by Amy Alexander, The Refuge Center for Counseling’s Executive Director
For a moment, imagine you have been travelling on a long journey. Your journey has been rich and fulfilling, but at times, also challenging and painful. You are now at a point in the journey where you have slowed to a place of reflection and realize that all your experiences have led to a mix of many powerful emotions- such as gratitude, fear, determination, loneliness and hope. Feeling a bit weary, you decide to stay the night at an Inn.
Upon reaching the Inn, you see a sign above the front door that reads,
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28-30
Below that, a smaller sign reads,
“ALL PARTS WELCOME.”
Intrigued, you knock on the door.
The Innkeeper greets you and ushers you into a space of warmth and light. You find yourself breathing a bit deeper and notice you are feeling welcomed, safe and calm. The Innkeeper invites you to relax in a large, comfortable chair and prepares you a cup of tea. While doing so, the Innkeeper asks about your journey. Though you just met the Innkeeper you feel at ease in sharing about experiences. As you share about the trials and victories of your experiences, and the many emotions are you having, you note that the Innkeeper offers a calm, compassionate presence. The Innkeeper is genuinely curious to know your stories. You share openly and deeply about your fears, sorrows and joys. And you are met with kindness and grace. After a time of sharing and reflecting, you have a sense of connection with the Innkeeper and more clarity about your journey. You have a growing sense of confidence and an awareness of the courage it truly took to make this journey. You also have a great appreciation for this Inn and its Keeper. For here, you were able to reveal your thoughts and feelings and they were all welcome.
I first heard the term “radical inner hospitality” from author, Christine Valters Paintner. She starts by explaining, “We are each a multitude of differing energies and personalities. We contain parts that feel tender and ashamed, alongside the courageous and fierce, the joyful and giddy. It often feels easier to simply push the voices away, but it is exhausting. A lot of our inner conflict comes from our stubborn refusal to make space for the multiplicity we contain……You are a multitude. Welcome in all of you.”
The welcoming she is referring to is essentially extending a curious and compassionate presence to our many parts. ” Painter names some of our parts- the inner judge, the inner warrior, the inner lover, the inner orphan etc. She says, “Hospitality is key. Welcoming in the stranger, even if that stranger is me, or at least parts of me.”
As I have studied these ideas further, through reading by Paintner, Richard Schwartz, Mary Steege and others, my worldview has shifted. The idea of inner hospitality truly is radical. Each part of me is a gift, a guide. It has something to teach me. When I am connected to my true self and to the Holy Spirit I am able to get to know these parts without being afraid of them and without shunning them. I once heard someone say that when we ignore our feelings, they don’t go away- they just “go into the basement and lift weights and come out stronger.” Amusing imagery, but true. Our emotions and thoughts need to be attended to.
Next time you noticed a strong emotion surfacing (perhaps shame, anger, grief etc.) what would it be like to imagine it as a guest knocking on your door and bearing an important message for you? What would it be like to invite that feeling/part of you in and listen closely to its message, without needing to critique, analyze or “fix” it? But rather, just noticing and perceiving the wisdom or needs that are presented. Your true self, with the help of the Holy Spirit, can serve as that wise and observing Innkeeper that offers safety and respite for a weary, conflicted or joyful part of you.
For me, this gives fresh meaning to the scripture, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28-30. Jesus is the perfect example of this gracious Innkeeper and He can help us offer this radical inner hospitality to ourselves.