We disabled our doorbell when our daughter was born and we instantly became conservators of a precious resource: baby sleep. Since we live in a hospitality house where many gather, rest, and take shelter, not having a doorbell was a challenge at first. But over time we have all become fluent in the language of knocks.
There are the loud, hard, pounding knocks that indicate numb hands or agitation. There are the soft knocks on the storm door that whisper anxiety and timidity—perhaps a sister who’s not sure if what she’s heard about this place is true. There are the insistent, rapid knocks that seem to scream loss or desperation. There are the rhythmic knocks—“shave and a haircut” being the favorite by far—that promise a friendly conversation and maybe a cup of coffee on the porch.
Our household has learned to guess who might be at the door by the knock we hear. But I’ve also learned something important about myself by learning the language of knocks: I don’t always want to answer the door.
As covenanted members of Grace and Main, I have committed myself to opening our homes to the folks God introduced into our lives. But, after a while, hospitality ends up meaning much more than spare bedrooms and open chairs at dinner tables. It also means opening our lives to others and their stories. We’ve had so many great stories that began with a knock on a door—stories of lives changed and overflowing redemption and resurrection. We’ve also had our fair share of heartbreaking stories that began with a knock. Right after the baby has gone down, the stories of heartbreak are what feed my imagination when a knock announces a visitor.
The practice of hospitality can feel like a holy opportunity to prepare a hospitality room for another guest to join the house. At the same time, it can be a frustrating imposition to have to answer the door yet again for another brother or sister while you’re trying to dust, make the bed, and clean up the baby’s toys. In the space of a breath, our quiet confidence and faith can turn to anxious doubt and “what ifs” when we hear a distinctive knock that promises one of our brothers or sisters who has relapsed or threatened someone we love.
Yes, we’ve learned to speak the language of knocks. And we’ve found that we don’t always like what it has to say about us.
We’ve also discovered that it’s not just our sisters and brothers who wait for us on the porch with hopeful expectation in their hearts. The Gospel waits for us there, as well. With each knock comes a summons to hear the good news that God is at work in this messy world and that sin is being undone by love—sometimes gloriously fast, and sometimes agonizingly slow. Each knock is an invitation to place our faith and trust in God and be born again. Each knock is a call to prayer, inviting us to pray to the God of the widow, orphan, stranger, and outcast. Each knock is an occasion once again to prepare the way of the Lord and make His paths straight. Each knock is a chance to welcome Jesus into our lives once again. With some knocks we welcome Jesus into our home in the guise of a friend. With others we find Jesus waiting on our porch, looking like a stranger.
The folks waiting at our door certainly want us to answer their knock, especially when it’s frigid. We don’t always want to open the door, but we do it—not because we are “good people, ” but because salvation is on the other side of our storm door, knocking and waiting.
One night, shortly before evening prayer, the Gospel showed up unexpectedly in our brother William. William lived in our home for several months while he was pursuing sobriety and life in community. He had had numerous successes, but had also experienced a relapse, broken promises and broken glass, a few threats and hurtful lies, and a set of stitches. All of this combined had broken our relationship with William in ways that we couldn’t immediately figure out how to repair. After a few nights staying in a local hotel and thinking about what he wanted, William still wasn’t ready to recommit to life in community and his pursuit of sobriety. To be painfully honest, this had been a relief to me. I wasn’t sure I had it in me to walk with William again if he said he was ready.
But announcing his fragile hope for fourth and fifth chances by way of a timid knock, William showed up on our porch. We talked around what was on his mind while he summoned the courage to trust us with his question: am I welcome here? Maybe we should have taken him into the house right then and there, but sometimes the Gospel is hard to see when it’s surrounded by a heartbreaking story, and we didn’t. Instead, we found a hotel room for William for a day or two while we discerned and prayed together about what to do. Ultimately, William ended up moving in to one of our community’s other homes, and rejoining us for meals and prayers. It’s hard to say if we did what’s right in response to God’s invitation to us, but I have no doubt that we heard the Gospel that night on our porch.
Even as we continue to figure out how to respond, it’s a gift to know we’re hearing the gospel—God speaking to us in the place where we are.