If my dining room table could talk, it might begin with a story about cinnamon rolls whose aroma can pull family out of bed like a giant magnet. Smiling and sleepy, they sniff their way toward the dining room and the warm welcome of a breakfast gathering. My scratched up table might share memories of voices singing – or arguing; of conversations with missionaries, old friends, and people who became new friends; of the sound of laughter that accompanies holiday homecomings and boisterous birthdays.
Our gatherings around the table for feasting and fun are symbolic, a pale adumbration of a larger feast, and Sally Clarkson points her readers toward this truth in The Lifegiving Table. Remembering her own family’s heritage of traditions, she shares her motivation behind it all: “The soul satisfaction of belonging to one another, the anchor of commonly held traditions, and the understanding that our home was a sanctuary from all the pressures and storms of life.” (5)
Her exhortation is well-timed, for North American culture is characterized by a speed and complexity that leans more toward fast-food in the mini-van than family meals around a table. Statistics gathered by The Six O’Clock Scramble website indicate that the frequency of family dinners has declined 33 percent over the past two decades with the average time spent at a dinner table shrinking to a mere twelve minutes. Studies also show that children and teens who enjoy more than three family dinners per week eat more healthfully, are less likely to be overweight, perform better academically, and are less likely to engage in risky behaviors. (13)
It’s clear that time spent around a life-giving table nourishes more than just our bodies.
“The food is only an exclamation point!”
The rhythm that pulses under The Lifegiving Table is a mother’s deep desire to build memories and traditions that nurture close relationships among her children and to point always and ever to the faith that is foundational to everything she does. Intentional time around a table may be elaborate or simple; a gathering of the troops or a face to face, one-on-one heart-to-heart talk.
I read Sally’s book straight through, underlining and nodding and gathering inspiration, but the book could also be treated as a reference, for each chapter stands alone with very practical principles for some aspect of table-love alongside scripture verses to ponder, a gentle push in the form of suggested activities, and then, recipes that come from Sally’s tried and true collection.
Practicing rhythms of life around a table is enriching for many reasons. These are some of our family’s favorites, and The Lifegiving Table offers a wealth of resources for each one:
1. Shaping a family culture
I was sharing a youngest-son glory moment with his oldest brother, and was surprised at his response: “Well, of course. He’s a Morin.” It turns out that our boys have a very strong sense of “this is who we are” as a family. Our prayer is that as they mix and mingle with people of many faiths and persuasions, they will continue to hold fast to the bedrock of “this is why we believe” and “this is what we stand for.” Values and traditions that shape and define a family are picked up and carried forward through shared goals and strong relationships that form a legacy over a lifetime together.
2. Practicing conversation
It was a relief to me to read that sometimes things got loud around the Clarksons’ table. Dinner time conversation is a great place for trying out convictions, arguing an opinion, or validating thought processes. It has been my goal to draw each child into the conversation so each would have the floor at some point (for at least a few seconds!), but I had no idea how obvious I was being in this quest until my youngest as a toddler turned toward his dad during a lull in the conversation and asked, “And how was your day?’ with the exact tone of voice I would have used.
3. Celebrating everything!
In sharing this favorite G.K. Chesterton quote, Sally urges parents to tap into the natural exuberance of our children to put on display the celebratory nature of God:
“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” (91)
4. Pursuing discipleship in the midst of life
“A discipleship that cannot make room for the ordinary is unrealistic.”
Growth toward God can happen in an atmosphere of fun, and whatever we plan for our day-to-day, line upon line, precept upon precept building into our children must fit our family culture well enough to be sustainable over the long haul. Realism dictates that we shelve perfectionism. If our family had waited for perfect conditions in which to practice hospitality or implement family devotions . . . we’d still be waiting.
5. Making love your goal
We are made to love and to be loved. How sad when children go looking to have this need met outside their family, when the life-giving table is the perfect medium for seeds of friendship to flourish right in the home.
“What makes a table lifegiving is what happens at the table.”
If relationship is the goal, a life-giving table can be found anywhere people come together to find refreshment for body, soul, and spirit, and where the value of relationship is based on the value of individuals as God’s image bearers and much-loved children.
This book was provided by Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for my review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Sue Moore Donaldson shares inspiration and practical advice for ministry around your table at her website, and in her books. Hospitality 101 is a Bible study featuring lessons from The Ultimate Host, and Table Mentoring will help you get started on the joyous path of coming alongside another person around your welcoming table.
Be sure to give a listen to At Home with Sally Clarkson and Friends, a podcast in which Sally shares more thoughts on the Lifegiving Table along with interviews with fascinating guests.
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