Stranger: A Brief Note on Fatherhood

“Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” – Hebrews 13:1-2

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in…” — Matthew. 25:34-35

There are few people in the world that I know more about (in proportion with how much there is to know) than my son. At the same time, he is such a stranger! Yes, there is a striking resemblance between him and his mother. Yes, he has unmistakably received the genes for thoes earlobes from me. Despite inherited similarities or tendencies, when you get to know him, you come to know someone utterly different, unique; gathering and putting into action a perspective on the world that I cannot get inside of. When he was around six months old, I read Henri Nouwen’s Reaching Out, and was floored by one small comment that Nouwen sneaks into his book. He writes that “hospitality” should be the dominant feature of relationships between teachers to students, professionals to patients, and parents to children:

“…hospitality wants to offer friendship without binding the guest and freedom without leaving him alone…we can offer a space where people are encouraged to disarm themselves, to lay aside their occupations and preoccupations and to listen with attention and care to the voices speaking in their own center”.[1]

Hospitality is the contrast of what Nouwen called “hostility”, and hostility is caused by loneliness. :

As long as we are lonely, we cannot be hospitable because as lonely people we cannot create free space. Our own need to still our inner cravings of loneliness makes us cling to others instead of creating space for them”.[2]

Loneliness however, is not dealt with just by getting around other people as much as possible, or, what is so easy to do today, by creating an inescapable clamor of notifications about everyone else’s existence. Loneliness is overcome by solitude, specifically, solitude that is intentionally created to seek God. Through this kind of solitude we are more able to be truly hospitable. This is because in deliberately seeking out time to be separate from the hustle and bustle, we “become aware of the presence of him who embraces friends and lovers and offers us the freedom to love each other, because he loved us first.”[3] This was obvious in the life of Jesus Himself. It’s often rightly pointed out that Jesus is God’s affirmation of intense and immediate involvement in our broken world, yet Jesus was not frantically involved. He frequently retreated to solitude.

I have been so grateful that the very decision to be open to Conrad’s life came as a detour to “the plan”. God moved clearly in my wife Bryna’s heart, and as I witnessed the not-so-coincidental signs given to her I thought: “The timing is a little crazy, but this will be amazing!” I’m grateful that Conrad was brought into this world that way because it’s been so much more natural to love him out of solitude and not loneliness. 

To be sure, God works differently in different lives, but the fact that our decision to have a child came during a season of transition and relative “instability”, rather than the more culturally encouraged season of “stability”, has actually helped us see Conrad as a guest, one who we can create space in my life for without trying to satisfy any inner cravings of loneliness.

Conrad is human, and no angel (though it’s debatable), but he is a stranger in many ways. I also know that my wife and me were given a duty to provide for him out of what God has provided to us. The clothing, feeding, and inviting of Jesus’ words in Matthew 25 may not naturally bring to mind parenting. Yet I can’t help but think that parents the world over, in giving hospitality to their children out of a content heart of solitude, are putting these words into practice.

[1] Nouwen, Reaching Out, 52-54

[2] 72

[3] 30.

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