I’m a little late to this party, but Meredith Schultz has a good piece over at Fare Forward on hospitality for and among millennials. At the end she offers a few suggestions for habits and postures that will help with the practice of hospitality. I was particularly struck by her remarks on leaving some unstructured time in our schedules:
The accelerated pace of modern life means time is one of the most significant obstacles to practicing hospitality. “‘Being busy’ has become a status symbol,” says Henri Nouwen, “and most people keep encouraging each other to keep their body and mind in constant motion.” If we fill every spare moment of our lives, we will not be free to welcome unexpected guests or have the energy to care for them. Leaving unstructured time in our schedules is a countercultural act, which faithfully anticipates divine encounters. A late-night conversation. Another plate at dinner. Three strangers by the Oaks of Mamre.
In my experience, this is especially hard for single people to do. One of my single friends at my church in England (whom I’ve mentioned before) and I once talked—“What! You do that too?!”—about our tendency to fill our calendars with social events, more than we really needed or wanted, because we knew if we didn’t, chances were we’d be spending the unfilled time alone. Living with family or roommates, you at least know other people will be physically present if you happen to have an evening or weekend free of planned events. But if you’re single and live alone, unstructured time often means time spent by yourself.
I have regularly received raised eyebrows or playfully critical comments when I’ve left the pub early or ducked out of one meeting only to head to another dinner party or other engagement. In the past, I know I’ve given the impression of never having a dull moment in my calendar. And that was (and is), in part, true. But it was often because I’d planned my days and weeks that way. I’d wanted to make sure I didn’t have to be alone if I didn’t want to be. It was a kind of measure of desperation, rather than an indication of my popularity.
More recently, though, I’ve been thinking about the value of unstructured time for single people, too. Maintaining a packed social calendar can be a way of self-medicating, of avoiding the spiritual need for solitude and stillness. In the face of this pathology, leaving myself unstructured time can be a way of letting down my defenses and becoming better acquainted with my weaknesses, rather than constantly hiding them under frenetic socializing. And leaving unstructured time can also be a way of leaving space for others to take initiative in their own ways and invite me into their lives, without my having to engineer the engagements (and thus open myself to the uncomfortable feeling of always being the planner).
All these thoughts came to mind as I read Schultz’s essay, and I’d be interested to hear from others how the experience of “leaving unstructured time” looks different depending on your living situation and relational status.