Filmmaker and journalist Miriam Weinstein once asked in The Surprising Power of Family Meals:
What if I told you that there was a magic bullet—something that would improve the quality of your daily life, your children’s chances of success in the world, your family’s health, our values as a society? Something that is inexpensive, simple to produce and within the reach of pretty much anyone?
You may have guessed her answer: the family dinner table.
Now some of you may be wondering why I’m writing an enthusiastic post about the importance of the family dinner table as someone who has never been married and doesn’t have children. For one thing, I grew up in a family where my mom made dinners for us most nights and I’m still reaping the benefits. But “family” also has a much wider significance than our mere flesh and blood relatives. Jesus shared many significant meals with those who were part of His spiritual family and those who might one day be. When we offer our tables to Jesus and those we’re serving, we create a place where relationships flourish and bodies are nourished. Plus, even without a family of my own, I sit down for dinner in some form or fashion most every night with friends or in-town family.
Our Table Gives Others a Place to Belong
Growing up I could always count on sitting down as a family for dinner. It was grounding to look forward to my mom’s meals and the time together as a stabilizing force in my day, even if my siblings and I fought and complained about the minced onions in the meatloaf. My mom once pointed out that kids are buffeted all day long by things and people; they feel insecure and rejected because their friend has gone after another friend, for example. Dinnertime is a sacred time to draw your kids in, look them in the eye and let them know they belong.
This truth translates into almost any setting, whether you’re single, married, a parent, aunt or uncle, child, or friend. I try to cook and have people at my table as often as I can for the health benefits, yes, but mostly for the deepening of relationships. As we grow older our problems and trials only become more difficult and complex, making the safe harbor of the dinner table an even more meaningful place of respite and restoration. What a delightful gift God has given us in being able to gather around good food and fortify one another in the process.
The Table Cultivates Conversation and Storytelling
It’s no secret we live in a society that’s recently undergone a vast change in its communication habits. What used to be conversations that happened in person or on the phone now take place over texting. Texting may be expedient but it doesn’t help build relationships. The beauty of sitting down with other people around a meal is that face-to-face conversation becomes necessary. The dinner table is a place where we get to learn how to ask good questions, brush up on our listening skills, and refine our storytelling abilities.
Growing up I loved hearing stories like how my parents met, or why they chose my name, or what it was like when my mom finally gave birth to a boy after having three girls. My parents often asked us to share about our day and encouraged us to ask questions of one another. Even when we went through phases where we didn’t feel like talking, or we siblings rolled our eyes at one another, or we were plain grumpy from the school day, we learned how to dialogue and enter into dialogue, even when we didn’t feel like it. I’m thankful for those life skills I’m still drawing on today.
The Dinner Table Gives Us a Reason to Cook and Serve
Cooking and serving others isn’t for the domestic or epicurean elite. We’re all capable of making a simple meal and having people around our table to share it with. Over the years I’ve grown in my cooking and entertaining abilities, which incidentally has been an empowering journey. The empowerment finds its roots in Genesis 1-2 where God gave man and woman dominion over the earth—to cultivate it and be nourished from it. When I prepare a meal I’m actively taking part in the gift God has given us to create, and feed others and ourselves. This feels good!
But cooking has also helped me become a better servant. Shopping for ingredients, chopping vegetables, setting a table, and inviting people into my home is a natural way to serve others. Whether a friend is going through a hard time or a family member has a reason to celebrate, putting on a meal is a tangible way to feed both body and soul.
I know we’re all short on time and have countless reasons why cooking and sitting down together isn’t realistic or feasible. But let me encourage you to start with a simple meal and a 30-minute time frame with your family. If you don’t have a family like myself, invite some friends over. You may then want to graduate to having some neighbors over who you’d like to get to know better. Who knows where the journey will lead? And what matters more than the destination is all the community, good food, and meaningful conversations you’ll have along the way. Ingredients that fast food and texting can never give you.