“Gracious or Polite?”

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Years ago I took a “spiritual gifts” quiz that was to evaluate where my skills would be of most use at church. I scored very low on something called “hospitality,” mostly I think because it confused working on luncheons with genuine graciousness, a better word for the virtue of welcoming. I have often been confused myself about graciousness, believing it had something to do with the dinner parties of my parents.

I believe, however, that graciousness comes from the heart and is not the same as entertaining. It is a welcoming approach to others, an invitation to draw close and share their presence. Being polite is certainly a good trait drilled into us from our childhood. Of course we should not call names, shun others, slam doors in their faces or demean their beliefs. But graciousness towards others partners with humility. It recognizes that we are all “strangers in a strange land” and all could use a welcome smile.

Graciousness seems to  me to be the best response to the homeless I meet on the streets. I try to make eye contact and acknowledge the person’s humanity. I will probably not invite them for dinner, but that doesn’t diminish my gracious gesture. And when I encounter people in my life I really struggle with, I hope to move from polite acknowledgement to a genuine welcome. I will need a little more forbearance to get there!

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