By Lindsey Carlson
Some nights, I wonder why I even attempt to cook dinner for my family, let alone sit down for a family meal around the table.
I fix the meal while two of my kids are shouting arguments over one another, begging me to intervene. The doorbell rings and the dog pees on the floor. And oops - the noodles are boiling over on the stove. I shoo away the baby, trying to keep him from climbing on a stool to reach the boiling pot. As I trip over the dog on the way to the sink and slosh boiling water on my arm, I yelp and turn to respond to the toddler screaming at me from across the counter.
I will admit, there have been evenings when my husband walks in the door and I mentally check-out. Overly tired and overly stimulated, the hustle and bustle of dinner time is overwhelming and I’d rather not deal with the dinnertime drama.
Dinnertime is rarely the picturesque scene I’d hope for- everyone sitting politely and quietly as they take turns recounting their day. I would love for our times around the table to be a happy and relaxing end to our day, but the reality is - they never are. The kids are tired and wound up and I’m exhausted and low on patience. It’s only once in a blue moon when everyone actually eats what I made and when they do, more food ends up on the table and the floor than in their mouths.
The temptation would be to give up and scrap family dinners completely. It would be much easier to let the kids eat peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches in front of the television while my husband and I hide in our bedroom eating bowls of cereal. This would certainly be the more peaceful route.
But peace isn’t our goal.
My goal is relationship building for the sake of the gospel. Purposely showing up, night in and night out and persevering with intentional fellowship, valuing relationships even when they’re fraught with temper tantrums and picky eaters. On these crazy nights, I must remind myself that sitting down to a meal together is worth the chaos, the noise, and the struggle to keep calm and carry on.
And so I enter most nights, into dinnertime drama, willingly.
Jesus At the Table: The Why
Jesus frequently shared meals at tables full of sinners and tax collectors. When the Pharisees questioned him for mingling with cultural riff-raff, Jesus responds: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick (Matthew 9:12).” He’d come to call the sick to repentance and forgiveness, and to do so, he patiently spent time with them, offering his mercy. Jesus even dined with lepers (Matthew 26:6). No one is too sick, or too sinful for Jesus to dine with.
Jesus uses the table as a place to teach. It was here where he often shared parables, instructions, and encouragement. Perhaps the most memorable table experience is that of the Last Supper:
And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. (Luke 22:14-20, ESV)
Jesus shared a table with sinners because he wanted to offer them the bread of life - his broken body and blood, poured out for their sins. Because he’d spent so much time with his disciples, building relationships, answering questions, and demonstrating love, the disciples wanted to understand and honor Jesus’ words. It wasn’t until after his death, resurrection, and return that they would understand his words during their last meal together.
Like the disciples, our kids may not understand everything we share with them over meals together. And I’ll admit, there are many nights where we talk more about Spiderman and My Little Ponies than we do about Jesus. But our dinners together are so much more than good food and well-behaved children. We’re reclining at table with our disciples, the ones we love and hope to lead. We’re meeting them where they are - obsessed with superheroes and cartoons - and giving them our presence, our attention, and affection, slowly and faithfully, so we can share the true bread of life- Jesus Christ.
This Is Why We Do It
If your family meals are stressful and you’ve given up hope, remember why you’re doing what you’re doing. It’s not about the food or the table manners - it’s about building a relationship and teaching your children about Jesus.
The most important thing we can teach them at the table is the gospel; God’s grace to save us through repentance and the blood of Jesus Christ. This forgiveness for our sins, is pure and undeserved grace. The more we understand the grace we’ve been given, the more we can readily demonstrate it to our kids; even when the spaghetti is flying and the kids are up and down from the table a hundred times per meal.
Dinnertime drama can easily become more of a duty than a delight. Don’t give up. Enter into the chaos of dinnertime drama with your family willingly and all for the sake of the gospel.
Lindsey Carlson lives in Houston, Texas with her winsome-worship-pastor-husband and their four young and busy children. She enjoys giggling with her littles, dating her husband, deep talks with sweet friends, and laughing really loud. Lindsey loves to challenge believers to define their worship as more than songs on Sunday morning. She writes on living the new song of the gospel at Worship Rejoices.