The Meal that Makes Us Family and Friends

We all need to eat and drink to stay alive. But having a meal is more than eating and drinking. It is celebrating the gifts of life we share. A meal together is one of the most intimate and sacred human events. Around the table we become vulnerable, filling one another’s plates and cups and encouraging one another to eat and drink. Much more happens at a meal than satisfying hunger and quenching thirst. Around the table, we become family, friends, community, yes, a body.

That is why it is so important to “set” the table. Flowers, candles, colorful napkins all help us to say to one another, “This is a very special time for us, let’s enjoy it!”

Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey, February 15

I read this devotional yesterday, and then promptly forgot it, until dinnertime when Jesus tapped me on the shoulder and said something like this, “Hey, you know why your kids don’t stay at the table long enough to finish their food? You know why they wander off to play and forget to eat? Besides the fact that they’re kids and have a short attention span?”

“Your table doesn’t have much joy to offer them right now. You all sit munching your food with your eyes down. This is a place where you can share stories of your life that will keep them engaged. This is a place where you can laugh and smile and sing and encourage them to open up about their day.”

And so we did.

I told some stories about a tough day from my childhood when I went rock climbing and my friend got hurt. I told how Jesus had helped me to resolve that trauma by climbing with me and reassuring me that I didn’t need to give in to fear. I didn’t need to avoid dangerous things, or think that I was incapable. He comforted me and showed me His energy and joy in me.

Leif talked about his time on the playground that day with friends. Just a few words. Owen shared a memory of a moment we had connected that morning.

My wife Dawn got into it. She started to pretend to be a bunny that was sharing Owen’s salad with him. It was so fun to see him light up as they shared that little game.

And you know what? Owen ate all his food, without leaving anything.

I shared a thought with God. “So . . . all our cajoling and threats and attempts to manipulate them into eating their food, was that a waste of time and energy?” And I heard Him say, “YUP!” And I asked Him, “So we were only making the table a less joyful place for our kids to be?”


And . . . if we’ll put the effort into opening our hearts instead, telling stories, and making this a joyful place for them, they’ll not only stay at the table, they’ll probably eat most their food by accident because they associate eating with joy?


And we’ll all grow into a joyful family together?



I’m feeling so grateful now that I’m learning to be conscious of the joy levels in my life. This affects not just my mental health, but my children’s hearts and minds as well. It might not seem like learning to tell joyful stories (skill 7) or learning how to share our appreciation for life (skill 4) would be things we need to learn and practice, but they ARE. We do need to be conscious and choose joy over withdrawal. Sharing joy (skill 1) is something that can be sorely missing from the family until we start noticing each other and taking that moment to look into each other’s eyes and say without words, “I see you. I’m glad to be with you.”

I’m so glad that this is not all up to me. It would be overwhelming to think I had to keep life and my children’s lives feeling joyful all the time. Jesus is always glad to be with us, and ready to teach us to enjoy and appreciate the people in our lives.


THRIVEtoday appreciates Charles Spoelstra for submitting this Blog!

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