As hard as I try, I really don’t like dinnertime in our house.
I’m not quite sure when eating as a family of six turned into a contact sport, but I work to convince my daughters to drop the mob mentality each evening. We are strongly dedicated to eating meals together as many times as their busy worlds will allow, but by the end of each precious moment with our family huddled around the dinner table, I’m about ready to wave the white flag. Elbows are thrown, insults may be hurled, and by the end, someone is crying.
Usually, it’s not me.
We live in a land of abundance, and though that may not be homogenous across our community, in our home, we work to show our girls just how good they have it.
Gratitude is encouraged, and we are quick to point out instances where others are suffering, simultaneously teaching our daughters how they can help. But no matter what lessons we may try to instill, dinnertime continues to bring out the very worst of my children’s hearts. I try to remind them, and myself, that Christ came so that we may have an abundant life (John 10:10). And with my next breath, I’m startled by how little we realize this.
When I look inward, and around at my peers, I feel as though we are still competing, long past childhood. It may be for the last roll at Thanksgiving dinner, or a promotion at work, or words of affirmation for a job well done. We still feel as though we have to fight for resources that, in most of our worlds, aren’t scarce. And if we take a moment to breathe, and enjoy God’s abundance in our lives, we quickly worry that this loss of focus will leave us on the losing end tomorrow, robbing us of any feeling of peace.
Outside of the obvious question of how I make it through dinner with our wild crew, I am even more stumped as to how I instill compassion for those around us and how I set that example for my children in my own life. If they feel like they can’t even make it through a meal without some form of contention, and thinking only of their own needs, will they ever learn to extend grace to the world around them?
The answer, surprisingly, did not lie in better meal planning, or in the purchase of an Instant Pot, or in sequestering sisters to different ends of the kitchen. Instead, the answer appeared as our priest discussed the parable of the prodigal son during Lent this year. To be honest, the father in this story has always irritated me. His son behaves poorly, makes questionable decisions, and comes home to a party. Where’s the accountability?
One piece of the story I hadn’t considered before this sermon was that this parable illustrates how the father loves each of his sons, exactly how they need to be loved. This consistent, unfailing love is exactly how God loves each of us. If we model God’s love to our children, we will meet them exactly where their needs lie.
When elbows start flying around the kitchen table, I’ve tried to look deeper at each of my daughters, wondering where their needs lie at that particular moment.
Were their feelings hurt by a seemingly innocuous comment?
Are they craving individual attention?
Do they need their voice to be heard?
Do they just need the reassurance that they are safe, valued, and loved unconditionally, regardless of what the outside world has thrown their way?
Or, most simply, do I just need to get more spaghetti off the stove?
Through God’s lens, I can begin to see that I have the profound opportunity to love my children as only a parent can. We anticipate needs and appreciate nuances better than anyone else in their worlds. We are attuned to each evolving, occasionally surprising, twist and turn on their path to adulthood. With this front row seat comes the amazing chance to invest in them, and meet them with the love that they need the most.
I would be thrilled to tell you that we now experience a peaceful dinnertime, brimming with vibrant conversation and respectful interactions between siblings. However, that quaint vision is still far from our truth. What I do have is a change in perspective.
When disorder starts to resemble anarchy, I pray to see my girls through God’s lens, and take the opportunity to meet them where they need me. By giving them the encouragement, limits, and believing in them as only their parents know how, it’s my hope that they will reflect this love back out into the world. Or at least let their sister have the last piece of pizza.