Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The Family Table

Futurist Dr. Richard Swenson writes, “Fast-lane families are headed for head-on collisions. They don’t have the opportunity to eat together. Shared, unstructured leisure time disappears. Communication suffers, problems multiply.

In a slower era . . . people had time for each other. At the store, the gas station, or the church there was time to visit. At the breakfast table and the dinner table there was time to visit. For the sake of our families, it is time, perhaps, for a slowdown crusade, or a campaign of mellowness. It is time to rediscover the fine art of relational dawdling. . . . Guard the family mealtime.”[i]

Speed is the norm of our day. Simplicity is almost a thing of the past. I believe one of the necessary spiritual habits for the 21st century Christian is learning to put the brakes on the break-neck speed of life.

If we do not slow down and guard our time, one aspect of life that suffers is what some people call the family table – or the family mealtime.

An Old Instruction

In Psalm 78, Asaph, one of the songwriters under King David, retells part of the history of the Jewish people from their Egyptian slavery to the Davidic reign. He recalls highs and lows of their history:

+ the plagues under Moses,
+ the Red Sea crossing,
+ the pillar of fire in the wilderness,
+ God’s provision of manna and quail,
+ their refusal to trust God in the desert, 
+ the conquering of the Promised Land, 
+ the loss of the ark of covenant, 
+ and the establishment of David’s kingdom.

Why does the Bible spill so much ink on past events? Because, the author knew the people would be tempted to forget their history, forget what God had done, and forget the Lord altogether. Remembering correctly is a fundamental part of being a faithful believer. And good parenting involves passing on correct knowledge worth remembering.

Notice how Asaph gives the responsibility of teaching the children about God to the parents:

+ things we have heard and known and that our fathers have passed down to us (3),

+ we will not hide them from their children but will tell a future generation the praiseworthy acts of the Lord (4),

+ he commanded our fathers to teach to their children (6),

+ they were to rise and tell their children so that they might put their confidence in God and not forget God’s works, but keep his commands (7).

Commenting on this passage, Steve Farrar writes, “You are to teach your children from the beginning the truth of the living God. That is not the pastor’s job or the Sunday school teacher’s job. You are to be the primary teacher of the Word.”[ii]

Do it Around Food

One of the best ways to practice this truth is to reclaim the family table – the time when the family sits around a table together to eat. No cell phones or tablets. No television. No newspaper or magazines. No rushed agenda.

I realize we probably can’t do this every day. But I urge you to resist the cultural norm of not making regular sit-down mealtimes a priority.

Mealtimes offer rich time for influencing the next generation. Practice listening to your children. Ask lots of questions. I know, when they become older they won’t want to always answer. But that’s ok. Ask anyway! Create a family culture of knowing what is going on in each other’s lives.

By practice, train your children that it’s good to sit around the table with the family after the eating is done. We want to be a family that enjoys each other. Laugh and tell funny things.  Practice sharing – from your own life and from God’s Word. Include them in your inner story. Tell that about your day. Share thoughts, feelings, and desires.

Varying levels of communication exist. One level asks, “What did you do?” Deeper than that is, “What do you think?” Even deeper is, “What did you feel?” or “What do you wish?” Work at having conversation that doesn’t only stay on the first level.

Our children love asking the family “what if” questions. What would you do with a million dollars? If you could travel anywhere in the world for one year, where would you go? If you had to have only one superpower, what would it be? Doing so helps build family cohesiveness and offers you opportunities to share wisdom.

Mealtime provide a captive audience to share from the Bible, creating an atmosphere of respect for God’s Word. Sometimes after supper I say, “OK, everybody clean your plates and then come back with a Bible.” We spend a few minutes together looking at a verse or passage. And I ask the children what they think about what God is saying in the texts.

President Ronald Reagan said, “All great change in America begins at the dinner table.”

Let’s change our world – one meal at a time.

Pictures used by permission from Pixabay.

[i] “”Margin and the Healthy Family” in A Minute of Margin (Navpress, 2003), 71,78.
[ii] Steve Farrar, Manna (Thomas Nelson, 2016), 198.

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