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Keeping the door open

One thing I love to do is learn about other cultures, particularly how the Gospel is applied to various people groups. Several months back I read a fascinating book where an Indonesian missionary recalled having to get used to the unusual customs of hospitality in that culture. For instance, I observed that in the region he served, while the bedrooms of a person’s home were exclusively for the family, the rest of the house remained open to the public, much like a common room in a dormitory. It was not uncommon for him to wake up around 6 a.m., walk into his living room and find an individual waiting on his couch to talk with him. Other times he would come home for lunch and find a community member alone in his kitchen washing his dishes.

Now, I like to think of my family and I as reasonably hospitable. We enjoy having people over to our home. We like sharing a meal and various fun activities with other people. As a minister, I’ve even experienced people unexpectedly dropping by to discuss and pray over needs in their life. However, if I were to wake up and, on my way to get a cup of coffee find an unknown “guest” cooking breakfast or sitting on my couch, I imagine my response would be less than hospitable.

I share this amusing anecdote with you because it illustrates an important concept regarding conflict in our lives. When it comes to our homes, most of us strive to be welcoming and hospitable. To metaphorically, leave the door open for ya’. Yet, at the same time, there are rules, boundaries, and guidelines to that open-door policy. You’re welcome in my home if you’ve been invited into my home. If you’re in my home, you’re expected to be respectful while there.

In a very similar way, our relationship with other people should have similar policies. We should desire to be warm and welcoming to all people. We ought to invite people into our lives, provided they respect us and our boundaries.

Often, when I counsel individuals who are struggling with conflict in their life, they share that they know they ought to forgive (Mk. 11:25) and put other people ahead of themselves (Philp. 2:3), but they worry that they’ll wind up being a doormat for those around them.

This is an understandable concern, but one that stems from misunderstanding. You can forgive others, but that does not necessarily mean that the relationship can be reconciled. After all, God offers forgiveness to the entire world through Christ (Jn. 3:16), but because they refuse to honor Him, they are not reconciled (Jn. 3:18). You can also leave the relational door open for someone who has hurt you to be reconciled if they will respect your personal boundaries. I believe this is part o what Paul means when he wrote, “If it is possible, as much as it depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” (Rom. 12:18).

So, in the end, you may not have individuals showing up in your house uninvited, but you may have people in your life who are crossing personal boundaries and being inconsiderate. As we have seen in this series of articles over the last several weeks; you are not God and therefore can’t control what other people do. However, you do control your own actions and should wisely consider how your words and behavior may further hurt the situation or bring healing. Remember that, as we saw last week, it is better to be righteous than it is to be right. And in the end, all you can do with difficult relationships is leave the door open but require them to wipe their feet.

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