Does the thought of hosting a meal fill you with terror? Do you break out in a cold sweat when you think of holding a conversation with guests? Do your knees shake when you’re about to host a small group meeting? If this sounds like you, then perhaps you feel happier leaving hospitality for more outgoing types, the extroverts of this world, who love nothing more than to be with others.
Hospitality is at the heart of many gospel stories. In biblical times, a visitor would be greeted with a kiss, offered a cool drink, have the dust and dirt washed from their feet, and be anointed with oil as a mark of respect. This culture of hospitality was especially highlighted when Jesus was invited to eat at the house of Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:36-49). Simon objected to a woman with a questionable reputation anointing Jesus’ feet with oil, but Jesus pointed out that Simon hadn’t carried out the usual duties of a host. He didn’t offer water for Jesus to wash the dust from his feet, greet Jesus with a kiss, or anoint his head with oil. Simon’s lack of respect contrasted sharply with the reverence of the woman.
It’s important to remember that there’s a huge difference between entertaining and hospitality. Entertaining is designed to impress others with your skills as a host, perhaps by cooking an elaborate meal or throwing a glittering party. Hospitality, on the other hand, is all about making someone feel comfortable, summed up succinctly by Donald Coggan, former Archbishop of Canterbury: “The art of hospitality is to make others feel at home, even when you wish they were!”
Having a friendly, welcoming attitude, and creating an atmosphere where people can relax and be themselves, is far more important than putting on a perfect show. But as introverts, it’s sometimes hard to feel confident in our ability to talk to people we don’t know well or to let others see us as we really are. It can feel like an impossible challenge to show hospitality to others when we feel unsure of ourselves and under pressure to be the flawless host. But keeping things simple can make all the difference. Here are a few tips to help you begin:
1. Start small
Hospitality can be as basic as inviting someone over for coffee or tea. Even this small step can be a beautiful way to open your home, and you can still make it special. Serve some tasty treats or fancy cookies, fragrant coffee, or special tea blend. Put a vase of colorful flowers on the table. These special touches will make your guest feel honored.
2. Cook a meal together
Inviting others for a meal doesn’t mean you have to do all the work. Why not prepare your meal together? Nothing builds a friendship like working together in the kitchen, and it also makes the conversation flow more easily if you’ve got tasks to distract you. Or talk beforehand and divide the courses between guests. One person can bring the appetizer and another the dessert, leaving you to manage the main course. If you’re inviting someone who doesn’t like to cook, ask them to supply bread or drinks.
3. Food isn’t compulsory
Hospitality doesn’t have to involve eating. Shared interests are a good way to practice hospitality. Start your own book club and take turns leading the discussion each week. Share questions in advance, so people have time to prepare their thoughts. This is a great option if you find conversation challenging — you won’t feel responsible for keeping things flowing all the time.
Craft activities also provide wonderful opportunities for sharing. A knitting group, quilting circle, or mini-workshop to learn new skills can all be good ways to get to know others. Sharing your latest projects will give everyone something to discuss.
4. Get out and about
Hospitality doesn’t only mean inviting people into your home. Getting together with others for a regular hike, hanging out in the park, urban exploration, or fishing are also ways to open yourself to others. Again, share responsibility for making arrangements, so no one feels totally responsible. If you’re worried about keeping the conversation going while you walk, why not download a guided retreat to stimulate discussions?
5. Offer small acts of kindness
At its simplest, hospitality can be a quick, thoughtful act done on the spur of the moment. Offering a homeless person a hot drink with an encouraging word could make all the difference in their day. Share some cut flowers from your backyard with a sick friend or take a homemade cake to your new neighbors.
If being open toward others doesn’t come naturally to you, then cultivating a practice of hospitality may take time and patience. But you’ll be rewarded with happy memories, deepening friendships, and also by knowing that your hospitality has helped someone else experience God’s love in action.
(Originally published June 26, 2017)