Saturday, January 7, 2012

Introvert Saturday: Introverts and Hospitality

About the author: Julie Andreen is a mother, wife, professional freelance writer and recovering semi-professional monk who is learning to serve rather than be served. She lives in Phoenix.  

When I was young and single I made a hobby out of traveling to foreign countries at the drop of a hat – alone. When I was 25, I flew to the French Polynesian island of Bora Bora for a week’s vacation. My only companions on the near-deserted white sand beach were some grapes, a loaf of brioche and a stack of magazines. If there were any discos or nightclubs, I wasn’t aware of their existence. I ate alone, I traveled alone and I went snorkeling alone. And I loved every moment of it.

So it won’t shock anyone when I say that I’m a dyed-in-the-wool, confirmed, no-doubt-about-it, introvert. But here’s the kicker: I also have the spiritual gift of hospitality – the one that revolves around making friends and strangers feel comfortable, connected and safe. The one that people like Rahab – who welcomed spies into her home at the risk of her own skin – are lauded for.

Since it’s unlikely that I’ll ever be in a situation like Rahab’s, what does the 21st century version of hospitality look like, particularly for introverts like myself? It’s less about hiding spies on a roof and more about being willing to answer the knock of a lonely or distraught friend at 5:30 p.m., when there are crumbs strewn about on the floor, the dog is whining to be let out, a pot is overflowing on the stove and the baby is crying. Romans 12:13 includes no “introvert clause” when it commands us to be ready to help God’s people when they are in need, and to be eager to practice hospitality.

If there was ever any question in mind about whether I had this particular spiritual gift, it was when I realized that for me, having people “drop by” unannounced is a joy, not an annoyance. I felt happy, rather than indignant, when guests would go rifling through my kitchen drawers in search of a utensil. I was actually disappointed when I realized that my husband didn’t want to “babied” when he was sick.

It may seem incongruous that a person with my monk-like tendencies could also possess a God-given talent that revolves around – gasp – people. But introverts are engineered for hospitality. We want to listen to others, and have them listen – really listen – to us, without distraction or meaningless chit-chat. We want the deep, real, authentic stuff. Those things, by and large, tend to emerge within a home, where people feel safe to share their lives. Having people in my home means that I have the floor (pun intended). I can focus on you, and you alone. Warts and all.

Practicing hospitality also helps me express feelings that I would otherwise never manage to squeak out with actual words. In spite of the fact that I’m a writer, telling people that I care about them anywhere but on paper or via a Facebook page doesn’t exactly come easily. In fact, it’s almost a form of torture. Making someone a meal or letting them hang out and tell me their problems conveys those feelings in a way that I couldn’t otherwise express, or at least it helps grease the “I love you, you love me” wheels just a little bit.

But as the old cliché goes, the gift of hospitality is both a blessing and a curse, at least for an introvert. A blessing, because I tend to have fewer, yet deeper relationships, but also a curse, because as a sinful human being, I know that my reluctance to move outside the comfortable confines of my home means that I am severely limiting the work of God in my life and others – a sin. To truly serve God, I have to be ready and willing to step out of my ‘comfort zone’ once in a while, serving others where they are, instead of where I want to be.

With that in mind, I’m off to whip up some dinner. Feel free to drop by. And bring a friend. No RSVP necessary.