The Art of Invitation

“Jesus never compelled; he invited.”
-Chip Burkitt

I sat across from him in a study room at the library. Neutral ground. I had convinced myself I was in love with him, convinced myself that he cared deeply about me, after phone calls from Oxford, Christmas with his family, and tearful conversations about his dad or grandpa. I thought I was important.

He sat across from me and took back every apology he had made just a few days before, when I told him I felt hurt and that I wasn’t going to hurt silently anymore. I confronted him because I thought he was worthy. People make mistakes, are blind to how their actions affect others, and can fix it if they know it’s broken. He didn’t want to fix it. He wanted to blame someone else.

I was stunned as he told me that all of the things he had done to hurt me were my fault. I got up to leave, and he coaxed me back to my seat, repeating my name in a sincere, serious tone. Why did I stay? To date, that was the single most painful conversation I have ever had. I felt utterly obliterated. He told me that I was too much, that my desire for intimacy was impossible, because I was too intense (not just for him, for anyone). He told me that I initiated too often, started conversations, planned events. He told me that our friendship only existed because I pushed and pushed.

Afterwards, my friends told me he was an emotional cripple who couldn’t appreciate authentic human connection. For a long time, I believed them. Sometimes, I still do.

This was not the first time, nor would it be the last, that I was accused of initiating too much. This isn’t just a failure of conservative Christian sub-culture to accept that women can play an equal role in the formation and sustaining of a relationship. This feedback is actually true. I initiate all the time. I have an idea; I try to make it happen. I think someone is interesting; I invite him to things. I do it so very automatically; I don’t even realize I’m doing it.

I’ve discovered since then that there’s a reason I’m good at initiating. The Clifton StrengthsFinder says that I am an activator. Activators start things. I have other strengths too, giving rise to frequent ideas and the drive to get things done. I’m also an extrovert who is good at meeting new people and collecting new experiences. I am a risk-taker. This word—risk—can cast me in the best or worst light.

In relationships, this can be trying. Not everyone likes to start new projects. Not everyone likes my ideas. Not everyone feels comfortable being asked to social functions over and over again and having to turn them down due to other commitments. I can very easily see how my enthusiasm and persistence could be completely exhausting and stressful for someone else, especially if that person dislikes having to say “no.”

I finally walked away from the library room promising to hate him for a while, shaking, and an hour late to one of my classes. I’m not sure how I survived those months, not talking to him, following through on my promise to loathe him, trying to readjust my routine—I actually got As in all my classes that quarter. As it turns out, I was in love with him and foolish for it. I couldn’t see that then, though, but I wouldn’t undo it. Just like we should carry our great loves with us throughout our lives, our great sorrow must come too.

Over time, I have learned the art of invitation. At any rate, I know it exists. I am far from perfecting it. Inviting is a specialized form of initiating. An invitation conveys generosity, acceptance, and kindness.

“Jesus never compelled; he invited.” This is how the church (at its best) operates as well. And this is my goal, to invite, to let people know that they only need knock, and that, once they are inside, there’s no need to worry about me locking the door behind them. Every day, I am striving at cultivating a heart that says, “Come in; it’s warm and cozy in here, and we will have oh so many adventures,” a heart that is strong and resilient to rejection (after all, you’re probably doing it wrong if you’ve never experienced rejection).

This approach will still scare people. It will feel as though it is too much, as though I am too much. But if that is the case, it will be because of demands they are placing on themselves, not ones that come from me.

Today, he and I are friends, not the kind that text everyday or know everything about each other. We catch up at parties and reminisce or philosophize over drinks sometimes. In those moments, I am reminded what had intrigued me; I remember why we became friends in the first place.

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