When Hospitality Trumps Spiritual Discipline

By March 4, 2015My Thoughts

I gave up coffee for Lent this year.

I wish I can say that I gave it up for purely spiritual reasons, but there were a number of selfish reasons, too.

I had reached the point where the last thing I thought of before I went to sleep at night was the coffee I would get to have in the morning. I could even smell the coffee as though it was really there in my mug on the table next to me.

I decided that an obsession of that level could stand to be shaken up at least a little bit, and that perhaps I would use the moments of thinking about coffee to redirect my thoughts to prayer, Scripture reading, and other spiritual disciplines.

Add into that my doctor suggesting I was drinking too much caffeine (not that I had to eliminate it, but cutting back would be good), and some vain reasons like hoping for a whiter smile, and I decided coffee would be my lenten fast. And depending on how things went, I would just leave coffee out of my diet after Easter, too.

(Leaving a moment here for any concerned readers to pick their jaws up off the floor. I know…no coffee! Gasp?! I felt the same way, too.)

For two weeks prior to Ash Wednesday, I slowly backed off of the coffee. The last thing I wanted was to have a horrible headache to kick off the season of Lent. And then on Ash Wednesday, I just quit. No more coffee. No substituting it. Done.

Despite my best laid plans to enter into this caffeine-free zone without a headache, I still ended up with a two-day-long headache that required a nap to sleep off. But, I stuck with it. About seven days into my fast, I had a regular doctor’s visit and proudly told the doctor I had cut caffeine altogether rather than just scaling back.

“Wow! Great work! You are so disciplined!” came the reply.

Obviously, my doctor doesn’t know the weakness I also have for Thin Mints.

And then, two weeks into my fast, I had a meeting. We shared a Bible study together, talked with each other, prayed for each other, and then I excused myself to get something from my office while refreshments were being served. When I came back to my spot at the table, someone had neatly arranged a plate with homemade banana cake, a folded napkin, and a mug of freshly-poured coffee.

I tried to think of a good way to explain that I was fasting from coffee, but there was no way to say it without making the person who served me feel badly, or without drawing too much attention to myself.

But, I’ve worked so hard to stay with this for two weeks. Is this really how my fast will end?

I took a deep breath and looked at the cup of coffee. It was strange. I didn’t really want it. I wasn’t really craving it. I didn’t think, “Awesome! An excuse to have a cup of coffee!”

I looked at the cup of coffee and realized that hospitality need to trump my own spiritual practice. What good was my coffee fast if I scorned someone else’s generosity? What good would it serve for me to stick with the fast at someone else’s expense?

Would it have been so I could point out to others how disciplined and spiritual I was?

I decided that if there was ever a reason to break my fast, this was it, and so I drank the little cup of coffee. Right at that moment, my husband walked in. He was one of the only people I told that I would be fasting from coffee, and he looked at me and smiled. He saw me with the coffee cup in hand. I smiled back. I think he knew there was more to me holding the coffee cup than just a moment of weakness.

When I got home from my meeting, I started thinking about hospitality and about how so often through Scripture, hospitality pushes right up to the forefront.

Peter followed Jewish dietary laws, and I imagine he was pretty strict about it. So strict, in fact, that when God plans for Peter to meet Cornelius (a Gentile who would not have kept those same dietary laws), God prepares Peter by giving him a vision. Peter was hungry and he had a vision that he was being offered all kinds of animals for food that were against dietary laws and restrictions.

Peter refuses. But a voice called out to him: “What God has made clean, you must not call profane” (Acts 10:15). Peter has to put his personal piety and discipline to the side to show hospitality to Cornelius’ household – a Gentile household that received the Holy Spirit!

Peter was so transformed by this experience that later on in Acts 15, he urged for the inclusion of Gentiles without requiring them to be circumcised and follow all Jewish laws first.

Spiritual disciplines are designed to draw us closer to God and to help us make space in our lives and our hearts for contemplation and reflection. But, those disciplines are worthless if they become a stumbling block to other people.

My fast resumed the next day, and my plan is to continue it until Easter, but in the meantime, I am amazed at how a small cup of coffee became a mirror that showed me the pride and vanity of my own heart.

Sitting there holding that cup of coffee, I realized that if my personal, spiritual practices are keeping me from loving others as Christ loves, my practices need to be reevaluated.

About April Fiet

April is a pastor, wife, mom, and lover of words. She finds inspiration under the big Nebraska skies, in the garden, in the yarn aisle, and in the kitchen. Learn more about April here, and join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

  • Bill Peake

    I bristled at the idea you suggest at first. PILPUL I thought to myself. But I continued to read …and think…and consider (which IS prayer, in my world). I began to wonder if the nature of Lenten sacrifice exceeds the quantity (total abstinence) to the quality (the intention). Again, the problem seems to be with degree/quantitative adherence RATHER THAN qualitative intentionality. The natural parallel would seem to be the difference between fundamentalism and moderation. Thanks for being human in your discipline because anything else would be inhuman…and in my estimation would fall far short of glorifying God.

    • Yes! I think this is so true, and it points to Jesus’ example. He so often spoke about the content of the heart because the content of the heart is more telling than the outward action. Rigidity in spiritual practice is inhuman and unfeeling, and our life in Christ is more complicated than that đŸ™‚

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  • Lauren Addeo

    Your blog came up in my suggested blogs on WordPress, and I’m really glad that I clicked the link to come here.

    I have to say, I was extremely interested in your post. I, too, gave up coffee for Lent. I had my last cup the Tuesday preceding Ash Wednesday. I often wondered what good sacrificing something like coffee was, but I like the way your story reveals that it’s about more than just the physical item you gave up. It’s a time of reflection and to look for meaning in the things we do and have elected to give up. It’s a nice reminder that sometimes, it’s not about the actual sacrifice but the thought behind it and the thoughts that follow our decisions about it.

    Thank you for sharing this!

    • Lauren, thanks so much for stopping by, reading, and commenting! Fasting from something can seem so strange, and on the surface it sometimes feels like we aren’t really accomplishing anything or growing from it. I was really grateful for this experience because it helped remind me of what can happen.

      Blessings on you this lenten season!

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