50. Too busy to eat, pray or love?

When we become overwhelmed by the way life can steal our sense of peace, give some thought and prayer to ways you can reign in the overcommitment, and gather nightly as a family around a nutritious meal.  When we are just hanging on all the time, the REAL needs of our souls are ignored, which is the twin necessity for relationship and food.  It is all symptomatic of the SAME problem.

Relationships take time.  How are you doing in your daily relationship with God?  With your spouse?  Kids?  Neighbors?   What about food, both physical AND spiritual?  How’s it going getting healthy food in the lunch boxes and on the dinner table every day?   Are you feeding regularly on God’s Word?  Is your prayer life nutritious?

Don’t beat yourself up.  Instead, think.  Perhaps what are you doing now is just crazy.  Does your battle with the clock rob your family of together time?  Keep you away from church too often? Running through the fast food drive-through out of desperation?

DECIDE.  Begin to PLAN how this COULD all go BETTER if you made even a couple of small changes.  Enlist the family’s help.  Start small and work your way up.  And take pleasure in the results!

Discussion Questions

  1. Who is responsible for the food in your home?
  2. What are some of the food challenges you face on a daily basis?   (e.g., budget limitations, picky eaters, food allergies, wacky schedules).
  3. What are some ways your family meets the disparate food demands of the group?
  4. Who decides what to eat? Where to eat? When to eat?
  5. Where does the food in the house come from?
  6. Who prepares the table, the food, and the menus?
  7. What kind of lunch do family members eat on weekdays?
  8. How often do you eat out? Is eating out usually at a fast food place?
  9. What are your table rules?
  10. How is your lack of time related to your prayer life?  Your love life?  Your family life?  Are these issues really, at heart, just one problem?
  11. Let’s say that being organized is not your strength.  How DOES a family meal happen without good planning?  What could you do differently?
  12. Let’s say you are a hyper-organized agenda maker.  Does your attitude sometimes feel like tyranny to the rest of the family?  Is there a way to plan and be organized without acting like an Army drill sergeant?
  13. Make a table and put each family member’s name in a column across the top.  In the rows, list out meal planning and prep issues that need to occur, and place an X in each column if that issue is age-appropriate.  For example, you may place an X under Joe’s name for helping cut up veggies for lunches, because Joe is 14 and capable of safely using a knife.  You might place an X under Carlie’s name in the table setting row, because she is 6 years old, and this is an age-appropriate practice.  We KNOW you are BUSY, and that it often feels as if doing these things will go faster if you just do them yourself.  But, making a list, and posting it on the fridge can be a reminder that you are actually helping family member contribute to meals in wonderful ways.  Let them develop their talents as they help out!



  1. Set aside four days, on average, per week when every family member is expected to be present for an evening meal. Try to meet at the same time for each meal.


Shared Table Blessings posts will be on holiday hiatus until early 2017. Please use this time to enjoy your shared meals at home and with others!  Thanks for reading.


~Julie A.P. Walton, Ph.D.


45. Disrupted Family Time, Or, Just How Many Subs Can You Eat in a Week?

Well, you have to start somewhere, and taking a long, honest look at the disruptive schedule is a good and necessary first step. I wrote earlier of my belief that our children today are overscheduled and their lives over-managed by parents. While it may sound harsh, the more we schedule our children into adult-led structured activities outside the home, the less time they have for creative free play, learning the joy and discipline of solitary studiousness,[1] and developing the ability to resolve their own differences. When they get home too late in the day, they are often over-tired and over-stimulated, and low blood glucose makes them cranky. What’s more, today’s children live in an increasingly unstable world, including unstable families, and family instability is unhealthy at any age.[2] A shared family meal on a near-daily basis can go a long way in providing children with what they most need from their family: safety, face-time, encouragement, down-time, comfort, discipline, mentoring, and yes, even the predictability of structure, including set times for meals, homework, prayer, and lights out. Research clearly shows that children of families who frequently share meals at home actually perform better academically.[3] [4]. This is because children thrive on the dependability a structured family time affords, and truly benefit from the regular chance for practicing conversation, story-telling, shared prayer, and listening skills. Furthermore, as communication technology becomes increasingly ubiquitous, face time has become imperiled. Meals create opportunities for face-to-face exchange of ideas when the life of the family takes precedence, and the texting and phone calls are temporarily banned.

So, we probably can all agree that shared family time is critically important in a child’s development, and that because we all have to eat, a family meal is an ideal place to come together. But, our shared dinner hours are difficult to make happen. I believe that sports participation is the second most common cause of fractured family time at the dinner hour, the first being when all adults in the family work full time outside the home, or one or both parents’ work requires frequent travel or shift work.[5]   At some point, you may have to admit that it is not necessary or healthy, for your younger children especially, to participate in sports on a year-round basis. When we get caught up in travel teams, twice-weekly lessons with a pro, and hiring a special sports trainer for out-of-season conditioning for our 10 year-olds, we have stepped over a line in most cases, and we have done so at the real peril of regular, intentional family time. It is important for parent and child alike to learn that no one family member’s activities should consistently dictate the entire family’s schedule and routine.

Try to find several days each week when every family member is expected to be home for dinner at a reasonable predetermined time. Teenagers with work and school obligations will need to negotiate nights off from the family meal commitment, but should not be allowed to assume that their presence at the table isn’t important on a regular basis; while it is critical at this age for teens to begin to learn about the privilege of independence, they must not forsake their place in, and obligations to the family either.

In post #46 we will continue to look at ways to get a family meal on the table in these hectic times.  PLEASE!  If you like what you are reading, share this blog with friends at church.  Leave your suggestions and comments in the LEAVE a REPLY box below.

~Julie A.P. Walton, Ph.D.

[1]a very under-developed characteristic in my college students

[2] Susan Fiske, “The Spiritual Costs of the Missing Family,” By Faith Magazine 34 (Winter 2011): p.29.

[3] Catherine E. Snow, Unfulfilled Expectations: Home and School Influences on Literacy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000).

[4] Sharon M Fruh et al, “The Surprising Benefits of the Family Meal,” The Journal for Nurse Practitioners 7, no. 1 (2011): 18-22.

[5] As a child-athlete myself, and the spouse and parent of child-athletes, I do not pick on sports with random disdain. The ramped-up nature of the sporting world has made indelible marks on Christian families that we ignore to our peril, and we need to start and continue serious ongoing theological reflection and discussion in Christian circles of the true and rightful place of sports in a child’s and family’s life. The same can be said for any other extra-curricular activity.

Featured Image Credit: http://edacious1.blogspot.com/2008/06/good-eating-at-ball-park.html


44. Tricky Balance:Food Idolatry vs Quick, We Need to Eat!

Actually, food preparation is an important concept to think about. We are currently experiencing a rash of new writings about food- what constitutes real food, why fast food threatens our health and way of life, why we should consider eating only locally grown foods, and why the planet cannot sustain food production for the anticipated population of nearly nine billion people worldwide by 2050. The latter chapters of this book attempt to address our individual connection and ease of access to food in the United States with issues of food and water scarcity in much of the rest of the world. For now, suffice it to say that our present national attention to food is, perhaps, overindulgent, and a fascinating study in human nature. On the one hand, we idolize food and nearly make food practice a religion. Food critics, cable cooking shows, and internet bloggers remind us that the world of food has its own language and rules, where food takes on godlike characteristics. On the other hand, such obsession-compulsion and misplaced fidelity is contradicted by a post-modern and relatively mainstream insistence that food be characterized, above all else, by convenience. We don’t have time to fuss over food, and we just want something to mollify our hunger. Somewhere in this dilemma, most of us find ourselves having to work very hard to find middle ground. We want to provide healthy food for ourselves and our families, and wish we could enjoy it together more often.

Unless you have hired help, procuring, storing, and preparing food is a necessity that someone in the home must meet on a consistent basis. Because nutritional needs across the age span can only be met by regular consumption of a variety of healthy foods, we need to understand the importance of the roles of planning menus, buying food, keeping ingredients on hand, and making time and space for preparing food in ways that are appetizing, wholesome, and, yes, even convenient. What’s more, most of us need to do this on a tight budget.

More often than not, this obligation falls to the adult women of a household, but more and more, men are taking an active role in a family’s food needs. One of my colleagues is a single father with two elementary school-aged daughters. The three of them have a routine for the four nightly meals they share each week. On Mondays after school, they go together to the grocery store. Each girl plans the menu for one meal and dad plans two. They walk and talk themselves through the store, picking out the ingredients they need for their planned meals. Once home, they work together in the kitchen to put foods away and begin the evening meal prep. It is not unusual for some of the girls’ friends to stay for a meal with this little family. Each meal begins with prayer, and dad intentionally guides the conversation around biblical stories and themes while having the girls replay the day’s events. My colleague says that this activity of planning, shopping for, making and sharing meals has bonded the three of them together like nothing else they do. In the process, the girls are learning to shop and compare prices, consider substitutes, store and prepare food, and entertain friends in their home over a shared meal.

No matter who sees to the food provision in your home, that person must be well-versed in the age-appropriate nutritional needs, within budgetary limits, of all of the family members being fed. And, if time is tight, it is a job that requires planning, discipline and creative thinking. In Post #45 we will begin to address where to start.

~Julie A.P. Walton, Ph.D.

Photo credit:  K. Luymes

40. Family Supper-Are You Kidding Me???

With schools starting, this is a great time for us to start Chapter 6:Table Time at Home for Families in this blog book called Come Back to the Table: A Countercultural Call to the Christian Practice of Shared Meals.  Hopefully, the preceding chapters have convinced you that sharing meals, as a distinct Christian practice, should be an important part and pattern of your daily family life.  But, as any parent will tell you, mustering the family around a nightly meal can be a harrowing, energy-sucking experience. This may be particularly true for one-parent families, those in which both parents work full time outside the home or in homes with children with special needs. When I began working full time at our local hospital after years of being home all day while going to school at night, I was not prepared for the panicky rush that the dinner hour became. One of us had to eat and run back out for a meeting or school event. A child forgot to tell you on the way home that she needs a large neon-green poster board (no, the white one in the closet simply won’t do) for an ecology assignment that’s due tomorrow. Your spouse ate a big lunch out today with co-workers and isn’t hungry. Dirty breakfast dishes in the sink need clearing out before dinner preparations can begin. Lunchboxes need cleaning out. You forgot that the frozen ground beef you were counting on for tacos tonight got used up in last week’s meatloaf.  The dog is starving and needs to go out, and the laundry should be started before supper to ensure that the volleyball uniform is ready for tomorrow’s big game.

Is it any wonder that the shared meal becomes sacrificed to the tyranny of more pressing issues? Yet, for me and my family, dinner together around the family dining table remained a critically important activity, and we were determined to make it all work even after I began putting in 45-hour weeks at the hospital around the same time our daughter started middle school sports. This is because the table is where we build family. It is the one time each day we can each sit in a place we call “ours” and, for even twenty blessed minutes, know we are in this life together, and that God is at its center. Miriam Weinstein believes a family evening meal “sort of forces an environment when everyone has to stop and sit down. It creates a boundary when you’re sitting around a table. It’s a designated time. It focuses attention on what is going on here and now between the people around the table. It gives us a specific time to review our day”[1] together.

In our next post we will start to “dig in” to what this kind of family life can look like.

[1] Miriam Weinstein, The Surprising Power of Family Meals: How Eating Together Makes us Smarter, Stronger, Healthier, and Happier (Hanover, NH: Steerforth Press, 2005), p.74. Weinstein’s treatment of the challenges facing the regular family meal is excellent.

11. What ARE You Sharing with Others?

Instead of moving into the next chapter on the shared meal, I thought it might be a good time for DESSERT: to REVIEW the notion and nature of the Christian practices, and give you some discussion questions to think and pray through.

Christians are in training, actively practicing particular behaviors that lead to a mature faith and Christlike attitude.  Training takes intention-we need to plan it into our hours and days.  It takes submission, obedience, and sacrifice.  More than anything else, our training takes time.  When our life is already too crowded with a full schedule, we must learn to discern where and how our time is being misspent-as individuals and as a family.  We don’t “make time” for the disciplines and practices; only God makes time.  Instead, we shift our attitude and priorities.  We whittle down here, plan better there.  But mostly, we give our time to the Lord and ask him to help us use our waking hours in ways that honor him.

We have seen how our individual attention to the spiritual disciplines and our shared participation in the Christian practices forms us in our faith into the holy living to which we are called.  They strengthen us to live in a world that is not our final home, to share Christ’s gospel with joy, and to serve God and neighbor out of a delighted obedience.  This is a humbling yet energizing way to live one’s life in sacrifice, thanksgiving, and hope.  Not a life that is all about “me” but one that is focused intentionally on the believing community of “we”.

The early Church that formed out of persecution and dispersal in the first century was marked by the things believers had and did in common.  In our hyper-individualized society, it is difficult for us to comprehend the necessity and power of such communal or shared practices.  Those historic Christian practices formed the essence of our shared practices today, particularly those of worship, prayer, and Holy Communion.  Still, other practices, like that of the shared meal among believers, are no longer a regular part of our life in common.


  1. The thesis of this chapter is that growing in your Christian faith requires sustained practice. List here some individual spiritual disciplines you do now to grow in your faith.  What do you like about each one?  What makes it hard to do them consistently?  What discipline do you NOT do now that you would like to incorporate into your daily walk?  Why?
  1. Discuss the nature of the spiritual disciplines and the Christian practices. How are they alike?  How are they different?
  1. Life often goes too fast, and we begin to feel as if we are running aimlessly on a treadmill going nowhere. How can attention to the disciplines and practices give you a new sense of purpose and direction and peace?
  1. If your life is simply too crazy-busy, take some moments to ask why. List here those things that take up most of your day/week.  Is there anything you and/or your family consistently do that could be put aside?  Done differently?  Ask yourself what you do, then ask yourself what you want, and consider how these answers differ.
  1. Have you ever given much thought to the shared Christian practices? Why is it important that you and your children are present in corporate activities like worship, prayer, Holy Communion, testimony, and confession-forgiveness-reconciliation?  What does it mean if you are routinely absent from these practices (either mentally or in your physical presence)?
  1. The next chapter will discuss the notion and nature of the shared meal as a distinctly Christian practice. Jot down your week’s typical meal patterns/schedule and with whom they are shared.

Please share your thoughts-it helps me as I continue to write the back chapters of this book to get a sense of what you think, what you do vs. what you wish for.  Thanks! You can click on SHARE to send to friends, and write in the Leave a Comment box below.  

~Julie A.P. Walton, Ph.D.

(featured image credit:  High Tea in China.  K.Richardson. 2016)

8. Jesus asked, “What Do You Want?”

There’s No “I” in “Us”:  We Really Do Need Each Other

Despite the ongoing need to get our personal faith practices in order, the historic Christian practices are genuinely meant to be both social and communal.  As we’ve seen, the corporate nature of Christian practices is most evident in the things we gather to do together: worship, prayer, feasting, reconciliation through confession and forgiveness, testimony, co-mission, lament, and the breaking of bread.  As with any practice, these are done in and through the life of the church repeatedly– we practice our faith together.  Craig Dykstra writes that these are “practices where life in Christ may be made known, recognized, experienced, and participated in.”[1]  Thus, this kind of life is recognizable, experiential, and participatory, and the natural outcome is that people really should know us by our love.

These ordinary things we do, sometimes as family, other times in small groups and as “church” truly have an extraordinary impact on our individual and shared faith life.  Practicing together is a little bit like being on a team, or to use Paul’s analogy, being one body with many parts.  We each have important roles, and together “we come to perceive how our daily lives are all tangled up with the things God is doing in the world.”[2]  Everything we do, or fail to do this day and all days is important to God’s plan for each one of us, our family, our church family, and the world at large.  This is why it is important for each of us to consider what we do with our time.

Because we are embedded in a culture which idolizes individual autonomy, it’s important for Christians to remember that we are also surrounded by a cloud of witnesses to the life of faith (Hebr. 12:1), and that we have an obligation to study our lives and look for all the ways we have crafted habits of independence rather than inter-dependence.

“We live in a time of increasing emphasis on individual sensibilities and needs, what essentially has become a spirituality of the personal self… We can so easily come to feel that we need no one.  Our social context encourages us to make our own choices, live our own lives, and engage with others only when we think they have something to offer us.  This is not Christian spirituality… 1 John 1:3-4 reminds us that joy is made complete when we are in fellowship with God and one another.”[3]

So, instead of going solo, searching for a personalized, pseudo-spiritual experience empty of connections with others, we must take a concerted look at what we practice, both at home, and in church with other believers, on a weekly basis.  Do this and you’ll begin to understand how, “a meal becomes a time of forgiveness.  A day of leisure becomes a day of contemplation.  An illness turns into an experience of solidarity with the poor.  An occupation becomes a vocation.  Giving becomes an expression of gratitude.  A burial becomes a time of thanksgiving.”[4]

Perversely enough, practices takes time, energy, and dedication, the very things we profess to have little to spare; there are already too many claims on our life, so practicing can’t be something extra to cram into an already-packed schedule.  Others may have more time, but not feel physically or emotionally well enough to enter into the regular commitment a shared practice entails.

In any case, we will keep coming back to this idea that few of us believe we have enough time to practice our faith well together because of competing daily demands to which we feel we must attend.  This is especially true for families with children at home.  Are you kidding?  Gather all of us together for nightly dinner?  Go to church together every weekend?  Pray daily as a family unit?  This issue is not about becoming more efficient or productive.  On the contrary, what we truly need sometimes is to step back, identify the real problem (usually we are over-committed, especially our children), and pray about how to better prioritize our individual and family activities.  This often involves humbly admitting that our children cannot participate in every wonderful opportunity open to them.  It means limiting what I call the family’s AIP, or Activities in Progress.[5]  For example, a child may have to choose between a sport and a musical instrument, or being at the family evening dinner instead of working after school at a job in order to pay for a car when the car is necessary only to be able to get to and from the job.  It literally means that in our families we must get our house in order by prioritizing the evening meal at home, worshiping together on the Sabbath, and daily prayer together as a family.

“What Do You Want?”

This is a matter for thought and prayer.  One day, John the Baptist’s disciples followed Jesus.  “Turning around, Jesus saw them following, and asked,

“What do you want?”” (John 1:37).

We must let Jesus confront us and ask the same of us.  As we too follow Jesus, we must expect him to turn, look us directly in the eyes, and ask that unsettling question.  If we say we want to follow him, then admitting that we are out of practice is an excellent place to start.

It is my prayer that this discussion of the shared Christian practices gives you pause.  Next time, will will dig into the truth that our faith life is truly strengthened when we do these things together.  In the meantime, plan a meal, invite someone not normally found at your table, linger over the food and fellowship.  If not now, when?

And if you like what you’re reading, share it, and click on the FOLLOW button too. Add a comment in the LEAVE A REPLY box below to start a conversation!

~Julie A.P. Walton


[1] Craig Dykstra, Growing in the Life of Faith: Education and Christian Practices, 2nd ed. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005), p. 43.

[2] Craig Dykstra and Dorothy C. Bass, “Time of Yearning, Practices of Faith,” in Practicing Our Faith: A Way of Life for a Searching People, ed. Dorothy C. Bass (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1997), p. 8.

[3] Gordon T. Smith, A Holy Meal: The Lord’s Supper in the Life of the Church (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2005), pp. 10-11.

[4] Craig Dykstra and Dorothy C. Bass, “Time of Yearning, Practices of Faith” in Practicing Our Faith: A Way of Life for a Searching People, ed. Dorothy C. Bass, p. 8.

[5] Melanie Nelson, Don’t Believe the Hype about Finding One Cool Trick to Productivity, The Chronicle of Higher Education Academe Today online newsletter, https://chroniclevitae.com/news/1168-don-t-believe-the-hype-about-finding-one-cool-trick-to-productivity?cid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en&elq=61fc968c605c4024a9c05692c7b20806&elqCampaignId=1680&elqaid=6672&elqat=1&elqTrackId=53cb266e80b44d9c9f011d608cec6c31. October 23, 2015.

7.God is the Author of Time (and He has Given you Enough)

So, even though we have work to do to get our priorities and loves in order,  we must also admit that doing such things can inadvertently create a works mentality that is, for most practical purposes, pharisaical.  Remember, when we come to Christ, we bring nothing but our sin, our sorrow, and our shame.  His atoning work on the cross is what gives us a hope that pours forth in praise, thanksgiving, and adoration.  So, there is nothing we can do or bring.  Christ is all, and our discipleship and growth in Christ-likeness is “built entirely on the supernatural grace of God.”[1] It is true that sometimes we must persevere through the wilderness of boredom, apathy, busy-ness, and fatigue in carrying out the disciplines and practices which frame and bolster our faith– much like an athlete who doesn’t feel like going to practice today goes anyway and pushes through the adverse emotions.

You Don’t Understand!  There Isn’t Enough Time in a Day!

It is precisely for the pressed and dry times in life that we deliberately set our sights on holy living by fixing our eyes on Jesus.  It is an attitude that defies “time” and declares fidelity to looking for and leaning on God in all life circumstances- what is typically called a disposition.  In other words, our disciplines and practices lead us to become disposed to actively seeking and acknowledging God’s presence and sovereignty in every aspect of our lives.  All the same, since the Fall, humans have been mostly disposed to avoiding God.  “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.  But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?””  (Genesis 3, 8-9).

I think God still calls to us today,

                                                                                 “WHERE ARE YOU?”

And a typical response is,

“I’m here Lord.  But, I’ve been so busy!”

These virtues and habits that develop when we practice our faith help us become inclined, or disposed toward God and the things of God.  But they are not ““natural” in the sense of being inborn capacities or abilities; rather they are “second nature”: acquired… over time by participating in the routines and rituals of a tradition…”[2]  This is why we must be open to the practice of our faith on a daily basis.

Likewise, our second nature is a disposition largely affected by our practices, especially those that we learn through handed-down ritual and attend to with consistency.  Moreover, there is something unique and lasting about a practice.  Alasdair MacIntyre defined a practice as having significant internal goods, meaning that the object and consequence of the practice can only be achieved by regular absorption in the practice itself.[3]   Take the shared meal as an example.  As a Christian practice, the internal goods of a shared meal include fellowship, acknowledgment of God’s provision and presence, generous sharing and hospitality, and acting as a regular place and space for testimony- learning about and sharing the gospel.  If, at meal times, we come to the table only because we physically need to eat, then we fail to seek the truly internal goods of the shared meal; eating in itself is not a practice precisely because we can eat anything, anywhere, at any time in our culture.

So, practicing one’s faith as lived devotion through spiritual disciplines and Christian practices help a person-even a child- become stronger, healthier, and more resilient in the face of life’s unpredictability.  Think of it this way: your heart has an internal pacemaker responsible for what is called normal sinus rhythm which stimulates the heart to beat in a regular, predictable way, both at rest and in response to physical or emotional stress.  Our individual and corporate faith practices strengthen the faith life’s pacemaker if you will; attentively practicing our faith miraculously generates a consistent and healthy life rhythm, and the death grip of too little time in our lives is instantly relaxed.  Instead, our time becomes permeated with God’s presence, and we become more skilled in being still before him.  There will continue to be moments when you feel compelled to hurry or, perhaps, inclined to idle mindlessness, but you won’t ever again need to feel harried or bored.  It sounds simple, and it’s meant to be.  Restlessness fades when you practice making room for God in your life.[4]  It is an important thought with which you must wrestle:

                                                        God has given you enough time.


~J.A.P. Walton, Ph.D.

[1] Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Discovery House Publishers, 2011 mobile application), October 21.

[2] David I. Smith and James K.A. Smith, Teaching and Christian Practices: Reshaping Faith and Learning (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2011), p.8.

[3] Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, 3rd ed. (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007), p. 187.

[4] If you are unsure where to start, think about the practice of Sabbath-keeping.  We consistently underestimate the value of the rest of God, and the vanity of our incessant striving after things of the world.  For ideas, see Marva Dawn’s book, “Keeping the Sabbath Wholly” and Dorothy Bass’ book, “Receiving the Day”.  If you are unsure how to start, think about disconnecting from any common-day addictions that may sap your available time, including the television, telephone, internet, fitness center, children’s activities, shopping mall, and, perhaps, work itself.

4. Too Busy to Eat


Arrhythmic Lives……..As an exercise physiologist, nutrition professor, and wellness educator, I have long been intrigued by the notion that God’s gift of time envelopes us in a regular, rhythmical embrace of hours, days, weeks and seasons. From the primal rhythm of each heartbeat to the predictable pull of the moon on tides, from the daily need for sleep and food to the coming of winter after harvest, our bodies and our communities are shaped and framed by time. So, we shouldn’t be surprised when our responses often affect our health.

When it comes to physical, emotional and spiritual health, it is important to pay attention to these God-created rhythms.   Our non-stop activities put us in perpetual fight-or-flight-response mode, causing hormones like cortisol, designed specifically to help us respond to immediate threats, to course through our veins for hours on end, keeping us literally wired for action. Consequently, our blood pressure rises.  Our gut tells our brain to eat more high-energy carbohydrate.  Insulin response to rising blood sugar is blunted, and our sleep patterns become disturbed. As a result, our bodies don’t get the regular, rhythmic rest they need, and we find ourselves self-medicating with sugar, caffeine, “energy” drinks, fast food, TV/internet surfing, and sleeping pills to keep the “on” button lit like a pilot light.

So, we live rather arrhythmic lives, pulled out of step by a culturally subtle but very real centrifugal force that thrives on flinging us helplessly outward into a world where time is compressed, and the great unspoken assumption is that we can control it. Time is no longer gift, but an increasingly frustrating commodity in a warped economy with a currency of minutes and hours; just like money, we never seem to have enough time. On a daily basis we live the dual lie that being busy is virtuous (because we all know that the opposite, idleness, is a vice), and that accomplishing everything on the endless to-do list is necessary. What’s worse, we unthinkingly adopt the idolatrous notion that the calendar is the true center of our lives. Commitment to God is reduced to three-minute “devotions”. We slot prayer into the commute to work, we over-schedule and over-manage our children to ensure their successful launch into this perverted world, we skip meals and eat on the fly, and fall into bed too exhausted for nighttime prayer or the delight of intimate physical union with our spouse. We run not the good race, but the futile one. We don’t flourish, we survive, and our filled time leaves little room for making the Lord the center and focus of our lives.

Of course, we must not forget that for each one who experiences the stress of rationed time, there are others with unwelcome time on their hands. For some, one’s heartbeat seems slowed to a crawl, and the hours drag. Those out of work, the aged and alone, and those suffering illness can find that time slows into long, often boring and lonely stretches of hours and days. This is just as stressful as time famine.

In either case, we become unsettled. Restless. Even as the church calendar weaves its liturgical rhythm through our days, we find ourselves surprised and breathless- it’s Advent already? How did Christmas get here so fast? We don’t have time to ask ourselves, “What’s the hurry, why so rest-less?” I often find myself asking how I am supposed to work, and create a stable home life, and be a faithful presence in my church family and local community, and take care of growing children and aging parents, my spouse and myself without losing my way? How do I spend time with God- really seeking his presence- when each day is already so full? More importantly, how do I ever find enough time to respond lovingly and selflessly to the needs I see all around me, praying for those needs and for the salvation of others? Conversely, how can people with too many painfully empty hours view time as God’s gift? I think we all intuitively know God’s answer: “Be still and know that I am God.”  

After all of this, you won’t be surprised to learn, as we dig into the meat of Shared Meals, that eating together on a regular basis immunizes against slavery to time.

May you find that lingering with others over a good meal brings rest, clarity, peace, and togetherness.  Go ahead!  Plan a meal.  Invite others.  Share.  There’s a simple rightness to it all.

~Julie A.P. Walton, Ph.D.