In all of my love for food and of the different places I enjoy eating, without a doubt my favorite place to eat is at home with my family. Our family meals are immensely valuable to us. It is here we get uninterrupted time together to talk, and enjoy the pleasure of being with one another. We get to enjoy the bounty of a wide range of meals from the detailed and tedious meals, such as glazed pork to the quick and easy meals like oatmeal. Family meals have all kinds of styles and options because family favorites are learned through years of practice and tests. Some meals didn't stay in our rotation and others were an instant success that are menu staples.
Family meals take on a routine and develop traditions because this is the normal process for human beings. No matter how much we talk about variety and diversity, we always want tradition and repetition. For some families they eat at the same place for each meal, others have certain things they do on certain nights of the week. When I was growing up my mom and I ate spaghetti every Tuesday night for years and my grandfather cooked me breakfast every Saturday morning until he wasn’t as able to do so anymore. These traditions are still current in my family. We eat spaghetti frequently and most Saturdays we have a larger breakfast. These traditions have become some of my fondest memories because they are the times that have shaped me as much as any book I’ve read or any conference I’ve attended. I can still remember the first time Reid, Grace and Sam sat in their high chairs and had adult food. They had different responses to say the least. Reid was excited to try something different. Grace, not so much. She is like her mother: she picks something she likes and will eat the same thing at a restaurant until they close down or no longer have it on the menu. Sam's first eating experience was fun because the older kids were the first to feed him. What they ate was not as important to me as much as being with them is. I see much of their personalities coming through at the dinner table. It is the place where our family identity and ethos is formed and renewed each day.
The dinner table is also the time that I get to see up front the fruits of my wife’s labor for the day. From the time we wake up until bedtime, Brittany is on a schedule that seemingly revolves around meals. Our kids eat often, as do I. After completing a day of work, coming downstairs and having a home cooked meal ready for us is quite rewarding. Think of what it involves to pull this off: She has to know what we enjoy and don’t enjoy, how many extra meals we can eat from this and how much will it cost. She also has to know what ingredients and sides dishes go with a main dish, what seasonings to add and how much, not to mention the actual work of cooking the food, all while doing all the other tasks of managing a household. She also does this for every single meal we have at home. When we sit down for dinner, I see the reward of all her hard work: a delicious home cooked meal with all of her family with her to enjoy the blessings and provision from God of health, vocation, nourishment, taste, family and laughter. My heart breaks for those homes where there isn't laughter at the dinner table, especially with children. If watching them eat and enjoy being with their family is not enough to satisfy you, then seeing where and what they can spill food on will put you over the edge. On spaghetti nights, we accept that all their plates, shirts and most assuredly their entire face will have a reddish tent by the end of the meal. What a blessing family dinner can be.
Even though Brittany does the vast majority of the cooking, I enjoy being involved with her in the process. I try to do things that will make the process easier on her, which involves lots of stirring, smashing, peeling, rinsing and cutting. I have done this long enough that she now allows me to contribute to what ingredients should or should not go into certain dishes and what sides will go with the main dish. The kids are normally involved in the preparation by cleaning up, cracking eggs, putting seasonings in, etc. Their primary job is to taste everything we make and they are getting really good at it. They are accustomed to seeing Brittany use certain tools to cook, so if the mixer is on, they assume we are making a cake and immediately asks to lick the beater or to eat chocolate chips. Our kids believes eating is part of the process of cooking: enjoy the work as you go and have fun.
I think we can learn more things from our children in these times than we realize. It would be wise of us to step back from what we are doing in our families to see the beauty and joy that God gives us in the small things. You can either see your children as something that is annoying you while you cook, or you can see their interest in being with you as a gift of grace and their desire to participate in family life as something to be forged deeper in their souls. If we don’t believe it is important to cook at home and eat meals together at home, then what else do we not believe is important? Family meals are the times and events that are the truest strategy of God for the forging of future generations of Christianity, more so than catechism and family worship. As much as our children need family worship and catechizing, they need meals with mom, dad and their siblings even more.
Family meals are important because they are at the heart of the battle in our culture over abortion. The battle over abortion is not merely a legal battle or a philosophical debate on when life begins, but the battle on whether or not a child will be given the opportunity to live and exist in the world so that he or she can lick the beaters while their mom bakes them a cake. It is a battle over whether or not children will get to sit by their brothers and sisters and have dinner together. This isn’t a battle over whether or not a woman has the right to keep a baby in her womb. It is about their being made in the image of God, a person He has created to be at your table and His plan is that they be in their mother’s womb for ten months at the table before they come to join us in their mother or father’s arms at the table while we eat.
Family meals teach us many things and forge a lasting identity of who we are as a person. They shape us and our worldview. They are a gift to us from God because He wants to give us a taste and glimpse of the great feast that we will partake of when we enter into the age to come fully. It will be a feast where all of the family of God for all time is gathered at one table to eat, and fellowship together around the work of our Father to redeem us through the death and resurrection of our elder brother. It is a feast that He has prepared for us. He has done the work to bring us into the family, and is teaching us how to prepare for this great feast each and every day. The more we learn and grow, the more responsibility in His preparation He gives us. One day the meal will be ready. One day our elder brother is coming back to take us to the dinner.
God has a grand feast prepared for us to enjoy with His Son. The feast will begin at the second coming of Christ. Are you hungry for the feast? Do you want to know what it will taste like when we sit and partake of it fully? I wish we could eat now. The meal is not fully prepared, but thankfully God has given us a sample. Each Lord’s Day that we gather with God’s people, He gives us a sample of His great feast. He speaks to us in His word. He hears our praise of His great meal when we sing. He then gives us a taste of the bread and wine from his feast he is preparing. He does not see us as annoying children interrupting His work of preparation. Our enjoyment is the goal of HIs preparation. When you sit down for dinner and partake of a great meal with your family, you will enjoy the taste of the food. But the true substance of that meal is the cook and being able to eat with the cook and those at the table. This is the Christian life. We are tasting the icing in the bowl in comparison to the feast that awaits us. And yet the icing is so wonderful that it could satisfy us for eternity. But God grants to give us more. He wants us to taste and see that He is good and family dinners are a spoonful He gives us to taste of His goodness.