When we stop to consider the constants of life, we are drawn to the table. We eat multiple times a day, but for many of us, the constant is the dinner table. The place where we all come to share in the act of nourishment for our bodies, while feeding our souls with the company and conversations of our loved ones. It’s no surprise that during this time of year, this is the place we return to when we want to express our thankfulness for life, and all that is in it.
But is there more to it?
The Heart Of The Home
Author Shana Niequist would certainly suggest that the table is more than just a table.
In her book “Bread And Wine: A Love Letter To Life Around The Table“, She writes:
“If the home is a body, the table is the heart, the beating center, the sustainer of life and health.”
To share the table with someone, is to, in essence, share your heart. Could sharing a meal mean so much? Maybe just like anything else, it’s all about what you attribute to it. I just think we would do well to attribute such significance to our table.
I myself am not afforded the luxury of a dinner table during this chapter of my story. I don’t have a place for people to gather. I live in a studio apartment in downtown Nashville. Next week, I will be making the short two-hour drive to Chattanooga to share a meal with loved ones. At my parents’ table, I have happy memories, painful ones, and everything in between. Though the home I grew up in has had many renovations and is almost unrecognizable from the home I remember in my childhood memories, the table has remained in the same spot. The room looks relatively the same. And I still remember what seems like endless memories at that table with people I love. Until I have a table of my own, I’m thankful for the table to which I can return. The table that welcomes me with an open chair, a plate of food, and the warm embrace of parents that have loved me through the worst moments of my life.
My parents haven’t been perfect. They’ve made mistakes. I am like them in a few ways, and completely different in most. We haven’t always seen eye to eye. We don’t agree on a lot of things. But one thing has never changed; my family saw me at my worst moments. They stood with me when I didn’t deserve it, and they have constantly been there to tell me that I am loved no matter what. If I take nothing else away from having them as parents, I hope I take that one thing.
I guess the thing is, if I ever wanted to invite someone with me to a meal, even an important one like a holiday meal, there was always room at our table. And my mom never hesitated to respond with “I made extra.”
A Home For The Homeless
I think it’s important to not only acknowledge the significance and power of sharing a meal with those we know and love, but also with strangers who have no place to call home. Whether this is the college student who doesn’t get to travel home often, or the less fortunate person who may not have a home at all.
I think something very powerful happens when we open our heart to people. If our table is the heart of our home, then opening your heart in a physical way could literally be translated to: inviting someone to dinner. It seemed like Jesus understood this concept well. He was always going around eating with people. It seemed like if He wanted to show someone that they mattered, He ate with them. It makes me think there’s something more to a meal that we might be taking for granted.
Shauna goes on to write:
“When you offer peace instead of division, when you offer faith instead of fear, when you offer someone a place at your table instead of keeping them out because they’re different or messy or wrong somehow, you represent the heart of Christ.”
We have an opportunity to love someone in a tangible, and yet extraordinarily deep and meaningful way with impact and beauty and authenticity. I think it’s hard to really pretend to be someone you’re not or hide the things that are going on deep down when you’re at the table. It’s as though the moment calls out the things that are haunting you and invites you to bare it all, to lay it all out on the table, right next to the bread and the turkey. Maybe that’s why sometimes it feels awkward or tense. Because there is someone who is fighting against this force that longs to shed light into the darkest places, that all who share the table with them might help carry the burden, so that they can rest and be nourished.
“We don’t come to the table to fight or to defend. We don’t come to prove or to conquer, to draw lines in the sand or to stir up trouble. We come to the table because our hunger brings us there. We come with a need, with fragility, with an admission of our humanity. The table is the great equalizer, the level playing field many of us have been looking everywhere for. The table is the place where the doing stops, the trying stops, the masks are removed, and we allow ourselves to be nourished, like children. We allow someone else to meet our need. In a world that prides people on not having needs, on going longer and faster, on going without, on powering through, the table is a place of safety and rest and humanity, where we are allowed to be as fragile as we feel.”
As we enter into the holiday season, I hope that those who have a house and a table might consider inviting those who don’t to share in the meals and the festivities and the gifts. There is laughter and smiles and love to be given. Most of us have an abundance of these things, while others have none. We have an opportunity, in this season and all others, to be the moment that someone will remember as the time they thought they were alone but they were not, that they thought they had no one, but someone took the time and attention to make room for them and prepare a setting.
If home is where the heart is, then perhaps we can all find a home at the table that says “there is room for you.”
I Am Thankful For You
What if we chose to live life in such a way that those with whom we share it would know we are thankful for them? I wonder sometimes how different my life could be if I intentionally looked for opportunities to express my thankfulness for the people I love, and for the strangers I meet.
There must come a point where the story takes a turn. Where the growth and the hardship and the obstacles that were overcome and the battles that were won all come together to create
something, someone new. Otherwise it doesn’t matter how exciting or adventurous or exotic of a story we try to tell, it will end tragically.
If we travel the world, live in other countries, explore other cultures, meet new friends, learn other languages, fall in love with new people, try new food, and drink new wine, but we don’t apply the lessons we’ve learned from our past to our current and future self, then we will lose the very thing we long for at the core of who we are; a home.
I think all of us long for a place where we are free to be who we are with the people we love. A place we know is safe, secure, and consistent. But I also believe that we can create that place for ourselves and for others if we have the courage and bravery to live in such a way that we are bold enough to invite others into our mess.
I love how Shauna Niequist puts it:
“But I took a deep breath, and she sat there listening to me across my dirty coffee table, and we talked about community and family and authenticity. It’s easy to talk about it, and really, really hard sometimes to practice it. This is why the door stays closed for so many of us, literally and figuratively. One friend promises she’ll start having people over when they finally have money to remodel. Another says she’d be too nervous that people wouldn’t eat the food she made, so she never makes the invitation. But it isn’t about perfection, and it isn’t about performance. You’ll miss the richest moments in life—the sacred moments when we feel God’s grace and presence through the actual faces and hands of the people we love—if you’re too scared or too ashamed to open the door. I know it’s scary, but throw open the door anyway, even though someone might see you in your terribly ugly half-zip.”
When we choose to serve and love people where they are, we find that we are hurrled onto the front lines of the battles they are fighting. We are presented with an opportunity to stand shoulder to shoulder with them and tell them that they are enough, that they have what it takes to overcome what they are facing. We are all fighting battles every day. When one battle is won or lost, the next begins. The table is a place to rest, recuperate, and prepare for the impending battle that begins at dawn. I hope that we can all consider that we have a day that we call a day of “thanksgiving”, and that we stop and consider what the words “thanks” and “giving” truly mean to us.
My mom is an unpredictable, unapologetic, honest human being. We have rarely seen eye to eye on things, and have gone through entire seasons where we didn’t talk much. I broke her heart, I made her cry, and, at times, created distance between myself and my family. But she has always been the one to pursue relationship and tell me she loves me. In the last few years she has had to redefine what a relationship with her children looks like. My parents had to consider new ways of connecting with their kids more as peers than children as we get older. It is not lost on me what I have done, and how my parents have been there for me and continue to adapt and try to be the best parents they can be to their adult son, just as much as they did for me when I was a child. I made a conscious decision a couple of years ago to start picking up the slack where I was taking more than I was giving, and chose to be loving, giving, selfless, and respectful in how I approached honoring my parents for what they have done for me.
The one constant that has remained in our family is the table. I don’t know how intentional it was, or if she even realized it, but I think my mom stumbled onto the very thing I am trying to focus on with this post and has impacted me so greatly. She realized that no matter how much geographical or emotional distance, she can always prepare a place for us to come home. She can always make a meal, and invite us to the table. And you know what? We always come home. My brother and I have often seen each other and talked most when we were there for a meal. My family now connects primarily over meals, and I don’t think this is a bad thing.
Families across the country will be doing this very thing this Thursday. They will be inviting friends and family to share in extravagant meals with way too many dishes and side dishes and desserts. We will be indulging in a feast that we reserve only for this occasion.
I think maybe we are all called to a life that would require us to have a heart big enough to invite strangers to the table. We are given the opportunity to enter into the uncomfortable, in order that we may give and be thankful.
I am thankful that, though I have endured the most difficult year of my life, I come to the end of it still believing that there is a God who pursues and loves me. I certainly never could have guessed I would be where I am and see the world the way that I do now, but I also see more beauty in it. I am thankful that life has forced my heart to grow and be willing to welcome the stories of others into my own. I am thankful for a new chapter in a new city that has given me a daily platform to adopt what I have learned and be a better me than I was yesterday. I am thankful for the people in my life who challenge and inspire me to strive for my full potential. I am thankful for my family who consistently reminds me where I came from and who I am; that I am loved, accepted, and welcomed with open arms.
However unintentional as it may have been, I think my mom was onto something all those years. She was teaching me a very specific lesson, one that God invites us all into.
Whether I wanted to bring a friend, or whether I just missed home. Whether I felt alone, heartbroken, depressed, disappointed, or worthless. All the days and months that I felt like I couldn’t do it. When I thought moving to Nashville was a mistake. When I thought I wasn’t strong enough, God reminded me through my mom with a simple invitation, with words that have become so familiar:
“I made extra.”
Happy Birthday Mom. I am thankful for you.