As I grew up in my home my family had a tradition to sit down together at least once a week for dinner. We picked Sunday nights as the time when we would all come together and sit in our dining room around the large oval table. As the food was passed around we would share stories about what was going on, re-tell great memories, have theological discussions, and joke about life. Truth be told, any one of us could finish the story of one another, the punch lines to every joke told had all been heard, and the current events weren’t really that exciting. Yet, despite all that we still sat down every Sunday night and shared these moments with one another.
Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t the family out of the Norman Rockwell painting you see displayed while in line at the Home Town Buffet, we had our share of those kinds of family meals. In spite of those more forgettable moments it’s something my family really treasured.
Now that I am married, and have a family of my own, it’s not as often that I get together with everyone around the Sunday dinner table. We still head over from time to time and have the same discussion with my dad about how over-done or under-done his tri-tip is, but it’s not nearly as frequent as it was.
Even so, I notice that in the modern culture family meals are about as scarce as a street corner without a Starbucks on it. Many families go weeks if not months on end without ever really taking the time to sit down with one another and share life over a meal at the same time. More often then not we are so busy that if we are sitting and eating together it’s in the car over a large fry and a burger. This may come to surprise you, but I wouldn’t qualify that as a family meal.
Family meals are one of the best ways to reconnect with our families. Taking the time to sit down, share stories, and invest in one another is a simple and yet super effective way of strengthening each other as a family unit. After all, why do you think much of Jesus’ ministry was spent at the table, serving food, or at parties where people were eating and drinking together? The word “ate” shows up about twenty two times just in the Gospels alone. Jesus understood that one of the greatest methods of investing into others involves food. We all have a basic need to eat, and when you fill that need first it opens the door to fill our need for community as well.
It’s time we slow down, if for nothing else just a couple of hours and reconnect to one another in our families over a meal. No one is asking you to be Paula Dean or the next Top Chef, but the challenge here is to lead your family to a place of community. Here are three ways to help get the family back around the table, and build the community that may be missing.
1) Plan ahead
When you’re trying this out for the first time, or for the first time in a long time, keep others in mind. Understand that the more advanced notice you can give, the better. Many of our family members have busy schedules, not to mention ours. So, if you can pick a day and time and let others know to plan around it, this will show them that you value them and the things they need to do as well. Plus, this really helps promote it too. As the date comes closer, remind them, and share your excitement with them. It also helps if you cook a family favorite meal, or something special (breakfast for dinner is a unique way to encourage participation).
2) Be Consistent
They say if you want something to become a regular part of your life you have to do it over and over again. Well, I’m not sure who “they” are, but I’m pretty sure they’re on to something. Don’t expect this to just take off without effort. You may find the family sitting down, at your request, and the only thing you hear is the awkward scraping of knives across the dinner plate, and grasshoppers chirping in the background. That’s ok, stick with it, and things will get better. To help yourself out, come to the table with some pre-thought out questions in your mind. It’s best if they are open ended and not ones that can be answered with one word. There are a couple books out called the “Would You Rather” series. Load up with two or three of these to get conversations rolling. The biggest thing is, don’t give up.
3) Kill Technology
Lastly, kill your technology. One of the biggest and most detrimental killers to family meals is technology. It seems in our culture today we can’t go more than two minutes without our phones going off alerting us of a new email, text, status update, sports score, or angry bird. We can’t connect face to face with the people around the dinner table if we can’t stop connecting with the people who aren’t at the table. Make a rule that during family dinner time phones aren’t just put away, but they are turned off, in another room, and completely out of our possession. Don’t sit down to eat with a murderer (pretty sure that’s in the Bible somewhere) kill technology before it kills your meal.
Eric Upton is the Middle School Pastor at Bridgeway Christian Church and you can follow him on Twitter or roll over to his Tumblr here if you dare.