Winston Churchill was once invited to a meal at a private home. When he took a seat alongside the table, the horrified hostess, gesturing to the empty seat at the head of the table said, “Sir, your seat is at the head of the table.”
“Madam,” replied Churchill, “wherever I sit is the head of the table.”
Men, I challenge you to be the head of your table, not by where you sit, but by making the family meal a priority.
Of all God’s creatures, humans are the only ones that turn meals into rituals, negotiations, counseling sessions, and communal experiences where we laugh, cry, yell, and of course, eat. Usually, we wait for everyone to arrive, begin with a prayer, perhaps a toast, and the meal isn’t over until we’re sure everyone has had enough. (It used to be that kids had to request permission to be excused from the meal.) Moreover, we’re also the only species that manifests concern for the hunger of others.
Sadly, family mealtime has all but disappeared from American culture. Reasons for this include divorce, secularism’s emphasis on autonomy, and schedule pressure. Eating for most Americans has become a self-service activity, like popping something in the microwave, grabbing a burger on the way to practice, or grazing throughout the day. The pace and pressure of life is no longer conducive to family mealtime.
Why it’s important.
The family table should be a safe place where not just our bodies, but our souls, are nourished. It’s a place of belonging, sharing, and learning together—a place where values are imparted. “The table is a place of memory where we become aware of who we are and with whom we are...where the family gathers, the symbol of solidarity, or indeed the backdrop to family rows and childhood tragedies. At the table, the eater is tamed,” observed Louise Fresco in The Atlantic. At the dinner table, we’re seen, heard, and accepted with no strings attached.
The acceptance experienced at the family table has it’s practical benefits, too. It’s been shown that children who grow up sharing family meals develop better social skills, are less likely to engage in destructive behaviors, and even less likely to be obese. Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse reports that children who eat family dinners get better grades in school, develop communication skills, and are less likely to try drugs.
Family mealtime is also a great opportunity to develop your kids’ spiritual lives. It’s a great time for you to lead in family devotions, answering questions and explaining the gospel. It’s a wonderful thing when children grow up hearing dad read the Bible and pray for them.
Mealtime was also important to our Lord Jesus. He initiated the New Covenant after enjoying a meal with his followers. In Luke we read: “[Jesus] said to them, ‘With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’” (Luke 22:15-16) He also used a breakfast on the shore of Galilee to restore an erring Simon Peter (John 21:15ff). Meals were often object lessons in his parables, and for all God’s children a promised kingdom feast awaits (Isaiah 25:6).
Make it happen.
Family mealtime won’t happen by accident. There’s a cultural riptide constantly pulling us out and away from the family table. If we’re not careful, it will pull your kids out of your grasp and into a sea of secular values. It’s so much easier to eat in front of a screen, or in your room, at your desk, or grab something on the run. Here are a few quick tips to make family meals happen:
1. Coordinate and cooperate with your spouse. If she works out of the home, don’t expect her to carry the load. Work together in planning and preparing meals.
2. Delegate responsibilities among family members, like setting the table, clearing it, and dish work. If your children are older, let them help plan the weekly menu.
3. Ban all phones and tablets! Nothing kills interaction at the table faster than mobile devices.
4. Set a goal to have three meals together as a family on a weekly basis. This may require saying no to other less important things.
5. Be patient. Instituting family mealtime may generate conflict at first, so expect some bumps but remain consistent. Your passion will pay off. Kids often learn more from what we’re passionate about than they do from what we teach them.
Remember, because you’re dad, wherever you sit is the head of the table. That’s a privilege and a responsibility. Use it wisely.