Hospitality for Introverts
by Kara Isaac
A few years ago, my husband and I were blessed to be able to buy a house that was far bigger than we needed at the time. One of the things we wanted to be intentional about was using it as a platform for hospitality. From having a spare room so people could stay without feeling like they were intruding (or having to sleep on an airbed!), to hosting a lifegroup, to having people over for social events. I envisioned frequent summer gatherings with neighbors to spontaneous lunches with people we’d just met at church that morning.
The one thing that I neglected to factor into this grand hospitality vision was well, me.
Like most writers, I’m an introvert. Put me in the kitchen, prepping the food and cleaning up, and I’m in my happy place. I also start turning distinctly pumpkin-ish as soon as the clock strikes 10 p.m. On the other side of the equation, my husband is an extrovert who would talk to people for hours without worrying about the food and who thinks the night starts at 10 p.m. I’m a planner, Josh is spontaneous. My ideal scenario involves at least a few days’ notice of guests. He’ll discover we have a weekend evening free and just start calling people to see who else is free.
So, from the combined experience of a spontaneous extrovert and planner introvert, here are my tips from the past couple of years:
Pray: This one may have been self-evident to everyone but me, but I’ve found hospitality tends to be a lot less stressful if you spend a little time praying for the people who are about to come into your home. And I’m not talking a full-length prayer meeting here with the whole family, just a couple of minutes while you’re prepping.
Hospitality doesn’t need to be expensive: One of the reasons I used to get stressed out was because to me hospitality meant a perfectly-prepared multi-course meal. As young children got added to a day job, and then a book contract got added to both of those, that became increasingly unachievable in both time and budget. A large pot of soup and some fresh rolls is a lot more enjoyable than an obviously stressed out hostess serving a gourmet dinner.
Check for allergies/dietary requirements: I’ve never forgotten that one since I was once on a work trip overseas while pregnant and found myself at a loooong multi-course dinner where the only thing I could eat was the dinner roll. Some people will tell you in advance, but others won’t, not wanting to be labeled as high maintenance. Just ask as a default so you don’t find yourself in the awkward situation of serving a lamb roast to a vegetarian.
Plan for conversation: My husband can walk into a room full of strangers and have made new best friends within minutes, while I freeze up and stumble through awkward conversation before excusing myself to get a drink/go to the bathroom. If you have people coming over that you don’t know well and are worried that conversation might lag, take a few minutes to think of some questions that can fill any gaps that might arise. Be genuinely interested in their answers.
Don’t sweat the small stuff—breakages, spills, etc: Obviously, if someone happens to drop a glass of orange juice on your carpet, you need to deal with it to avoid permanent damage. There’s a difference between cleaning up a mess or breakage with minimum fuss and turning it into a drama. I was once at a dinner where someone broke a glass and the hostess gave that person a plastic cup to drink out of for the rest of the evening. Over the rest of the night, most of us traded in our glasses for plastic cups, both in a show of solidarity and because none of us wanted to risk being responsible for another breakage!
Have an agreed exit plan: Saturday nights are a challenge for us. While we love having people over, my husband is on staff at church, so Sunday is a long day for him that starts early and runs late. It’s also a long day for me as I’m solo-parenting our two preschoolers. Having an agreed time at which point you’ll start wrapping the evening up saves one person from kicking the other under the table because they’re struggling to keep their eyes open, while the other could happily keep talking for another hour. (Alternatively, we also have friends where as soon as the clock hit 10 p.m., the husband would simply announce that he was going to bed and disappear, regardless of who or how many people were in their house!)
Your perception of how something went isn’t necessarily accurate: I’d thought that one of the first dinner parties Josh and I had after we were married was close to a disaster. We’d totally underestimated how long it was going to take to get dinner cooked for eight people in our little galley kitchen, and we didn’t end up eating until close to 9 p.m. I’d undercooked the cheesecake, and when I cut into it, it collapsed into a pile of (admittedly delicious!) goo. I got mad at Josh for pouring the “good” red wine into the gravy. Years later, we got to talking with friends about that night. They had vague memories of things not going as planned, but most of all they remembered meeting new people, great conversation and lots of laughter.
There’s a saying that people will rarely remember what you say, sometimes they will remember what you do, but they will always remember how you made them feel. It’s the same for our homes. Unless your house is worthy of an audition for Hoarders, people will never remember whether there was dust on the window sills, or weeds in the garden, or that the steak was slightly overcooked, but they will always remember whether they felt welcome.
Kara Isaac lives in Wellington, New Zealand. When she’s not working her day job as a public servant, chasing around a ninja preschooler and his feisty toddler sister, she spends her time writing horribly bad first drafts and wishing you could get Double Stuf Oreos in New Zealand. She loves to connect on her website , on Facebook at Kara Isaac – Writer and Twitter @KaraIsaac
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