What’s dinner time like at your house? Do you call out, “Emily!”, “Oliver!” and the kids file down from their rooms or perhaps run in from playing outside with no complaints, the atmosphere is peaceful and loving and you serve up wholesome tasty food night after night, which is received with grateful thanks. The children hold hands and pray and as the meal progresses everyone gets to share in a meaningful way about their day.
Perhaps you recognise this house then, where the parent finds the process of getting dinner on the table - after a long day- so gruelling that when they actually sit down in front of their meal they’ve got almost nothing left. They’re spent. They stare longingly at the newspaper holder wishing they could flip a page open and bury their head in it while they eat. They can barely taste the food. They look up at their family but they’re too tired to talk. Of course, if necessary they can shout when someone spills a drink or falls off their seat, or walks away without asking, or complains about the food. The atmosphere is tense. Out of habit, sticky fingers reach out to hold hands, someone says a hopeful grace, they start to eat...
That last picture is me in my house on many a night struggling through a fraught dinner that I hope one day to emerge on the other side of. But bad habits linger.
As a Christian parent I want my mealtimes to be about more than just food. I want them to be about Jesus. And I want us to relate to one another as people who love and serve the Lord Jesus.
To help achieve those goals, I bought a copy of Nancy Guthrie’s Dinner Time Devotions in the hope it might be a good starting place to help me re-orient my mealtimes. And the good news is, I found it really helpful!
You don’t need to be an expert on the Bible to use this devotional. Each page is really short with a couple of brief paragraphs, some Bible verses and three questions. These were too advanced for my three year-old but my six year-old and nine year-old participated admirably.
Here’s five things I learned from Dinner Time Devotions that have already helped improve our mealtimes together:
- My job is different to what I thought. Putting the focus on time for God at mealtimes transformed what I thought my job was. I think I was behaving like a bit of a Masterchef contestant minus the high-level cooking skills - plating up by 6pm was my finish line! Once I had run the gauntlet of planning, shopping for, preparing and getting dinner on the plate I felt my job was pretty much done. This book encouraged me to care about the conversation over dinner and my participation in it.
- God wants me to use mealtimes for his glory: “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie-down and when you get up (Deuteronomy 6:6-7).” As Nancy says, “What better place to practice “when you are at home” than around the dinner table?”
- Embrace the rampantness of chidren. Dinner times are a great opportunity to draw people out. Kids are fantastic at picking up an idea and running wild with it! I have loved some of the songs and speeches the kids have invented after a discussion about church or Jesus. The charge from a good meal time like that makes my heart glow and energises me to continue to love and serve my family.
- Be realistic. It doesn’t matter if it gets messy, if I’m tired (it’s quite likely I will be!), the point isn’t to get through the meal perfectly but to get through it loving each other. We can just have a chat together and we don’t have to do the devotional every night.
- You have the power to promote nutritious conversation. I don't know about you but sometimes I find conversation exhausting. I feel worn down by the relentless conversation ‘out there’ about schools and property and universities and career paths and money. And it makes me so long for a different kind of conversation. One that's about the things that really matter. On one particularly difficult day of the relentless kind of conversation I'm referring to above I cried out to God, “Lord please help me have a different kind of conversation.” I feel like God is answering my prayer around my own dinner table.
Dinner time is happening every night. Simple fact. Sounds so silly and obvious, right!? But do I see it as a chore, the last hurdle to be gotten over in my busy day or as part of the rhythm of my life?
As a Christian, my family is not the “white noise” or background for some other plan or project at the forefront of my life. This is it. These meals. With these people. Night after night. This is life. How we strengthen those relationships and encourage each other to grow toward the one who gives eternal life, Jesus Christ, matters more than anything else.
Katie blogs regularly for Equip book club giving her the opportunity to read lots of Christian books. She loves writing and has had snippets published in Womankind Magazine and the Guardian Weekly. She leads a Bible Study at her local Anglican church, All Souls Leichhardt and loves being part of the Leichhardt community. She is married to Andrew and they have two school-age daughters and a young son.