(Read in church, Sunday, October 17, 2010, Children’s Sabbath)
I am a child of statistics. They say children who eat dinner at the table, with their families–even one night a week–are less likely to smoke, drink, do drugs, develop eating disorders. We are more likely to do well in school, eat our vegetables, and learn big words. Kids who eat with their parents are 40% more likely to earn As and Bs, read for pleasure, and do their homework. Check, check, and check. Yep, I am a child true to the statistics.
My family ate around a table together every night. Most nights, we sat around the table in the kitchen, with the news playing quietly in the background. Wednesdays our family grew–eating church meals with an extended church family–though I had to share my pastor-dad with a host of other faces and needs and wants, though most weeks it was more blessing than burden to literally share my family.
Sunday nights our laps were our tables, and the news was replaced by football or Touched by an Angel (for the record, neither were my first choice)—and the meal replaced by microwave popcorn. (You know I’ve bonded with lots of pastor’s kids over the ubiquitous bags of microwave popcorn that stood in for Sunday night dinner. Must’ve been one of those classes they taught dad in seminary–but I stopped teaching by the time I got there.)
So I’m a child of statistics. We gathered around a table for dinner. We were by no means the stuff of happy-family sitcoms. We came grumbling, worried, over-worked. We came crying, sad, and tired. We even came screaming (okay, maybe that was usually me or my sister). But more nights than not, all four of us came to the table. We exchanged the usual conversation–I’m sure you know it well:
–How was your day?
–Did you learn anything?
–Do you have any homework?
So while many nights came and went and it felt like all I was getting out of these family dinners was one more reason to roll my eyes at my parents, the truth is, I can’t imagine family any other way than around a dinner table. Isn’t that the beauty of it? That family creates the safe place where you can come grouchy, lonely, angry—but yet share a table, share a meal, share the exhaustion of a busy week? All that stops, even for 30 minutes over a plate of spaghetti in the shared space with those who love you.
Now the context has changed. I come home for special occasions, and my parents are now married to other people. What hasn’t changed is the table. We still gather around a table and share meals and conversation (these days I generally offer more than shoulder shrugs). When I am most homesick, I long for a warm meal around a quiet table with the safety and love of my family within arm’s reach. Now when we gather around the table, we may still come lonely, and even angry, but we gather and we linger: we talk longer, we share deeper, we laugh louder. We don’t rush off to catch more re-runs on t.v., or to finish calculus homework. We sit and eat and share. The table of my childhood became the table of my youth and young adulthood. Around that table we shared laughter and welcomed the family and friends. The table witnessed tears over things as trivial as calculus homework (though that might not sound so trivial to some of us!) to the pain of heartbreak and uncertain dreams. The table witnessed our growing up and our growing together, and it is still the table that gathers us and brings us home.