I should begin by telling you that I am a firm believer in the fact that a good coach delivering a good pep talk before the game can change the course of the contest. His team may just win if his pre-game rouser is on key. The same goes for kings as they ride before their men on horseback before battle. The flip-side is also true. If these moments are botched, if coach goes to telling long stories about how he comported himself in his championship days, then all of a sudden, the boys are drained; the spirit is quenched, the gusto is zapped.
Spurgeon said somewhere, while renouncing lengthy prayers, that he once knew a minister who could pray him right into a good frame of mind, and then pray him right out of it. Many a coach has erred in this fashion. But I don’t have the time to decry the parental problem of rambling on, I myself am now drifting down a side road. Back to the main line.
The spirit (and the matter) of your dinner table is far more important than you think it is. That blessed and highly favored meal at the end of the day can be your best parental friend or your worst parental enemy. Whatever it is, it is a time of discovery. You need only be a fly on the wall for a few minutes at dinner hour to know how a family is doing.
Is dad spaced out at the table? Is he busy returning missed text messages from earlier in the day? Or is his face turned toward his children? Did mom burn the biscuits? Or did she get the biscuits just right and snuff out all of the children’s joy in the process by snapping at them like a prodded lobster? — “Serves the little devils right for coming in Michelin-mom’s kitchen while I’m making Cordon Bleu!”
Are the children happy to be at this table? Do they like their food? Do they eat their food even if it is not their favorite? How does everyone respond when the toddler drops her fork for the fifth time? Then there is the conversation. Does it roll along well enough or drag? Are there any laughs at this dinner table? Are these eaters genuinely interested in the conversation? Is there a lively debate?
If you’re out of fellowship, dinner shows it. If you talk too much, your fellow diners will know. If you’re a grumpy muffin, there’s no chance of getting through this bread-breaking fellowship while keeping that attitude concealed. Ah, dinner, the revealer of mysteries.
So, parents should take advantage of this evening scouting report. But there’s much more to be said. You have to do more than just observe at this table. I titled this post, “Feast, Feast, Feast, I Say.” And that is just what you should do. Make your dinner table a place where the children want to be, a place where you want to be. The work involved is not small.
It starts with a mom (and dad) who knows that kitchen knives are not in vain, and neither is the grocery list. The goal is not to make your family dinner look like a five star restaurant every night. But neither is the goal to make it look like whatever is under those heat lamps at the 7/11. You don’t need to break the bank. But parents do have to know that the food a mother puts on the table for her family matters. That is why the cooking of that food is fraught with temptation to idolatry and despair. God has called mothers to walk that glorious road and it is walked by the Spirit’s power. There are not high enough words to honor mother in the kitchen. The woman fed these children in her womb for months. She nursed them for months after that. And for a remarkable amount of years following, God sees fit to answer our prayer for daily bread by delivering it to us through her hands. Mothers, your cooking is not in vain.
While mom is the head chef, dad shouldn’t be ignorant of the kitchen. There are not many things more glorious than getting the whole family in there on a weekend, preparing dinner together. Turn some music on. Feed the kids bits and pieces as you prepare the feast. Investigate the ingredients. Talk about where they came from. God made this world that you’re enjoying. One of the duties parents have is that of teaching their children how to enjoy God’s good world. And as Robert Capon has said, don’t forget the candy—”The child’s preference for sweets over spinach, mankind’s universal love of the toothsome rather than the nutritious is the mark of our greatness . . . The world is no disposable ladder to heaven. Earth is not convenient, it is good; it is, by God’s design, our lawful love.”
Once you’re around the table, aim for a conversation that is pleasing to the Lord. Now is not a time to coast in the parenting department. Your dinner dates with your children are not altogether different from your hospitality dinners when hosting guests. You are dad and mom. If you’re not interested and interesting, then how can you expect the kiddos to be? If you’re slumpy, disconnected, gloomy, and selfish at this meal, then you will likely reap what you sow.
But, by the same token, if you love the family through this time of eating and drinking, if you enjoy yourself as you spend yourself for them, then you will find this same sowing and reaping principle turned in your favor.
I’ll close with by commending this simple rule to fathers: Make your wife and children laugh wholesomely at dinner. Be interested enough in them and the world around you to see the silly things and say them for the enjoyment of your family. Yes, yes, you are weighed down with a load of responsibilities. But that is why God gave you the widest shoulders at the table. It is likely that your wife has taken your hard earned money and turned it into this very nice meal. There she is, getting your body and soul through another day, and your children to boot. That is a thought that lifts the spirits. So lift the spirits of the table in turn. Not with slander, worry, or a domineering hand. But with a spring in your step, a twinkle in your eye that can only come from the life-giving spirit.