I’m the biggest introvert you will ever meet and I’ve learned so much over the years from my mentor in all things introvert–Adam McHugh. I’m so happy that he agreed to write something for us today all about true hospitality. Y’all–it’s the first man to ever write a post at Nesting Place and this is SO good…
I believe that listening is the truest form of hospitality. This is good news for those of us who don’t relish opportunities to invite groups of people into our homes.
To me, the best hosts are not those who throw spirited dinner parties, as enjoyable as those can be, the best hosts are listeners, those who welcome others into their minds, hearts, and souls. That is true hospitality, the meeting place for healing and empathy.
Creating the outward space is absolutely essential because it is the setup; it is the listening equivalent of setting the table, lighting the candles, and opening the door to your guests.
This is the context where true listening can happen, yet it is prologue, not the meal.
While for the more extroverted among us the greatest listening challenge may be in the outward act of hospitality – finding the time in a busy schedule, allowing quiet space, and refraining from steering the conversation with their words – for introverts like me the listening challenge is in the inward act of hospitality, making room in my inner life to allow for the needs and interests of others.
The atmosphere surrounding us may be quiet, but so often the climate in our heads is thunderous.
We have naturally active brains, which is why we often don’t feel the need to fill our lives with busyness. Our brains are quite busy enough, and we can provide all the stimuli that we need on our own. We’re our own favorite company. This is an asset for times of prayer and solitude, but it can be a barrier when we want to be attentive to others.
The truth is that only the listener can gauge whether he or she is truly listening, because true listening takes place on the inside.
You can have all the trappings of listening – eye contact, appropriate body language, active listening sounds, occasional questions – and still not be genuinely listening. I know, because I have done it.
I have been complemented for my listening by people that I knew I hadn’t listened to well, because I was preoccupied with my internal thoughts while sitting across the table from them. I was listening to the voices in my inner world, with their nagging concerns, self-doubts, and judgements, rather than offering my internal attention to the person in front of me.
As Steven Covey put it, I was listening to respond, rather than listening to understand.
There lies the greatest listening challenge for those of us with quiet exteriors and noisy interiors: We must practice an inner hospitality, learning to clear the internal space, and turning down the volume of our inner voices, so that we can welcome the voices, thoughts, and hearts of others.
That is how we become the best kind of hosts.
Adam McHugh is the author of The Listening Life, which won Christianity Today’s award for best book in spiritual formation for 2017, and Introverts in the Church (updated version coming this fall!). He also claims to have invented breakfast for dinner and his books always make me laugh and make me think–two great qualities in an author.