I don't have the gift of hospitality. I first truly understood that when I was at my friend Mary's house along with a woman who was in campus ministry. This woman told us of an Indian student who needed housing. As she was telling us this girl's situation, I was saying to God, I don't want to have her live with us, but if that's what you want, I'm listening. But every fiber of my body was resisting the idea. Before she could even finish telling us about her, Mary said, "We'll take her. We'd love to have her!" In that moment I realized what the gift of hospitality is—unreserved delight in having people in your home.
Not only do I not have the gift of hospitality, but I'm an introvert. The one thing I could not live without is alone time. Whenever such time is crowded out of my life, I feel like I'm being crushed in a vice, with so much pressure that I'm going to crack.
Extroverts may struggle with things like keeping their house clean and fixing eatable meals as they consider hospitality, but they will often find ways to overcome that because they want to be with people. In fact, they are so motivated that they are probably practicing hospitality naturally as they go about their days.
We introverts, on the other hand, usually look for ways to avoid people. We're the kind who look the other way when we see someone we know in the grocery store because it means we'll have to talk to them. Most of us are content with having just a few friends around us, but we certainly don't enjoy going out of our way to meet new people and invite them into our living space.
But I'm a pastor's wife and also can't ignore verses, such as Romans 12:13, which clearly tell us to practice hospitality. So I sincerely want to be hospitable.
I've given this quite a bit of thought and come to terms with the command and my personality. So for those of you who belong to the introvert camp, I may have some wisdom to share.
Concentrate on reaching out to one or two people, rather than feeling like you continually have to make new contacts. We have a three-minute rule at our church. The first three minutes after the service, members are encouraged to meet someone new. Although, I understand the importance of such a rule, it strikes terror in my heart. As the service comes to an end, I feel anxious and tense as I feel the pressure to meet someone new. So I've decided to tweak the three-minute rule and develop a relationship with someone new rather than simply saying hi each week to a different person. After each service, there are several new people I try to consistently talk to.
My friend Lenny takes it a step further. He always finds someone to mentor during the first service and then they together attend the second service. He concentrates on only one person at a time, but gives a great deal of input into their lives.
My friend Jane is an introvert, but she has a heart for international students. She and her husband have extra bedrooms now, so they've had exchange students live with them and have international students from the local university over for holidays. She finds this kind of hospitality fulfilling and worth the effort and likes the smaller nature of it, rather than bigger gatherings.
Set boundaries, such as making a clear ending time to the gathering before it starts.
One of the problems I have with inviting people into my home is the open-endedness of it. If I have a Bible study or a party in my home, there are always those who want to linger way past my comfort level. So for Bible studies, my husband and I set a clear ending time before it even starts. We explain that we both are early risers and need to keep the study within the time frame for our own health. Of course, there are rare occasions when we need to break that rule, but it helps to have it up front.
If we're having a party, we also let people know the ending time. We'll say, "We'd love to have you come over for dinner and some games from six to nine." That way, they know right away what we are expecting.
Because we've opened our home a lot, I've become pretty honest with some of my extrovert friends about my need for an ending time. I've politely told some of them that I have to have an hour before bedtime to wind down. So for those who stay longer than I'd like, I say, "It's been lovely, but I've got to get some rest."
For a larger gathering, ask an extrovert to co-host it with you. This works really well for me. A friend and I have become the people who give wedding and baby showers for our friends. And I love that role because it's such a fun, joyous time. But the reason I love it is because she's an extrovert and takes care of the part that's stressful for me. I like planning a devotional, ordering the cake, and picking out cute paper plates. She takes care of all the invitations and working out the dates, in other words, all the people part of it.
So hospitality is not just for the people person. It's even for those of us who would prefer to be alone. We just have to find a hospitality fit that works for us. Because although solitude is a great spiritual discipline, so is hospitality.
JoHannah Reardon is managing editor of ChristianBibleStudies.com.
Copyright © 2010 by the author or Christianity Today/Kyria.com.
Click here for reprint information.