I love face-to-face conversations with friends—long-time friends or brand-new friends. I do not prefer large social gatherings, mingling with people I barely know and engaging in shallow conversations. I also love extended time alone with a good book.
You guessed it. I am an introvert.
A major part of my job, though, is people. Lots of people. People I care about. Many of these people end up at our home for large and small gatherings.
My husband and I lead a large ministry, and we love to get to know new staff, to appreciate long-time members, to honor their children, to reach out to students, to celebrate upcoming weddings and soon-to-arrive babies, to host guests from other ministries.
Intimate groups of a few people are the best usually. Friends and guests alike settle in, open up, let each other in. The laughter rings true. Tears can flow.
Yet, even these small get-togethers can stall, filled with awkward silences. For my own comfort and for my guests, I have learned to plan ahead.
Sometimes my husband and I invite people who probably don’t know each other, often from various kinds of diversity, to what we call discussion dinners. We give them a topic we will talk about together—perhaps a current trend or a book we’ve all read. This generates lively conversation.
When we are not so intentional as an assigned topic, we talk about different concerns, issues, or interests we know our friends will have insights to contribute. When the table talk slows, we ask an open-ended question to stimulate thinking. This intentional, low-key guidance keeps conversation stimulating and meaningful.
We desire for our guests joining us and others around the table to experience a worthwhile investment of their time, valuable for deepening relationships and enriching their lives. And, I want the same for myself. A little preparation on our part helps that to happen.
The reality for us, though, requires that often we have large—30-100—in our home for a variety of gatherings: 80 international students, 40 graduating high school seniors and their parents, 70 students considering working at our headquarters for a year after they graduate, 50 global staff receiving new leader orientation, and 45 ministry donors desiring fellowship with others of like mind.
I love these parties—and I do love getting to meet these people. Gratefully, I have help with all the preparation and serving.. Even so, talking with so many people over several hours and feeling the hostess responsibility can totally exhaust me by the time the last guests leave.
God has given me a helpful approach to make such soirees work better for me.
Our guests enter our living room but then head back to our large Florida room, built for just such hospitality events. We can seat 50 for a meal, or handle 100 mingling with hors-d’oeuvres and conversation. Back there, for me, can be a nightmare of noise and people.
Instead, I greet every guest at the front door, engaging them briefly or longer, catching up a little on their lives or making acquaintance with a new friend. Conversation I enjoy, and hopefully, each person feels welcome and cared for.
As the gathering ends, or people begin to leave, I am at the same front door, wishing them farewell, and, almost always, seeking some meaningful interaction. Then I give them a small parting gift—a Texas Chewie Pecan Praline, a most awesome candy.
Again, by mostly participating in such gatherings in a way that feeds my soul and doesn’t exhaust me emotionally, I can also connect with our visitors.
One more practice enables me to not only survive but even enjoy, the many dinners and receptions I attend. I have penned about a dozen questions I have ready to ask when conversations stall. These questions invite personal connection, deeper understanding, discovering common ground, and even a need for which I can give encouragement or prayer.
A few of my favorite asks: What are you thankful for today? What have you learned lately? Who has encouraged you this week—and how? How has God surprised you recently? You can read more here.
So, my introvert friends, you can have your party, and even enjoy it, with a little planning and preparation. Then head home and delve into that waiting book.