Reflections from History and Faith

By Jeff Olson

    It seems as though Christmas 2022 went from anticipation to memory in just a flash, and that’s because it did. It’s that way every year, isn’t it? I hope each and every one of you didn’t blink in that flash but truly made the most of each fleeting moment, treasuring and holding fast to the relationships deepened and the memories created with family and friends.

  Annual celebrations, including Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day and others provide many of us with opportunities for quality family time which we know is too much of a rarity these days. These special times also bring back some wonderful memories of celebrations past, even as far back as childhood. And with these holidays and other occasions, a meal is a major (if not the central) part of our celebrations.

   As I take these walks down memory lane, my personal recollections go beyond special celebrations and into my childhood days around the table when we were all together sharing in some wonderful food and conversation. The more I thought about this the more I realized just how much of a role this setting and environment played, not only on special occasions but often as a major part of our daily lives throughout the year. This was also true of my wife’s childhood, so she and I tried very hard to continue this commitment in our home as we raised our own children.

   When I was growing up, our family time around the supper table was typically about the only time and place that we had the opportunity not only to eat together but to visit with one another. This time together I believe contributed to the strengthening of our family bonds, to a deepening of our relationships, and to a stronger contentment, commitment and stability. Whenever there was an individual or family issue, it was often at the supper table where it was discussed and sometimes even solved. Whenever there was something joyous to share, it was often shared first with our family at the supper table. This made many of life’s victories and setbacks a family event where each of us had both an interest and a stake. Sure, not everything made it to the table but those things requiring family support, prayer, and counsel often did. In addition, we tended to eat regularly and more balanced meals which kept us healthier and I believe happier. Sure, our family wasn’t always able to eat together every day of the week, but we did as much as we could.  

   The family table was also an effective classroom for me. There I learned how to engage in conversation and how to listen and be interested in what others had to say. I received guidance in manners and good habits which encouraged mutual respect. And, the family table was usually a place where we as a family could recharge to face the outside world once more after a hard day at work or school. And, I still remember that table as the first home of Wahoo, Checkers, Monopoly, Dominoes, Yahtzee and other family games which provided not only fun but also lessons in competition, good sportsmanship and teamwork. The counsel of our family table depended for its ultimate value on the faithfulness and perseverance of my mother, as was also true of my wife in our home as we raised our children.  

   Over the past several decades, things have changed. Today’s lifestyles and choices have resulted in our eclipsing the supper table for other alternatives. For instance, many of us find ourselves eating more meals in front of the television, more of us eating out than ever before and social media sometimes preoccupies us even during family time. How many times have you seen a couple at a restaurant sitting across the table from one another and both texting on their cell phones? With more mothers in the workforce and some of them (and fathers) leading single-parent households, it is very difficult to develop and maintain any consistency with family meals. And, it’s probably true that not as many women cook today as did in the past (though more men may). In many instances, it has likely come to the point that the urgency of getting the family fed as a necessity has overshadowed the focus of quality family time around the table.

Is the family table a lost cause? Is it a dead institution? Well, it might be a dying institution but I think it’s too early to close the coffin. Our religious heritage and cultural history remind us that the table is not only real and substantive in its place in our home, but it is a symbol of family, community, and faithful presence. It’s a symbol of our deep desire to be known, to be loved and to love. It’s a symbol that we see throughout Scripture as a place where God dwells with and provides for his people. These remain as relevant today as ever before. 

To a great extent, the future of the family table depends on choices we will make. We now live in a culture so much defined by personal autonomy, instant gratification and self-fulfillment that we’ve too often allowed these to undermine our family life. We parents have chosen at times to see our roles too much as simply providers of material needs, wants, and opportunities, and less as nurturers and teachers. Think about it: our homes are the first family, first school, first church, first society, first economy and first government that our children experience. Therefore, their vital initial impressions and future participation in these important institutions lay for the most part in our hands. Plus, it is the role of parents and even grandparents to pass on to the next generations the norms, values and traditions that serve to perpetuate family heritage and legacy. These are the building blocks for not only our culture and nation but for civilization itself.

    This all may seem a bit too Utopian to become a reality these days, but it can probably happen if only to a greater degree than it presently does. Since some aspects of our lives are a matter of choices, why don’t we choose to prioritize certain times to turn off the TV, set aside the cell phone, leave the computer alone, and sit down and eat a meal or snack together or maybe just play a game as a family? It just may be that the counsel we need and some other special moments we’ve been missing can be found around that table that’s covered up with bills, magazines and who knows what else.

     And, by the way… there is also much to be said about the family table for us empty-nesters/retirees who have our own unique challenges once the kiddos have flown the coop. While not any longer a factor in child-rearing, fidelity to the family table still contributes to sustaining and strengthening marriages and even relationships among friends and neighbors as we get together for cookouts, dinners, and games where we enjoy and support one another. This also may go in tandem with other activities and hobbies we may enjoy, such as golf, tennis, pickleball, cards, music and other activities. There is simply no substitute for being together, face-to-face in communication, fellowship, camaraderie and perhaps in competition…friendly, that is! These relationships and activities and the clubs and organizations they reside within are an important part of the intermediate institutions which are essential and fundamental to having a strong and resilient community and culture.

    So, for 2023 shall we resolve to give the family table and/or a related supportive venue a try, or at least an overdue boost? It’s an opportunity full of treasure and future memories, and one which will all too soon pass us by. And…the older we get, soon comes much too fast!