Hospitality without dread
I am an introvert but I live in a community in Lima, Peru where I can’t keep count of how many people have keys to our door and where the doorbell rings multiple times again. When we host mission teams one of the questions people ask me is: how do you manage to have so many people around as an introvert?
I like people. I love having people around. A misconception about introverts is that they would rather be on their own. Now my ideal day of rest definitely involves a book and some peace and quiet, (which amazingly happens sometimes now that my children have left the preschool stage), but my ideal day would actually include a mix of time alone and quality time with others. Being introverted is more about needing space apart to recharge, not about living in a library. For me, the interactions that are most life-giving are conversations with just one or two people. Being expected to interact with lots of people in one room for a party or event is much more draining and I will head to the sidelines!
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We have had so many people come to our house over the past 10 years of living in Peru and having church out of our house for 7 of those years. I got over plates and toys being broken years ago. I got over feeling I need to entertain everyone who comes to my house continually. Mark and I still camp upstairs in our room every free evening after years of having people around in our house who we could invest in at other hours of the day! (We’re currently on a Downton Abbey Netflix run only 7 years late.)
Here are some of my key fears and how I am learning to get around them:
1. Fear of mess - this one is generally not as big a deal as I imagine it to be, especially now my own kids are over the ‘let’s tip the entire contents of this box of 1 zillion legos on the floor’ stage. They also help to watch the younger children and stop them from emptying entire toy boxes. In our house, we have upstairs toys and downstairs toys. Unless we know a family well and their children are a similar age to our boys, we put up a stair gate and have a rule that the visiting kids stay downstairs. We have a small garden with a swing and patio and lots of larger toys which are suitable for younger children and at clean up time it is easy to throw those toys into the boxes. If a family looks like they may leave without clearing up after their children and I don’t feel particularly able to do it all myself that day, I will start clearing up and invite the child to help. Usually, the parents get the hint!
2. Fear that people will outstay our welcome - Oh, the wonders of prayer. I don’t think this was such a thing in England, but here when we have people visiting who look like they may be staying much longer than we can manage, Mark will ask them if we can pray for them and they usually then get the hint that the time is drawing to an end. If prayer isn’t appropriate or just for courtesy’s sake, we will often mention something we have to do later in the afternoon and state a time we are free until so the guests know the expectations. If it is an evening visit and people are sticking around beyond what we can manage, we will simply tell them that we are really sorry but we need to go to bed. I know this sounds a bit rude, and I REALLY hated doing this at first, but because I want to enjoy an ongoing relationship with them, I needed to be able to have boundaries that I can handle so that I will happily want to invite them again.
3. Fear of not having time to get other things done that I need to get done because I enjoy their company so much.
This fear is more about me getting over myself and being organized! If I really have a time deadline then I just have to be disciplined and keep the time shorter and will have to explain that to them. Sometimes it is just about faith that God knows how much time I have and what I need to get done and He will help me!
4. Fear that my children won’t behave appropriately. This is a struggle for me, especially with people who don’t know our family because having three boys is a world that few people truly understand. Things that help: briefing the boys beforehand of our expectations for their behavior; making sure they have had a run-around in the park in the morning; not planning important pastoral meetings when they are around; including them in the preparations and giving them small responsibilities (like running to the corner store to buy some juice) and bribery. If you are a mother of three boys you will understand. Computer time for good behaviour is the currency of choice in these parts.
5. Fear that the extra work involved will cut out time homeschooling. Two things: Keep it simple and/or prepare ahead. Nobody really cares if you have spent 5 hours or 30 minutes on a meal. Unless you are a gourmet chef (I make a great green spaghetti), people are not generally coming to your house for what you cook but for your company. Baked potatoes and toppings, or pasta with sauce are enough! Know how to make one simple dish well and use that. It doesn’t matter if people have had it before (unless they spent a long time in the bathroom after dinner last time…). Get takeaway if that is an affordable option or make extra of something the week before and freeze it and reheat. I make a plan a week ahead of what we are going to eat that week and it is then that we often think about who or if we are going to invite for lunch the following week. I have a list of possible meals on my fridge and in my planner to make meal planning less stressful.
Inviting people to dinner is a wonderful opportunity for people to feel seen, heard and loved. It is a great opportunity to share God’s love with others and a wonderful chance to go deeper into people’s stories and lives. Our community has been built around the table and if you look at the Bible, Jesus used the table as a point of connection with so many. Everybody has to eat!
This last week I was listening to Emily P. Freeman’s new podcast: Do the Next Right Thing. In episode 4: Record What You Learn, Emily talks about the importance of looking back to help you prepare for moving forward. She says that often we are reluctant to do things like hosting others for meals because we think of all the extra work involved, but if we just looked back and thought about how life-giving previous times we have hosted have been we would be encouraged to move forward.
Because we often have so many people around anyway, intentionally inviting more people to come to lunch (that’s the main meal here) can sometimes seem overwhelming and fill me with dread. But when I think about the past and all the people we have had around our table, those fears, even when they have happened, have been incomparable with the joy of relationship, mutual encouragement and seeing God touch people’s lives. They have been worth it.
Think back to some times you have had people over for meals in the past? What have been the joys of those occasions?
What are the fears that hold you back from wanting to make dinner plans in the next month? What can you do to address those fears?
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Need some more encouragement with hospitality? Check out Sally Clarkson's book: The Life-Giving Table.