Hosting for the Anxious Introvert


As I walked to work today, I passed a store specializing in all things kitchen related. Through the giant picture window I saw a gorgeous table set for Thanksgiving dinner. A wooden table provided the rustic backdrop for individual stacks of matte charcoal dishes. Neutral-coloured pumpkins were scattered amidst candles and greenery. It was perfect.

These scenes are common this time of year. Suggestions on how to decorate beautifully and cook delectable meals for giant crowds abound. Sermons suddenly begin to focus on hospitality. Workshops pop up on Facebook on how to make your own wreath or create festive centerpieces. Magazines are filled with recipe suggestions on feeding the throngs that will no doubt be invading your home at any moment. And I get it. This is some people’s jam.

It is not my jam.

To me, the ideal number for any social situation is two. As that number grows, my anxiety skyrockets. I’ve left large parties in tears because I didn’t get to really talk to anyone, and four hours of small talk makes me seriously consider never leaving my house again. The thought of having thirty people over for a ten-course meal is my worst nightmare. So, with every hospitality-centred event and well-intentioned sermon from Thanksgiving to Christmas, I often feel like the most unwelcoming heathen around.

Three years ago, my husband and I were invited to join a monthly dinner club with three other couples. I said yes not only because I loved the others participating, but also because I thought it would be a good way to stretch myself. The first month we hosted I was a complete disaster. I sprinted around the house terrified I would ruin the food, sweat through my shirt, say something weird or disappoint my guests. I wore myself plum out before the doorbell rang at 7:30pm. But we kept it up. And though I still get nervous and collapse when it’s all over, it’s gotten easier. I’ve learned what I need to do to keep myself relaxed (simple food—prepared in advance— and sleeveless shirts). I’m ridiculously proud I’ve managed to conquer a giant fear of mine.

While I adore being in our dinner club, and have gotten slightly better at navigating hostess-with-the-mostess situations, I still prefer being one on one. I just want to get into the uncomfortable topics right away. I want to wear sweatpants. I want it to be quiet, so I can really listen. I want to talk about all the things that are just more tricky to talk about in a group. Like depression and labour and politics and where to buy a good bra.

A few weeks ago, a friend came over. I put out pretzel chips and peanut M & M’s (cold from the fridge, because I’m very classy.) We plopped ourselves down on my worn grey couch and didn’t move for three hours. It was wonderful.

Despite what’s often presented in media and Christian culture, I think this must be hospitality as well. I suppose it’s slower. One person compared to a horde. But it’s significant. It’s meaningful. I can bring my whole self to the table, without having to fret over what it looks like. I don’t have to run around trying not to burn five different things, while navigating conversations with ten other people. I can just be.

I know so many people who are just the opposite. They are fully themselves and fully alive in a group setting. It’s amazing to watch. They’re pulling a cake out of the oven while pouring wine and cracking hilarious jokes. And though I’ve learned I can technically do the same thing, I’m likely never going get the same joy or fulfillment out of it as they do.  It’s just their zone. It’s their gift.

But pretzel chips and M & M’s? That’s my zone. Deep diving into intimate conversations within seconds of meeting someone? That’s my gift.

So, if you’re not the one hosting the holiday dinner, it’s ok. Maybe you’re the one in the corner, listening to someone’s struggle as he cares for his aging parents. Perhaps you’re the one adding extra marshmallows to a little one’s hot chocolate because you thought she looked a little down today. Or maybe you’re the one who always notices that person who’s strangely quiet amidst a boisterous crowd. Who desperately wants someone to see her.

It looks different. It’s certainly not as celebrated or Instagram-worthy as a glittery, pumpkin studded table.

But it still counts.

It’s opening the door.

Whether for a throng.

Or for one.