A few years ago my wife and I were physically and nutritionally depleted. It was obvious our souls were not far behind. We had several emotional breakdowns and deep moments of discussion and prayer. After identifying our burnout, we knew everything had to be on the table—our calling, our ministry, our home, the way we do life. We realized that we had no margin for relationships. It wasn’t something we decided to do—it just happened over time. But God intended us for a relationship with Him and others, both of which are impossible when you have no margin. From that point on, we cut schedules and said no more often. We have not arrived, but we are not sliding anymore. We decide our way into health and relationships, and that starts with our approach to the family table.
I used to have a terrible habit of clearing the table as soon I was done with my food—often when everyone else was still only halfway through the meal! I just wanted to get the dishes done so I could relax. But part of being intentional with our family table means taking the time to relax during the meal.
So we rearranged some furniture. I know me—if the dishes are in my peripheral vision, I am just not going to be able to relax. Now instead of eating in our kitchenette, we eat in the dining room with no view of the kitchen. This simple decision changed my life—and led to many little changes that made a big difference at our family table.
Since the dining room is a little more formal, we prep the environment as if honored guests are on the way over. And honored guests are coming—our family! We light candles and put out the nice dishes. We think through and prepare for conversation, games, special desserts, and devotions.
How many of us have a dining room and don’t use it? Why not invite your family into this underused space each night and enjoy a meal together? Even if you don’t have a dining room, try to find a way to set the table apart. Consider sitting with your back to the kitchen and maybe purchasing a screen or curtain to separate you from the mess. The dishes probably won’t bother the kids near as much as they bother you.
Our journey toward a more intentional family table began when our kids were five and seven. At first their questions went along the lines of “What is this?”, “How many bites do I have to eat?”, or my favorite, “Do we have to have a fancy meal?” I often got discouraged and lost my resolve often. But four years later, we have a twelve-year-old who asks regularly what is for dinner and if we are going to all eat together at the table. Now, our ten-year-old son is at a different place on the journey. He craves Kraft mac and cheese to almost anything else offered to him. But he doesn’t mind sitting at the dining room table as long as he can have a comfy chair and light the candles himself. He is progressing. The family table requires intentional, consistent resolve from parents. Don’t give up.
We work hard to keep our kids at the family table. We play board games and question games, have placemats they can color on or do crossword puzzles, and do family devotions. And the goal of all of these games and activities is to foster conversation. The intentional time spent together gives us all the opportunity to share what’s on our hearts.
Food and family bring us to the table. Stories, games, and laughter keep us there for hours. Thoughtful food and conversations create meals worth repeating. We want our children to leave home and establish family tables of their own. We want them to enjoy spending time around their tables as they talk about time they spent around our table. That is the purpose of Come to the Family Table: to inspire you in creating a family table that your children and guests will talk about for a lifetime.
Ted and Amy Cunningham founded Woodland Hills Family Church in Branson, Missouri, in 2002. Ted is a popular speaker and prolific author of marriage and family books, including Trophy Child.