When our daughter left for college, my husband and I found our table manners slipping. With an empty nest, we both became exceptionally stretched, having taken on more and more responsibilities both at work and at church at the same time the health of our parents began a slow decline. Not surprisingly, our mealtimes suffered. I’d find myself standing in the kitchen too exhausted to be creative and too hungry to care. On more than one occasion we settled on having a bowl of Cheerios for dinner, only to discover the milk had soured because neither of us had had the time (or inclination) to stop for groceries in the past two weeks. Sound familiar? Well, this is not abundant living. Regularly sitting down at night for cereal, ordering a pizza that’s too costly, financially and calorically, or grabbing a sub sandwich, which completely transgresses our daily sodium limits indicates something’s amiss. It is subsistence living. These are not meals. As a little family of two, our garden was choking from weeds of inattention. We had fallen out of practice. So, we’ve recently pared down a few obligations and recommitted ourselves to healthier foods, intentional conversation and prayer at the table, to taking homemade soups and casseroles to our parents, and to inviting others and our parents over more often no matter how messy our home might be. “Whether we are reluctant or eager, we should understand that hospitality was meant to be an opportunity, not an imposition.”
Accordingly, at this stage of my life, when Jesus asks me what I want to nurture at my family table, and during the evening that follows, I find I want to grow six things: simplification, grace, gratitude, empathy, stewardship of the evening hours, and wisdom. I want my husband’s and my life to be less complicated, less filled with noise and calendars and exhaustion, and more centered on God, each other, our aging parents, our church family, and the stranger we usually avoid by pretending s/he doesn’t exist. Our table comfortably seats six people, yet almost always only two places are set. I pray for the room to let God into our packed, busy lives.
My first response has been to simplify our meals. I still make menus and shop ahead (a later post will have ideas), but our evening meal is far simpler than in days gone by, with fewer ingredients, less food (and less meat) overall, and a reliance on quick but healthy main dishes, with vegetables, salads, breads, and fruit to round out the menu. When we host others at our table, the idea is to dwell together in God’s presence rather than play at entertaining our guests. As a result, my new practice is to keep the meal simple enough so that all enjoy and participate at the table-even me.
I want us to invest our time in knowing God, and through experience of his grace, to practice being more gracious in serving family and stranger alike. I want God to know how grateful we are for the ‘Bread of Life’ in Jesus Christ, for this food that satisfies above all others. I want to stop pushing the awareness of the needs of others to a dark, dusty corner of my mind, and bring that certainty to the very forefront of my heart and my family’s awareness. I no longer want to insulate my mind with deliberate ignorance about the plight and sufferings of others, especially where food, and the impact of our own food and economic behavior is concerned. I want to invite the stranger to eat with us.
More than anything, I want to stop: wasting time and food, and willfully not caring. I want our evening meal to signify day’s end, and to mindfully help us transition into a night spent in God’s Word, in prayer, and in his presence as we actively participate together in the start of this new day. All of this will take the sort of wisdom only God can provide, and I want that for my family and the friends and strangers with whom we dine. I hope my “wants” resonate with you at this stage in your life.
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 It is critical to get over any pride or guilt about the condition of your home. When perfection is your goal, then you are not being a faithful host. Hospitality is about enfolding guests in love, comfort, and respite, even if they must share in the messiness of your life. Having a “Martha” approach to hosting a meal becomes more about “entertaining” than it does about using table time to invite, nourish, challenge and send your guests out prepared to shoulder the co-mission of Christ. Obviously, you don’t want to convey to guests that you are a slob, and that your home might not pass a cleanliness test from the public health inspector! Still, a little dust, and “things lying around” should never keep you from opening your table to others.
 Douglas Webster, Table Grace: The Role of Hospitality in the Christian Life (Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2011), p. 11.