Oh, family dinners.
You know the ones that I've idealized in my mind since...well, forever? The ones where my grateful children sit with hands folded delicately over the napkins in their laps as they await the well-balanced meal I've worked so hard to prepare? That ideal, my friend, is what mocks me when five o'clock rolls around and my kids are convinced that dinner smells like "lamb's blood." And why the thought of trying to train my children to act less than fools at the dinner table just makes me want to strap everyone in the car and speed to the nearest fast food play-place.
The desire of my heart is to create a warm atmosphere of consistent family dinners. I want to foster an environment for my people to connect deeply. I want our table to be a sacred space, a sanctuary of sorts. Because it's over warm dinner rolls and spilled cups of milk that a heritage of memories, a legacy of laughter and the practice of forgiveness are formed.
After all, families that supper together, stay together. At least that's what the stats say. And I sure do want those stats to be true of my clan, but daggumit, it takes a large helping of grit smothered in grace to make it through even ONE dinner at my house, let alone a lifetime. So, how can a tired momma be intentional in creating a rich family life around the table? How can an atmosphere of acceptance, gratitude, love and inquisitiveness be forged over plastic forks and sippy cups?
“When you offer peace instead of division, when you offer faith instead of fear, when you offer someone a place at your table instead of keeping them out because they’re different or messy or wrong somehow, you represent the heart of Christ.” -Shauna Niequist, Bread & Wine
How To Eat Dinner As a Family....Without Losing Your Mind
1. Proper Perspective.
There I was, fussing at my eight-year-old who had come undone and was acting out of the exhaustion we all felt. I lost my patience and ashamedly said, "No one with THAT kind of attitude is welcome at MY dinner table!" There ya go, mom. A little shaming can go a long way, right? False. Why not just give him a hug and usher him to the table for nourishment with a large helping of forgiveness? The Holy Spirit pricked my heart and reminded me that HE is the one who continually invites ME and my bad attitudes to His banquetting table. In fact, because my life is hidden in Christ, His banner over me is love, regardless of my attitudes or actions. Man, how good does that feel? I need that same hospitable heart in my mothering.
“We don't come to the table to fight or to defend. We don't come to prove or to conquer, to draw lines in the sand or to stir up trouble. We come to the table because our hunger brings us there. We come with a need, with fragility, with an admission of our humanity. The table is the great equalizer, the level playing field many of us have been looking everywhere for. The table is the place where the doing stops, the trying stops, the masks are removed, and we allow ourselves to be nourished, like children. We allow someone else to meet our need. In a world that prides people on not having needs, on going longer and faster, on going without, on powering through, the table is a place of safety and rest and humanity, where we are allowed to be as fragile as we feel.” -Shauna Niequist, Bread & Wine
Let's ask God for the perspective we need to invite the weak and weary to our banquet, farmhouse or card table because, His banner over us is love.
2. Paper or Plastic.
So, hopefully, now we have the right perspective. Namely, people don't need to perform in order to join us in community around our tables. But, since we've got attitudes and time schedules to manage, let's ask ourselves how we can make the meal and table prep as easy on ourselves as possible.
First things, first. Skip the fussy table cloth and roll out butcher paper so kids can color while momma finalizes the meal. Then, let's ask one child to set the table with paper plates and plastic spoons, so you can be free from doing dishes later. Hand another child a small vase and have him gather some greenery from your yard. Dig out an old candle and bam! Pinterest-worthy ambiance and everyone helped! And if you throw on some instrumental hymns (or instrumental hip hop for that matter), the atmosphere will be even more elegant! Let's make disciples even in and especially in the kitchen.
3. Prayerful Playfulness and Perseverance.
Okay, your perspective is on point. You're working smarter not harder by delegating and making things easier on yourself, but by now, someone has inevitably spilled something and/or turned his nose up at the English peas hidden in the Chicken Alfredo. Breathe a brief prayer and ask God to make you creatively patient. It's time to get playful. Perhaps you need to play a rousing game of "Don't You Eat That" where you beg the child (or husband) NOT to eat the peas. Whatever they do, PULEASSEE do not put even a one pea in their mouths! "NOOO! Don't you dare do it!!" Reverse psychology at its finest. In our house, it works every time. Or maybe play like my mother always did, by saying, "Okay, let's pretend that the President of the United States of America has invited you for dinner this evening..." and playfully incorporate the desired manners. Whatever it is, so many foul moods can be laughed off if we prayerfully practice joyful hospitality to those ALREADY IN our homes and treat them the way we would those INVITED to come in. Love (and laughter) cover a multitude of sins.
And when we practice our ideals over and over, they will eventually become our reality. Let's consistently involve our children in mealtime preparations, constantly attempt to sit and ask each other meaningful questions, and let's faithfully show up to lay down our rights so that we can create rich family time around the table.
“I always wanted to be a hero -- to sacrifice my life in a big way one time -- and yet, God has required my sacrifice to be thousands of days, over many years, with one more kiss, one more story, one more meal.” -Sally Clarkson, Own Your Life
What tips and tools do you have to share about creating rich family time around the table? I so wish you and your crew could come over for dinner at our (crazy) house tonight, but in the meantime, let's swap recipes and talk motherhood @kitty_hurdle on Instagram or at my corner of the internet where you can download "100 Table Talk Conversation Starters" for free.