I am, by nature, a shy introvert. It’s not that I dislike people. I wouldn’t want to live out the rest of my days in a cabin on a mountaintop. However, I have been hurt and let down by people. So much of leadership and making disciples rests in the hands of others who have (sometimes frustratingly) free wills. Even though I enjoy interacting and socializing, I get worn down if there is no opportunity to recharge my batteries in solitude.
I am tempted to read certain Bible passages and reason, “These words are for people that have different gifts or personalities than what I have.” The Apostle Peter writes to extroverts and introverts in 1 Peter 4:9, “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” NIV
The term “hospitality” used in the Bible means “love of the stranger or alien.” Hospitality is one of the primary means for us to demonstrate love to others.
The love which Peter speaks of in our text is outward-looking and leads to readiness in giving to the needs of others. Peter points out that giving is possible only because we have already received gifts from God. As followers of Jesus, we should be constantly aware of the fact that we are in debt to God for all we have, so the care of others comes from a debt of gratitude.
I have wondered, “Does being loving and open-hearted mean that I should trust everyone and be totally transparent with them?” I found the answer in John 2:23-25:
23 Now while he [Jesus] was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. 24 But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. 25 He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man. NIV
Jesus did not trust everyone, even though He was love personified. Where there is no reason to trust and be open-hearted, there should be discretion and wisdom.
Is it possible to be too transparent, too open? The speaker of a marriage seminar who had told her group about the importance of honesty in relationships, received an angry call from a woman who claimed the seminar had ruined her marriage. “When we got home, I told my husband that in 27 years of marriage I’ve never liked sex, and he walked out.” Transparency isn’t necessarily honesty, because our feelings can change quickly. An honest response one minute may not represent truly honest feelings the next. Transparency can be the enemy of intimacy. Many negative thoughts and feelings are best left unmentioned. Often transparency is not kind. We are called to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). As you seek to build depth and intimacy in communication, you also need wisdom, self-control and discretion.
Tact is the ability to make your guests feel at home when you wish they really were.
To be open-hearted is to be free to trust people when it is appropriate to do so. A closed-hearted person withdraws and avoids being open with others because they have been hurt and they harbour unforgiveness.
Solomon paints a graphic word picture in Proverbs 18:19:
An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city, and disputes are like the barred gates of a citadel. NIV
Have you ever vowed not to trust people again? Such a vow will strangle your soul. Such a vow leads you down the path to loneliness. Opening your heart begins with surgery, if your heart needs it. Let the Holy Spirit bring healing to your heart where there have been hurts.
Church is one place where people expect to find vital relationships to meet their social as well as their spiritual needs. Here are some strategies for developing closer relationships in your church, workplace, school and community:
- Seek out others who need friends. Force yourself to greet people and make conversation during the few minutes before and after meetings and activities.
- Just be yourself. You’re much more likely to develop close relationships by being open and honest than by putting on a facade or pretending you never have a messy house or any struggles.
- Find a method that works for you. One woman was uncomfortable approaching other women in her church so she began to invite someone over for coffee each week. She felt less threatened in her own home and began several friendships.
- As you talk with people be alert for common interests that can form the basis of a friendship – hobbies, children who are the same ages or similar experiences.
- Working together on teams or service projects creates a spirit of camaraderie and strong bonds between coworkers.
- Ask the Lord to give you a welcoming heart, to help you overcome your shyness.
Are you known as a person who is easy to talk to? Do you avoid getting to know new people? Open your heart to people – it is worth the risk!
President, Cooperative ESL Ministries