God the Father extends a welcome to everyone. When we are willing to welcome like the Father, we reflect his unconditional acceptance. The challenge we face is in knowing how to welcome others, communicating genuine acceptance while expecting nothing in return.
How can you become one of those people who provides the kind of full welcome we all desire in new situations? To keep it simple, consider welcoming as something that happens best when you are keenly aware of maximizing four welcoming aspects—your face, your space, your place, and your grace.
- Your FACE
Welcoming starts with your facial expression. Have you ever heard the sarcastic comment, “If you are so happy to see me, why haven’t you told your face?” Your face is the first indicator of a welcoming spirit. It is the first impression people receive when they meet you. A smile and warm eye contact go a long way toward helping someone feel welcomed.
- Your SPACE
This is the impression of openness you express to others. Do you make people feel at ease? Do they feel you are happy to see them and eager to spend time with them? To limit relational awkwardness and build rapport, look for common ground, such as stage of life, hobbies, or enthusiasm for a sports team or a musical group. Asking open-ended questions encourages people to share their stories. In a casual group setting, look for ways to connect people with each other.
- Your PLACE
This is the physical environment—your home, office, or car, for example—where you welcome others, and the condition of the space matters. I’m not talking about the area being clean but about it seeming warm and inviting. Whether you are in your living room, kitchen, dorm, coffee shop, or local park, think through what will help the person you’re connecting with feel most welcome.
- Your GRACE
Most people long to go beyond relational superficiality and to find a person who is safe, who accepts them as they are, and who will allow them to process the significant questions of life without expecting anything in return. It takes prayerful insight to foster vulnerability at an appropriate pace. As you get to know a person over time, be willing to ask questions that encourage deeper discussion. Keep it safe for people to share transparently by encouraging them rather than by giving advice or communicating a judgmental attitude.
Prayer is important in each aspect of welcoming, but especially here. When inviting someone to spend time with you, pray before, after, and during your time with them (not necessarily out loud with people who aren’t used to that). While you’re together, you can silently ask God for wisdom to deepen the conversation as well as for discernment about what needs to be said and what needs to be left unsaid for now.
Welcoming can be practiced everywhere…We’ve been graciously welcomed by God to be his children, and he wants us to extend that same welcome to others in our everyday lives—at the job site, on the train, at the office, in the yard, on the bus, in the store, at the laundromat, at a restaurant, and in our homes. We have countless opportunities each day to share a warm presence both with the people we know best and with those we don’t know at all yet.
This is an excerpt from The 9 Arts of Spiritual Conversations, pages 142-146.