Piles of laundry, yard work, hectic schedules, napping kids. Let’s face it—there’s never a perfect time to invite others into our homes and, ultimately, into our lives.
In her debut book, Invited: The Power of Hospitality in an Age of Loneliness (Herald Press, August 2019), author Leslie Verner says that when it comes to practicing hospitality, we can’t hold out for ideal circumstances. In a culture where loneliness and isolation abound, a simple invitation is often the most groundbreaking move we can make.
After time spent living in Uganda and China, and working among international students in the United States, Verner identifies a striking difference between hospitality around the world and the West. While loneliness is at epidemic proportions in the U.S., other cultures are often more connected and inclined to host neighbors in their homes, creating a sense of community and connection many Westerners are missing.
“The entire Bible is an invitation to more relationship, more connection, more intimacy,” says Verner. “But our schedules and tasks often barricade us from the intimacy and community we desire. Lack of time can make prioritizing people or bumping into acquaintances more of an annoyance than a gift.”
Instead of a “how to” book, Invited offers stories that reframe hospitality. Less about entertaining and more about becoming a good neighbor, this book urges readers to move past the expectation of perfection and reach out for connection.
“Jesus never considered people to be interruptions,” explains Verner. “I hope to set my schedule by people instead of by tasks. People are eternal; the dishes, laundry, lawn, and football game are not.”
The publishing world has had positive reviews of her first book. Publishers Weekly stated that, “Verner debuts with an impassioned plea for people to open their doors and invite neighbors and strangers into their homes and lives…[her] persuasive message to ‘become a good neighbor’ will appeal to Christians and general readers alike.”
Verner also writes about faith, family, and cross-cultural issues for SheLoves, Relevant, The Mudroom, and other venues. She earned her master’s degree in intercultural studies and bachelor’s degree in education from Wheaton College.
Verner lived in China for five years, where she taught English as a second language and studied Mandarin. She currently lives in Colorado with her husband and three children.
In an interview with ASSIST News, Verner shares the motivation for the book, including how western values shape our view of hospitality.
“The idea for this book came as I transitioned from living in China for five years, where I was constantly invited to people’s homes, back to the United States, where I found it more challenging to find community,” she says. “Granted, I also got married, had three children in four years, and moved from Chicago to Colorado. But in those lonely years, I also began to question the role hospitality plays in cultivating community. I wondered if Western culture had seeped into the church and our reading of the Bible, making it more difficult for us to put aside our privacy, schedules, independence, and individualism to embrace the complexities brought on by having an open home.”
“My aim in writing this book is to share stories of giving and receiving hospitality to prompt readers to consider how a lifestyle of hospitality might act as a catalyst for change in their communities,” she says.
On how God prepared her to write this book, Verner stated, “I am forty years old, so many of the stories in this book have been percolating for the past twenty years. While I’ve always written, I didn’t always write for an audience, but journaled for myself. I raised support when I lived in China for five years and needed to write newsletters to my supporters.
“Before going overseas, I had often received missionary newsletters and found them boring and long-winded, so I was determined not to do that. Instead, I tried to write so that my readers—who would likely never have the opportunity to travel to China themselves—would have a sensory experience of China through reading my stories. Without me realizing it, God trained me in writing creative nonfiction.
Verner’s central thesis is,”Invitation is central to community, connectedness, and communion with other followers of Jesus. We invite because we were first invited by God.”
She was asked how has the “connectedness” of the Internet-age made us more lonely and how do you suggest we remedy that?
“While we can form life-long friendships via social media and screens, our mental health requires face-to-face contact with other human beings. For me, this always comes back to the question: “Am I controlling my smartphone and internet usage, or is it controlling me?”
Verner added, “If a person or church were to discuss, reflect on, and act on even just some of the suggestions in this book, they could transform their neighborhoods, churches, and cities.”
“I hope readers feel both challenged to notice the human beings around them, and affirmed that they are likely doing more than they realize,” she says. “Hospitality is often mistaken for entertainment instead of as a lifestyle. I hope readers will develop a habit of hospitality in their lives.”
An important chapter in the book is called “Solitude.”
“Without time spent in solitude,” said Verner, “we have little to offer our guests.
“We need a deep well to draw from if we want to have anything to offer others. As we recognize our identity as ‘invited ones,’ our desire to invite others will flow into our everyday, right-now lives.”
Metro Voice is an Amazon Affiliate. Click below to get more information about the book.
–Michael Ireland is journalist serving as Chief Correspondent for ASSIST News Service.