous things.
Dave: It may be a great way to do it is to do it with your family.
Dave: I don’t have time to go into the times Ann has taken our boys, in the car, and picked up people. I mean, you’ve got some crazy stories! But it gave our boys a vision for: “This is how Jesus wants us to live—aware that God has put us in somebody’s life, or put somebody in our life—to do more than say, ‘Hi’; but to welcome and invite, just as Christ has welcomed and invited us.”
Ann: It’s Romans 12:13: “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need and practice hospitality.”
Shelby: You’ve been listening to Dave and Ann’s conversation with Carolyn Lacey on FamilyLife Today.
Are you a parent? Let’s get real for a minute; okay? Three years down the road, that pre-teen of yours won’t be a pre-teen anymore; that’s scary! The issues will be harder, and they’ll be different; so take a weekend with your pre-teen to make great memories that connect the two of you and talk through some of those difficult topics. In fact, we can help you talk about dating, body changes, peer pressure—things like that—though totally awkward, they can make or break teenagers and teens-to-be. You could start talking with FamilyLife’s Passport2Purity. It’s now 25 percent off with the code, “PASSPORT” for a limited time at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Now, tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson are going to be joined by Kim Anthony as she talks with a former drug lord, who found true freedom while he was in prison. That’s tomorrow.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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