I rode to work last Monday with Justin Timberlake blaring through the Pandora app on my phone. “What Goes Around Comes Around” was the song playing. I sang out loud as I rolled past the carpool drop off line of the high school just adjacent to my home. Listening, singing, even doing a little middle-aged mama dance, I let go of my worries.
Now, this song is not one you would expect to read about on my blog and don’t worry, I am not going to try to make a parallel to my faith and the lyrics of this song. But, it did give me a title for the blog post I have been mulling around in my head. It also gave me chills as I sang it. Not because I relate to the words of the song in any way, but because I love music, singing, good ole’ hip hop and…Justin Timberlake. This first-born loves to let go…
In the past several months, I have had the opportunity to come around the table with many precious and unique people in my life. These tables have looked physically different, but each one has had the same sentiment surrounding its otherwise plain/generic shape of wood. Physically, these tables have varied in appearance, some having been previously scratched and marked by the little years of children, some newly purchased for enjoyment of outside dining and some more of a counter top space with a bending down on elbows posture to create a circle community.
Each time I have come around one of these tables, I have been communing with people who are not the same as I am. Different faiths, different political views, different world views, different genders, different backgrounds, different careers. Despite some very core differences, we have come together. We have laughed, we have cried, we have shared, we have listened. We have hurt, we have paused, we have prayed. Our differences have not separated us, they have strengthened us. Our differences have not puffed us up, they have humbled us, bringing us all down to eye level with fellow hurting humans.
Generally, when at the table, bodies are nourished, minds are calmed and stimulated at the same time, hearts are joined and tummies are filled. Everyone joining shares the basic human need of being fed nutrients and vitamins to sustain life. I often talk about the importance of family meals in my role as a pediatric nurse practitioner. There has been a great amount of research done in the more recent years that shows the benefit of families coming together around the dinner table to talk, reflect, share and grow together. Research has even shown that children from families who eat dinner together at least 4 times weekly are less likely to engage in risk taking behaviors, have less mental and emotional stress, less propensity towards obesity and have stronger self-esteem, parent-child connectedness and resilience (Fishel, 2016).
Research also says these kids have a better vocabulary. The better vocabulary comes from talking to each other and hearing conversation from adults on a regular basis. Talking to each other is so very important in this world of advancing and often smothering technology. There was also a recent article that shared statistics of the very sad reality that the “igen” generation (my kids) don’t talk to each other and lack social skills of generations before them. Even more frightening, is the fact that while talking to real people has decreased, the risk of teen depression, anxiety and even suicide has increased.
At each of the above mentioned meetings around my life tables, we have set aside time and space from the world. There were no selfies, no “check ins” no scrolling Facebook, Instagram, the news or any other at your finger tips information. There were moments of sincerity. Moments of looking into eyes. Moments of interpreting body language, of hands on shoulders, of tears in eyes, of hugs around necks…of connecting as human beings and finding common ground.
These experiences reminded me that there are many more people behind the screenshots and highlight reels that are real, that are deep, that are willing and wanting to connect with other people. In these moments of table sharing connectedness, I felt united every time. I felt the unity of people who love each other, accept differences and want to learn in love. Those are the people I want at my table. And they are all different from me, some in big ways, some in small ways.
Gathering and doing life and ministry at the table reminds me of the One I try to model my life after. Though I fail miserably, I feel a sure sense of peace with the idea that Jesus sat at the table, not with people he even called friends! I may sit with those different from me, but he sat with the worst outcasts of society that he could find on the streets! To name a few of his mealtime rendezvous.. there was the last supper, the feeding of 5,000, the meal with Levi the tax collector, the feeding of the 4,000, the meals at the houses of Pharasees, the one with Zacchaeus, the meal that followed his resurrection…you get the idea! He ministered around the table, with food, sometimes with those very different from him.
It’s not really the table – that piece of wood crafted into a flat space for meals to be placed while plates and utensils surround, awaiting those who will be fed there. It’s the ones who come around. The ones who come open, willing to hear, wanting to be heard, filled with cautious hope for fellowship and communion. If we can learn something from Jesus about mealtime fellowship, it was a time that was meant to be shared. Popular things were not always said, but they were said in love.
Though Jesus was the King of Kings, He did not stand above His guests, assuring them of His knowledge and power in intimidation. Instead, He showed humility, He even sat beside those He knew would betray Him. Just as it says in 1 Peter 3, the way we approach others is exceedingly important in spreading His message.