MAKE MEMORIES AT YOUR TABLE
One of the greatest places to encourage our children is at the family meal table. Memories are associated with eating because it affects our five senses. I have forgotten many things I did as a child, but I have not forgotten our meal times together. In our home in Te Puke, New Zealand, we had a table that was attached to the wall that we pulled down for each meal. We ate the foods in season. I remember eating pumpkin and beans every night for weeks, but I never tired of it.
My father was a great "meat man" (as most men are) and killed all his own meat. Whenever he killed a sheep, we feasted, not only on the meat, but the organ meats--lamb's brains, sweetbreads, liver, and heart for breakfast--and I'm still alive today! "Yuk!" I hear you say!
In duck shooting season, my father would shoot his limit bag every morning and we would eat wild duck every night for three weeks. The first night of the season, my mother stuffed and cooked three wild ducks, one for dad himself and two for my mother and us three children. The taste was delicious! We all looked forward to this season every year. Back in those days we didn't own a deep freeze and therefore could not keep the game. We ate and ate and ate and gave away. Later, when deep freezes became available, we spaced our eating of the ducks throughout the year, but it never had the same memories as eating them every night of duck-shooting season.
Was it only our family that enjoyed all this food? No. My parents were the most hospitable people I know. Someone only had to appear at the door of their home and they were dragged in for a meal! Plates were piled high. And while they ate, they yarned and told stories--stories of how my father shot a particular bird, of how he roared a certain stag in for the kill, stories of life, and most of all, testimonies of what God was doing in their lives. The table was a place where we cemented family relationships.
Food and Fellowship are Twins
Having experienced the stability of the family table growing up in my own home, I sought to establish it in our home. I believe the table is more than a place to eat food. Food and fellowship are twins. One is not the same without the other. The table is a place where our children learn to communicate, where they learn to grow in formulating their convictions and ideas, and where they are encouraged and learn to encourage one another.
I like to bring a topic of conversation to the table. I find that if we don't do this, that often the conversation goes nowhere. In fact, I find it as important to think about what we will discuss at the table as what we will eat. The meal table time together can be boring--or lively, interesting, and educational, according to how we prepare for it. When the children were little, we would ask questions such as:
"How did God bless you today?"
"What was something new that you learned today?"
"What was something nice that someone said to you today?"
"What was the funniest thing that happened to you today?
Each one is expected to take a turn, right down to the littlest one who can talk. In doing this, each child receives an opportunity for personal attention. Everyone in the family, including mom and dad, turn their eyes and focus on this child while he or she shares.
As the children grow older, you can bring more adult subjects to the table—historical, political, geographical, biblical, or spiritual. For a fun night you may want each one to share a joke.
Sometimes, I ask each one to bring something to the table to read to us--a poem, a passage from a book they are currently reading, or a powerful quote. Recently I asked each one living in our home to share the book that had impacted their life the most, and why. We learned a lot that night and everyone wanted to read the book each one talked about.
Recently, I asked each one to come prepared to speak about some person who has influenced the world in some way. Some of the people we learned about that night were Annie Oakley, C. T. Studd, Eliezer Ben Yehuda, and John Newton.
Opportunity to Encourage
Sitting around the table together is one of the most valuable and opportune times to encourage one another. Not only is it a time to dialogue, but to lift one another up.
Sometimes you can take turns to bless one another. Starting from the oldest to the youngest (and mom and dad have their turn too), or go around the table, each one in the family saying something special about the "chosen" person. They have to think of all the good things they like about them. By the time everyone has spoken their words of blessing to the chosen person, they will feel a million dollars. We do this at every birthday, as well as at other times.
Other times you may like to take a letter of the alphabet (you can gradually go through the alphabet from A to Z). Perhaps you may choose the Letter R. Each one has to think of character qualities with the letter R for the chosen person, e.g. Really "true blue," Rich with talents, Resourceful when making things, Resolute for God, or Radiant with the love of Jesus, etc.
One time, I was asked to speak about "Making Memories." Therefore, I decided to ask each of our children to tell me their happiest memories of growing up in our home. None of them knew that I was asking the others. Each one responded immediately with the words, "Oh, Mom, the family meal table." I'm glad I worked hard to gather the family together every evening. I'm glad I did not let "legitimate" things rob me of the best!
Children will not have great memories of eating a meal in front of the TV. There is no heart and soul in that. Sitting around the table together, eating, fellowshipping, dialoguing, and interacting will produce lasting memories. I remember when Evangeline was working in an orphanage in Uganda before she was married. She was the only white person in her village. All around her people were dying of AIDS. She was happy serving the Lord, but homesick, too. In one of her letters, she said, "Oh to sit around our dinner table! Please send me a recording of everyone at the meal table." I waited until some of our married children came home for a meal and put the recorder on without anyone knowing. When I listened to it later, it sounded like a big babble of voices with everyone speaking at once. It was full of life and interaction. I sent it to Evangeline. Her reply was, "It was like music to my ears."