The Habit of Hospitality

People are creatures of habit.  We like to be comfortable and content.  We like met expectations.  We like sameness.

But Christ did not call us to comfort and contentment, sameness or habit.  We are called to more than the status quo, more than what is easy and accessible.

We are called to go. We are called to give up.  We are called to drop and follow.  We are called to run.  We are called to be bold.  We are called to be counter-cultural.  We are called to be subversive.  We are called to live in tension, in paradox.  We are called to more.

Since moving to a new area and starting over again to find a community to participate in, my husband and I have been reminded — at times quite painfully — what it’s like to be new, outside, uninitiated.  In the past year, here are three key ingredients I’ve discovered in true hospitality.

1) Be genuine.

Even the less-discerning among us can spot a faker a mile away.  The smile a little too forced.  The voice a little too high. The questions that don’t wait for an answer.  The slimy feeling left behind — sticky-sweet, I call it, the kind of hospitality that leaves a residue.  If we want people to feel welcomed, we have to be genuinely welcoming.

2) Be the initiator and the pursuer.

Simply put, follow up.  New people have already made the first move by showing up. Make them feel genuinely welcomed by inviting them out for coffee, texting them to ask about their day, Facebooking them a funny video that reminded you of your recent conversation.  Do something honest and tailored, something that allows for a response. Do it more than once.  No form letters or cold calls allowed.

3) Earn the right to ask personal questions.

Everyone hates small talk, but going zero to sixty can make newcomers feel uncomfortable and caught off-guard.  Don’t ask a question you wouldn’t be willing to answer yourself.  Take time to build relationship with people.  Let depth come naturally.  Create space for deep conversation, make the first move, and allow them to share when they’re ready — when you’ve earned their trust.

I’m the first to admit I’m not the person most suited to hospitality.  As an introvert, I tend to make terrible first impressions and usually only slightly less terrible second and third impressions.  It takes time for me to open up to new people.  On the rare occasion I work up the courage to initiate, the experience is generally monumentally awkward for everyone involved. (Hence my failure  at working retail.)

I know how hard it can be to be willing to be uncomfortable, to be the one to break the ice, to leave the circle of familiar friends and open up to someone new.  But this past year, being the newcomer at every new church service, every new community event, I have been reminded that it is infinitely more difficult to be on the outside, feeling displaced and excluded — maybe even unwanted.

Next time I’m on the end of extending hospitality to someone new, I will remember to be in the habit of being genuine, following up, and earning the right to go deeper.

What’s your hospitality story?

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About Laura K. Cavanaugh

I'm a writer, spiritual director, and advocate of holistic body theology.

Posted on July 23, 2012, in Body of CHRIST, Community and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. good blogpost, wife. i agree that those comments and fakenesses from people can and continue to be really hurtful. i feel that whenever i encounter that sort of attitude and candor, it pushes me away further from the new group and is actually worse than being ignored. it tells me that i am not good enough to hang out with that group or to be included and that definitely does not display Christlikeness or love in any way, shape, or form. i hope to never be like that.

    • Laura Cavanaugh

      You won’t ever be like that, lover. It’s not in you. Let’s eradicate cliques from the community of God!

  2. I remember one of my good friends back in college having an open tea time in the hallway of Senior Dorm. We welcomed all-comers, though a few regulars showed up each week. We drank tea, talked about important things, and made each other laugh. Hm. Now that I think about it, I may be the only member of that fabled Order still unmarried.

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