I am dedicating this story to my friends, Jimmy and Karen Hill, who exemplify welcoming love and who have taught me by their example the glory of its chaos.
I used to run an inn. I built it from the ground up, maintained it meticulously, and took great pride in everything being just the way God intended. My goal was to be the perfect innkeeper of the perfect inn.
Why did I give my life to this endeavor? Fear. Frankly, I never wanted to give anyone a reason not to love me. I had had enough of that growing up. If I was the best innkeeper around, surely you would reciprocate with love and appreciation. If things were perfect, you would be happy, and I could finally be safe and sleep at night.
Yes, I built the inn to banish all the chaos of my childhood. Rooms were costly, though. You had to be perfect to stay in my perfect inn (I did offer classes if you needed some touching up – ask my wife and children). Otherwise, we were back to the chaos I had grown up in. That terrified me.
My inn prospered for many years. We rarely had a vacancy and reviews were glowing. It was the perfect place to come – if you were a perfect person.
When the young husband and his pregnant wife rang the desk bell one evening, I was certain they didn’t meet my admission requirements. Frankly, they were a mess. I almost called security as I saw my other guests beginning to stare. To seal the deal, we were full up. There was literally no room in my perfect inn for this downtrodden, needy, and imperfect couple.
Besides, the woman was about to have a baby. I thought her water might break right there in my lobby! Had she never heard of a hospital? Her giving birth in my inn would be bad for business. I doubt you would want to be in the room next door.
But a perfect innkeeper couldn’t just turn them out into the night. After thinking for a moment, I directed them to the old stable out back where we kept the horses. The place was a wreck, but at least it would put a roof over their heads.
Warning them to keep the noise to a minimum (perfect women don’t scream in childbirth), I put them in one of the empty stalls that night at no charge. I made a note to deduct my largess from my taxes.
Something was unusual about this couple, I thought as I walked back to my inn. My stable seemed to suit them fine, but I couldn’t help feeling like I had missed something – something important. Silliness, I thought, as I closed the front desk for the evening.
That night I didn’t sleep well. When I finally drifted off, I had a devastating nightmare. It was terror like I had never experienced before. In it, my performance-based, perfect life had simply self-destructed.
I contracted terminal cancer, could no longer work, had to sell my inn, and had become, well, like the people I used to dismiss from my perfect life. The wheels, as they say, had come off my wagon.
But it was the loss of my plan to make life work for me (“work hard to earn love so you can stay safe”) that stunned me the most. All that I had built and lived for was now inaccessible to me.
With no place even to sleep, I tried to get a room in my former inn. The new owner looked at me with a raised eyebrow and informed me she was completely booked up.
Walking back out into the darkness of that cold night, I was desperate for a place to at least spend the night. That’s when I remembered the stable. But it, too, was booked. The unexpected couple about to have a baby had settled in there amidst the horses.
It would be terribly awkward, but perhaps they would let me stay with them for the evening. Humbled, the irony was a hard slap to my face. I had no place for them in my previous, prosperous, and perfect life. The question now was, “Would they have a place for me?”
As I walked into the pasture, the night grew stranger. A star was emitting an unusual light that grew brighter as I walked. The light, I was shocked to see, was illuminating the dilapidated stable I had neglected for years.
Bathed in its glow, I hesitantly knocked on the door. The husband answered and, to my great relief, kindly invited me in. I had not cried in years, but as soon as I stepped into the stall, I began to weep.
In the controlled environment of my “perfect” inn, there was never any real, messy glory to capture my heart. But tonight, not in an inn of perfection, but in the filth of a dirty stable, something truly beautiful had been born.
Perhaps that’s where anything truly beautiful has to be born in this world. Only in the midst of brokenness, helplessness and great need are we are given eyes to see the beauty of a Savior come for us.
Yes, He came to save us from our sin. For me specifically, He came to save me from my fear-based commitment to creating a perfect world where real love could never reside.
People talked, but I spent the rest of my life living in that dirty, holy stable. It was a good fit because it was broken and a mess just like me. But it was something more. For it was in this place, not my perfect inn, that a glorious Savior named Jesus was pleased to be born.
As time passed, I began to invite other castaways from my former inn to stay with me in the stable. All who came needed help in some desperate way. The presence of the Christ, though, was strong in our midst. As a result, my guests were given a great gift: they experienced both the pain and the glory of being broken and yet deeply loved.
And, yes, no matter how full we were, no one was ever again turned away.
Note: the idea for this post was born after reading a post by Juanita Dueck titled “Merry Broken Christmas.” Please click on the link provided to access it.