The purposes of a person's heart are deep waters, but a person with understanding will draw them out.”
– Proverbs 20:5
I don’t know about you, but there have been a few times my slightly-introverted husband would rather have his teeth pulled without Novocain than sit for hours engaging in small talk with strangers. Now don’t get me wrong, most people would never know this about him because he is such a natural conversationalist. He’s the king of chitchat, always ready with an entertaining story to tell. He’s always the one person at the table of eight who can draw the entire group into an interesting conversation, never leaving anyone out. He truly does enjoy it, but sometimes it seems to exhaust him.
Not long ago we were invited to a dinner party with several people we didn’t know. While I was excited to go, he was hesitant – yet willing – to attend because it was for a good friend. However, by the end of the evening, we were delighted to find that we both left that party not only feeling like we really got to know the other guests but that we were also known by them.
How often does THAT happen?
I give all the credit to our creative host who realized his guests were coming from different parts of his life and didn't necessarily have points of connection with each other. So, included in the dinner party invitation was an assigned question he asked each of us to be prepared to answer at the party.
The theme of the questions was, “What inspires you lately?” And what really made this activity so effective and enjoyable was that the host had taken the time to tailor the questions to be meaningful to the person who answered it.
For example, the artist’s question was, “something you’ve seen that inspires you lately.” For the journalist, it was, ”something from the newspaper that inspires you lately.” For the counselor, it was, “a conversation that inspires you lately,” and so on. Each person took their turn sharing what inspired them recently and why.
I honestly can’t remember the last time we enjoyed a party as much as we did that one. Our conversations with complete strangers that night truly were insightful and noteworthy. A few tears were shed, as well as a lot of laughter shared, too. It worked because it offered us an opportunity to peek behind the curtain of shallow small talk and really connect with each other on a meaningful level. Everyone left the dinner party that evening raving about what a wonderful time they had.
I also found that the experience stayed with me for a long time. In fact, it was so impactful that my husband and I decided to use the same questions with our own family at our Thanksgiving dinner that year.
Here were the assigned questions we sent out with the invitations:
Here are some additional ideas as well:
The questions are fairly easy to tailor to the age range, unique interests, and diversity of your group. Want to use them again with the same people at another time? Just switch the assigned questions. You can probably even come up with several more of your own (if so, share them with us in the comment section below!).
We were amazed at the new insights we gained into the hearts of each family member that day. In fact, our discussion around the dinner table was so much more rich and significant that we all agreed to make it our new tradition to observe at Thanksgiving. And the piece de resistance? My Christmas gift that year from my kids was a beautiful heart-shaped necklace inscribed with the Scripture reference of the verse that I had shared and prayed over them as a blessing that day:
“I will bless my people and their homes around my holy hill. And in the proper season, I will send the showers they need. There will be showers of blessing… In this way, they will know that I, the Lord their God, am with them. And they will know that they…are my people, says the Sovereign Lord. You are My flock, the sheep of My pasture. You are My people, and I am your God.”
– Ez. 34: 26, 30-31 (NLT)
So if you’re looking for a great way to get beyond the shallow curtain of small talk and idle chitchat at your next holiday gathering, I whole-heartedly recommend you try this conversation starter. Hopefully, you’ll all end up feeling as inspired and thankful as we did!
Before I close, I’d like to offer this additional thought (which my husband suggested I add): While we obviously are great proponents of creating space for deep and meaningful conversation at family get-togethers, there are also times when just being together, hanging out with no particular agenda while you watch the bowl games on TV is equally beneficial. Not everything during the day has to be scripted, deep and profound in order for it to be meaningful. Make sure you balance out the day by allowing unstructured time to laugh, play, relax and just enjoy each other’s company. As someone once said, “A day without laughter is a day wasted.” And you know what? I think he’s right.
Alisa Grace ('92) serves as the co-director of the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships where she also co-teaches a class called "Christian Perspectives on Marriage and Relationships." While she speaks and blogs regularly on topics such as dating relationships, marriage, and love, she also loves mentoring younger women and newly married couples, speaking at retreats and providing premarital counseling. Alisa and her husband, Chris, have been married over 30 years and have three wonderful children: Drew and his wife Julia, Natalie and her husband Neil, and their unexpected blessing, Caroline.