My husband told me the other night that I was anti-social. The comment came after the annual faculty cook-out the high school I’m going to be teaching at hosts each year. I signed us up to go with the thought that as a new teacher in the building, it would be good to go and put in an appearance, meet a few people, and let my husband see where and with whom I would be spending a lot of time in the upcoming months. I don’t like big social gatherings, especially when I know relatively few people, so the whole thing was, in honesty, somewhat of a disaster. I regretted the decision to come almost instantly. A few people I had had contact with said hello, and one of the other English teachers introduced us to her spouse. Yet, aside from that, no one really seemed interested in speaking to us. So, I focused on my food and we used our son as an excuse to abandon the rest of the mission. As we were walking out the door, my husband looked at me and said, “You’re really anti-social, aren’t you?”
Now, in my defense, I am brand new to this district, and I did hardly know anyone, and the conversation at our table revolved around people and places I knew nothing about, so there wasn’t a lot I could add. However, in retrospect, I probably could have tried a little harder. This is a problem that has plagued me my entire life. I’ve never been an overly social person. My nickname growing up was “Bear” because I liked to hibernate by myself. I’ve always had a handful of really close friends, many of whom have been in my life for 10+ years, and have been content to visit with people in small group settings. I don’t have a big personality, so to speak. My sister got all of that. And I’m horrible at small-talk. I just never know what to chat about. It all boils down to a lack of confidence on my part, although I couldn’t tell you of what exactly. But, as I get older, and my husband has more responsibilities in his ministry, I realize that being anti-social can pose some problems. I think it all boils down to the need to be radically hospitable.
Radical hospitality is one of the five principles Bishop Robert Schnase is calling the Missouri Conference of United Methodist Churches to exhibit. Radical hospitality, in my understanding of it, involves moving beyond your own comfort zone to make welcome all those you meet. It involves accepting others for who they are, making them feel o.k. about themselves in your presence, making sure they are comfortable and that their needs are satisfied as long as they are with you. The church we’ve recently taken up appointment at, First United Methodist of Mt. Vernon, showed us radical hospitality when we arrived. The members have been extremely open in receiving us, and make us feel each day how glad they are that we’ve come.
I’ve been waiting for the same treatment at the high school I’m working at. I’ve labored under the assumption that since I’m new, people need to talk to me and make an effort to get to know me, not vice versa. In thinking about radical hospitality, I realize that I’ve gotten it backward. Maybe I’m the one who needs to put out the effort to introduce myself and get to know people. Maybe I need to be more welcoming and open to people I meet for the first time. Maybe I need to spend less time focusing on my own internal struggles with inadequacy and self-doubt and put that energy into focusing out on the needs of others, say, my students for one. I don’t expect to completely change the whole of who I am. I don’t think I will every be truly comfortable in big group gatherings, but maybe I can at least try a little harder to be less anti-social.
Blessings and Peace,