Interview #6: Hospitality for Introverts

Today's interview is with a dear friend of mine, Esther. We met in 2004 and in the years since, Esther and her family have often given me and many others a place to belong in their home. Theirs is a home that is routinely—sometimes even daily—"given to hospitality." But it was only after I had known Esther for many years that I realized that she considers herself an introvert. Since introverts usually talk about needing alone time, I asked Esther if she would talk with us about why she has chosen a lifestyle of lots of others time and not so much alone time. Here's an excerpt from our conversation.

Esther, first could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I am a wife (to a farmer / financial consultant), a mom (to three daughters and one son) and grandma (to two, soon to be three, little boys). I'm a Canadian with German roots, and we live in Alberta. I enjoy cooking, baking, and quilting. I've always considered my children and grandchildren to be my main focus of ministry. I enjoy both studying the Bible and getting others interested in studying the Bible for themselves. Growing up, I was extremely shy and uncomfortable around other people. It was hard for me not only to interact in large groups but even to carry on one-on-one conversations. God has helped me to grow a lot in that area, and I guess that's why we're having this conversation today!

You told me once that you consider yourself an introvert. So, why do you have guests in your house almost all the time?

Really, it started with the man I married. God is all wise, and He gave me a husband who is super extroverted. Since the beginning of our marriage it was this way: my husband would go out and invite people in, and because of this, I needed to learn to welcome those people into our home. 

"As much as I didn’t like opening our home at first, after the fact I was always really glad that I had."

We have been married for 32 years now, but for probably the first half of our married life, I somewhat resented his bringing home so many guests. I was always nervous and self-conscious. I was a very independent person and I didn’t want people to get close to me. In fact, sometimes I would feel like people didn’t even want to get close to me. Looking back, I can see that as an introvert, I needed that push from my husband to learn to have more and deeper relationships. 

God used my husband's open door policy to help me realize that I need other people much more than I realized when I was younger! Instead of focusing on myself (and my discomfort in being a hostess) I have tried to focus on others (and how I could encourage them). I've learned that some guests want to have a meaningful conversation, and others want to just lie on the couch and rest. We want our house to be a place where both types of guests can come; where people can just hang out and be themselves. 

As much as I didn’t like opening our home at first, after I did it I was always really glad that I had. Through hospitality I’ve gotten to know people on another level. Even people who used to seem aloof or distant have somehow become closer after coming into our home. They've opened up and shared their struggles. Hospitality makes strangers into friends. 

Do you remember a distinct time when your attitude about having guests changed, or do you think your heart about having guests has just grown as you've grown in understanding and obeying God?

I think it was the latter. Sometimes I was very selfish with my own time. I have become more aware of my own selfishness and God's desire for me to be a servant. It wasn't a sudden change so much as growth in this area over time.

I remember a conversation at your house in which one of the other guests said that he doesn’t like to call himself an introvert because he doesn’t want to make excuses for being rude or avoiding people. Do you think there’s something to that—does avoiding labeling yourself help?

God doesn’t operate based on the labels we assign. God definitely does give us different personalities and strengths, but all of life is about balance. There’s a danger in swinging too far in either the typical extrovert or the typical introvert direction. People time and quiet reflective time are both important to all people. An extrovert’s spiritual life can suffer when he or she doesn’t take time away from people, just as an introvert’s spiritual life can suffer when he or she isolates himself too often from other people. Christ wants to pour into us during those moments we have alone, so that we can outflow to others when we spend time with them. But we need to balance alone time and time with others. The important thing is that we not use our labels as an excuse for sin. 

How do you think regular hospitality has affected your marriage?

It has been good for us because it’s something we can do to serve others together. However, early in our marriage we had a lot of overnight guests and I realize that was not healthy; we did need some time just as a couple. It’s possible to do too much. 

My husband and I have such different strengths and have learned to work together in hospitality situations. My husband’s strength is meeting lots of people, but connecting with people on a deeper level is more my strength. My husband can work a crowd and seems to talk to everyone in the room, whereas I just talk to the person next to me. I have to remind myself that whoever God puts next to me is the person He wants me to connect with, and I can't worry that I’m not connecting with everyone in the room like my husband is. 

What would you say to someone who says, “I’m an introvert and therefore I just can’t have people over because it’s too stressful. When I’m at home, I need my me time”?

Well, it's important to remember that hospitality looks different for different people. It’s not necessarily about having big groups of people over. It could just be inviting one person over, and just serving them tea. 

Again, there is a time to be alone, but we have to be careful that we don’t use excuses to cover selfishness. The Christian’s life is about giving of oneself and making sacrifices. As an introvert, maybe Christ is asking me to sacrifice my “me time.” 

God knows that I am an introvert type, but in the last five years, I’ve had no “me time” to speak of. It’s just the way my life has been orchestrated and I can’t really change that unless God changes it. But He does give the strength for each task He puts in front of me, and He can do the same thing for others as well.

Your story shows how our personalities should always be conforming more to Christ’s personality as we grow in Him. For a Christian, the goal should not be to do things the way an introvert would do them, but to do them the way Christ would do them. 

"I've definitely seen a lot of growth in what I can handle hospitality-wise. Having 'extra' people in our home doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it used to."

Yes, and I've definitely seen a lot of growth in what I can handle hospitality-wise. Having "extra" people in our home doesn’t bother me as much as it would have when I was younger. Last year from July until September, we had overnight guests in our home every day except for about four. We were joking about our house being a hotel, but I was able to just wash that morning’s bedding because tonight someone else would be needing it, and roll with whatever came. I was tired, but I didn’t resent the guests or get upset about having to think about cooking for six or eight or ten people day after day like I might have when I was younger. 

What are a few pointers that might be helpful to people who are trying to learn to have guests, but don’t feel confident hosting yet? 

  • Don’t worry about having everything picture perfect. People don’t expect that and they don't expect a big, fancy meal. They just want to feel at home. 
  • However, if the house is messy, chaotic or disorderly, guests feel uncomfortable and have a hard time relaxing. Establish some routines to keep things generally clean and in order so that it's not hard to spontaneously invite someone in, but don’t be a neat freak. Again, balance is key.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask guests to help you clean up. By letting people help you in your kitchen, you make them feel like you’re equals. There’s also something about working together that opens up a different depth of relationship. When working side by side, like washing dishes together, people tend to move into deeper conversation than if they're looking at each other face to face. 
  • As an introvert, I find it helpful not to think too far ahead, but just to live in the moment and do what God has put before me that day. That way, I can enjoy some alone time when I get it, but I don't get upset if another guest arrives and I don't get my evening to myself. 
  • Lastly, my daughter says that she learned from me to always keep cookies—or some kind of dessert—in the freezer. [Smile.]

How has having an open home affected your kids?

Our four kids grew up with many godly people coming through our home, and this had a huge impact both on them and on us. They have always said that they loved growing up with so many people around. It was essential for our kids to see older Christians (other than their own parents or relatives) who loved God but were also normal, balanced people who enjoyed life. Their friendships with our guests were a huge part of their spiritual formation and influenced a lot of the decisions they made. We are close to our blood family, but through hospitality we have acquired this other "family" made up of many people who are near and dear to us.

What I see in your story is the blessing of obeying God. As an introvert, you may never have wanted this life of having so many guests, but you did it out of obedience to God. And you’re reaping the benefits.... 

Perhaps that is a good summary of our conversation. As an introvert, I would not have naturally opened my home. I was full of fears and tiredness and lack of desire. But God knew that I needed those people in my life, and that my children needed them, too. Seeing my children choose to follow Jesus in their adulthood, partly through the influence of guests in our home, far outweighs the uncomfortableness and the loss of “me time.” Having kids who walk in the Truth is much more important to me than a quiet, predictable home and schedule. 

Obedience to God through hospitality has so many good ripple effects. When I host guests, I am just passing on what I have received from Christ, from you, and from others who showed me what it was to establish a home which is open to outsiders. 

It's so true. Sometimes I think, “I'm just here in my home in the country and I’ve never done anything for the rest of the world.” But it’s beautiful to think that when someone is refreshed in our home and is then able to turn around and host someone else in his or her home, in a sense God is using us to bless their friends and acquaintances too, whom we have never met. I hope my story shows that God is so good, and knows what is best for us—even when He commands introverts to show hospitality! The blessings of obeying God's command to hospitality flow much farther than we will ever realize in this life.