Sharing food together as a family does not need to wait for special occasions or for elaborate preparation.
It might be food from a box or take out—or leftovers. It may only involve one parent and one child–whoever is home for that meal. No matter what, eating it together while talking adds value for us all. Especially for our kids. It’s a kind of family communion. Does it feel like family dinnertime belongs to another era? Maybe with June Cleaver and Leave it to Beaver? Or that it’s something for special occasions?
But how do we connect with the whole family if we rarely see everyone in one room looking at each other?
Can it work when older children have late sports practice? What about if one parent nearly always has to be at a job during dinnertime? And what if kids are big enough to protest that they don’t want to eat with the whole family?
Family dinners are not always a joy, but they don’t have to be pure joy to be family communion.
Neither were they when I was a child. I’m sure my mind chooses not to remember the less fun times. And they certainly do not require the whole family to be there for them to be valuable. But coming together as a family for supper provides built-in connection and communion, plus the opportunity for spiritual time as a family. In my birth family and in the family I parented, we had prayer time before and after dinner. And we had Bible reading–or Bible story reading–after dinner. Sometimes I know those dinners were a chore, but they provided inestimable blessings as well.
Chances are your household enjoys fewer family dinners than you did growing up and far fewer than your parents did growing up.
It’s a blessing that our culture lets us easily connect online, with people nearby and with friends and family who live far away. Whatever device we choose, we can allow our children to see faraway people regularly. Yet this continual connection to the internet can also be a curse. It’s not limited to just loved ones. Mealtimes these days are typically interrupted by repeated dings, connections that are immediate but not really urgent. Or by something we’re watching—either as a group or solo. Complete strangers, Facebook “friends” we hardly know, and even celebrities can clutter our lives and interrupt the times we plan to spend with our families.
Is dinner something you just need to power through with as little hassle as possible, or is there time to enjoy it?
For me and my husband, dinner times with our children grew from being a bit of a pain—when one parent had to stand holding a baby—to being positive events. But I can hardly overestimate the opportunity those times gave us to bond and to read the Bible as a family, discussing our questions together. Sometimes the kids had questions we parents needed to check out. Continuing the process even with a parent or children unable to be there was important for us.
One of my favorite memories of my own mom is of her laughing so hard at the dinner table that she needed to get down onto the floor to avoid falling off her chair. We called those “Mom with her paws in the air” moments.
What are your memories of dinnertime as a child? What is dinnertime most frequently like for your family? Do you grab dinner as you get time? Or do you eat together often? Have table-time devotions worked for you as a family? Could they?
Out-of-season blooming of flowers and people.
Bringing my out-of-season blooming columbine into the house in October blessed me. I love this columbine’s pluckiness, determination, and ability to continue to bring joy when its time should be long past. It also reminds me of my parents. In their times of increasingly difficult dementia, they somehow managed to bless those who cared for them. They loved the Lord deeply, and it showed in their love for each other and in their love of those around them. Even in the nursing home they had fought going into.
Giving patience a chance to bloom.
In most of his life my dad was not a very patient person. He wanted broken systems to be fixed and to be fixed now–so not a process person. He was very goal-oriented and expected those around him to be goal-oriented as well. Like me, he needed to learn patience through difficult things. Amazingly, however, we saw his patience continue to grow in the final years of his life.
He needed daily care and grieved the fact that he couldn’t go out and minister to people as he had done most of his life. Yet his prayer each time I prayed with him included, “Lord, we wait on you. We wait on you to show us what work you have for us today.” He did not understand that his work at the time was simply showing God’s love to those around him and expressing gratitude. But he did it through God’s spirit in him, and people noticed.
Giving trust and peace a chance to bloom.
My mother’s most evident spiritual struggle was with anxiety and worry. The family joke was that no road trip was truly underway until Mom had figured out what she had forgotten. Seriously. She had some sort of almost superstitious sense that once she figured out something minor she had forgotten, it would mean she hadn’t forgotten anything important. We all needed to be quiet till she figured it out.
Her worry found almost endless topics. What a joy to see that as her mind deteriorated, her spirit found more and more peace in her Savior. In her final years she was able to relax and laugh more. She even accepted my husband’s joke about all the “servants” she had helping her with her daily tasks. My daughters saw in her a peaceful, joyful Nana they had never been able to fully see before.
Out-of-season blooming of my parents where they were planted
Sanctification continuing even in dementia.
As I shared with my students the prayers my parents were praying for them at the time, they expressed amazement. We rejoiced together in seeing that God’s work in us does not stop when our minds stop functioning well. I used to tell my parents that they sweetened with age like fine wine. (I know that true wine connoisseurs would disagree with me about sweet wine.) But I felt joy and encouragement as I saw my parents’ relationship with the Lord and the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives grow stronger–even during their final downward spirals. I pray that someday God will also allow me times of out-of-season blooming.
My mom had many moments of desperation parenting! As I have.
In my mom’s desperation parenting of me, she completely changed her focus in ways that I did not understand at the time. I only knew that Mom started telling me daily what she was talking to Jesus about and how he was answering those prayers.
My mom’s telling me of her first-person encounters with Jesus nourished my faith.
And it grew!
No one-time moment of conversion followed, but I became a believer by seeing her relationship with Jesus and following in her footsteps.
Many years later, a similarly panicky scenario unfolded for me. Though my daughter had publicly professed her faith in Jesus at a young age, preadolescence brought a crisis of faith.
In childhood she had experienced God’s nearness in profoundly personal ways, which she was no longer experiencing. Because of this change in her experience, she began to seriously doubt the existence of God.
My own panicky-mom time followed. For about six months I agonized and prayed. My husband and I prayed together for her faith continually. I also prayed with her regularly before bed, after asking her how she was doing. These conversations involved her telling me her frustrations with not hearing God’s voice and not being sure he was real. After that, I told her stories of my own and others’ experiences of the seesaws of spiritual journeys. I even told her the story of St. John of the Cross and his “dark night of the soul” experience.
In my desperation parenting nothing seemed to help.
Feeling like a total failure as a mother, I just kept trying. Night after night I prayed with her. She did not pray, but she did not object to my praying with her. But she was used to it, having grown up with nightly family prayer time.
Somewhere during our struggle, I began crying out to God, “Please, Lord! Show her who you are. Don’t leave her in the dark! Show her how real you are. Allow her to see you for you are, as she used to do! This is your beloved child. Do not allow her to wander away from you in her pain. PLEASE show yourself to her!”
At some point, she started telling me she was “doing better,” so we stopped having these conversations. But I kept praying for her.
A year or so later she said to me, “Mom, do you know how I finally knew God was real?”
I was stymied. But I had always wondered.
She explained, “Because when I don’t know what to do, I go to you. And when you don’t know what to do, you go to God.”
A wave of relief and amazement washed over me. God had used me—his broken vessel—to show his power through.
Is God using your experiences of doubting as a child? Or of having a child who doubts? Is there a way you can make that more likely?
My Haystack Rock memories are among my best.
As a child, I loved it when it was a year my parents chose to take us to Cannon Beach for vacation. It was a Christian family camp, so they had wonderful lectures and group activities for all ages. But best of all in my experience were our Haystack Rock memories.
My just-younger sister and I were old enough to opt out of children’s activities, so we got to be free-range kids at the beach.
What could be better? We wandered the colorful streets, looked in store windows, bought ice cream sandwiches from a vending machine. A couple of times we walked all the way to the beach and saw Haystack Rock. I’m not sure the two of us actually ever walked without our parents the whole two and a half miles to the big rock and back. But we loved going to the beach at low tide and examining the new world available for us to see there.
Years later, my husband and I got to return with our daughters to make new Haystack Rock memories.
My husband and daughters loved it as much as I did. This time the kids didn’t get opportunities to range free of us for a half day at a time, as I had. But they also loved seeing a different, more creative side of God in the marine life exposed at low tide.
Memories of low-tide near Haystack Rock
Together we reveled in examining the tiny creatures clinging to the wet rocks. We investigated tiny pools of fish temporarily cut off from the larger ocean. We marveled at all the starfish on the wet sand that survived till the tide came back in. And each night we watched the times of the tides according to the published time table, amazed that every day was different but always on a predictable schedule. God’s timing is beyond our imaginings.
During family prayer time that week, we thanked God often for the beauty of his creation.
Looking at the complexity of marine life we were able to see gave us a renewed appreciation for how big our God is. And how amazing it is that such a big God still cares about our daily needs.
Even more amazing is that the Lord Jesus Christ we regularly pray to created the world. We so often envision the Father as the creator and somehow think of Jesus coming on the scene as a baby. Obviously, that is when Jesus appeared as a human being.
But Jesus, the Son of God, was present at creation and participated in it. I love imagining the possibilities of the Triune God discussing together what to create next. God created us in his image–in community. Because he, our creator, is himself a community.
How cool is that!
No wonder he loves to have us talk to him and want to spend time with him. That’s at the heart of what community means: enjoying being together. Enjoying being together and enjoying the marvels of creation are what make my Haystack Rock memories the best!