In the last couple years, I’ve found that many of the most sacred moments of my life have taken place around the table. Young or old, male or female, married or single, I think the table matters for all of us. And I think the table matters whether we’re talking about a formal dining room set with matching china or a beat-up coffee table in a first apartment. What matters isn’t the food or the table or the settings. What matters is that we create spaces to see and hear one another, to learn one another’s stories, not just the textable sound bytes.
I want you to tell someone you love them, and dinner’s at six. I want you to throw open your front door and welcome the people you love into the inevitable mess with hugs and laughter. I want you to light a burner on the stove, to chop and stir and season with love and abandon. Gather the people you love around your table and feed them with love and honesty and creativity. Feed them with your hands and the flavors and smells that remind you of home and beauty and the best stories you’ve ever heard, the best stories you’ve ever lived.
There will be a day when it all falls apart. My very dear friend lost her mom this year. That same month, another friend’s marriage ended, shot through with lies and heartbreak. A friend I hadn’t talked to in ages called late one Sunday night to ask me how to get through a miscarriage. “The bleeding,” she said, “has already begun.” As I write, a dear family friend lies in a coma in a hospital bed.
These are things I can’t change. Not one of them. Can’t fix, can’t heal, can’t put the broken pieces back together. But what I can do is offer myself, wholehearted and present, to walk with the people I love through the fear and the mess. That’s all any of us can do. That’s what we’re here for, the presence, the listening, the praying with and for on the days when it all falls apart, when life shatters in our hands.
The table is where we store up for those days, where we log minutes and hours building something durable and strong that gets tested in those terrible split seconds. And the table is where we return to stitch our hearts back together after the breaking.
I want you to stop running from thing to thing to thing, and to sit down at the table, to offer the people you love something humble and nourishing, like soup and bread, like a story, like a hand holding another hand while you pray. We live in a world that values us for how fast we go, for how much we accomplish, for how much life we can pack into one day. But I’m coming to believe it’s in the in-between spaces that our lives change, and that the real beauty lies there.
Most of the time, I eat like someone’s about to steal my plate, like I can’t be bothered to chew or taste or feel, but I’m coming to see that the table is about food, and it’s also about time. It’s about showing up in person, a whole and present person, instead of a fragmented, frantic person, phone in one hand and to-do list in the other. Put them down, both of them, twin symbols of the modern age, and pick up a knife and a fork. The table is where time stops. It’s where we look people in the eye, where we tell the truth about how hard it is, where we make space to listen to the whole story, not the textable sound bite.
We don’t come to the table to fight or to defend. We don’t come to prove or to conquer, to draw lines in the sand or to stir up trouble. We come to the table because our hunger brings us there. We come with a need, with fragility, with an admission of our humanity. The table is the great equalizer, the level playing field many of us have been looking everywhere for. The table is the place where the doing stops, the trying stops, the masks are removed, and we allow ourselves to be nourished, like children. We allow someone else to meet our need. In a world that prides people on not having needs, on going longer and faster, on going without, on powering through, the table is a place of safety and rest and humanity, where we are allowed to be as fragile as we feel. If the home is a body, the table is the heart, the beating center, the sustainer of life and health. Come to the table.
Our dear friend Shauna Niequist released a new book yesterday. If you enjoy her writing on this blog, we’d recommend you pick up a copy of Bread & Wine. Here’s what Don had to say about the book…
“Bread & Wine is a new book about an ancient meal, but more than a meal, a book about the people seated at the table, and about the laughing, and about the joy of saying hello and the pain of saying good-bye. After reading this book you’ll feel as you do driving away from dinner with a friend — grateful and full.”