There is a shortcut through our neighborhood that takes us through rows and rows of homes leading up to our street. At night, large windows provide glimpses into what dinnertime looks like with our neighborhood families. It's surprising to see how much is communicated by the way people gather. Some are gathered in their living room in front of the television while they watch a show. Some are scattered throughout the home and eating at their own leisure. But the ones who most capture my attention are the families gathered around the table, facing one another, talking, and taking intentional time to spend together and eat. It's the kind of image we see plastered in ads around Thanksgiving or on the front pages of cookbooks. Many understand the idea to be significant, but why is gathering around the table so valuable?
The Bible encourages its value with numerous accounts of Jesus gathering regularly around a table. He ate with His disciples, friends, sinners, outcasts, those who loved Him, and those who betrayed him. He ate with every kind of person and used the table as a means of feasting, fellowshipping, blessing, and sharing. In the same way, we are richly rewarded by simply gathering around the table with others. Here are a few ways we can find value in gathering around the table:
One of the ways we benefit from gathering around the table is that it breeds intentionality. Instead of walking through our tech-filled, schedule-run, individually minded days, taking a seat in the presence of others turns our minds from ourselves and toward others. Our bodies and eyes are directed at one another. It encourages a moment to consider someone else, ask questions, recount the day's blessings or hardships, bear each other's burdens, and celebrate one another. At times, we can finish our days without ever having a moment to ask someone, "How was your day?" Meals at the table breed opportunities for those intentional conversations.
When I was in high school, If I ever had a difficult day, I would get home and go straight to my room. I wouldn't come out for dinner, but instead, I would isolate myself from everyone so that I didn't have to deal with my emotions. It sometimes left me bottling up my troubles and crying myself to sleep. Whether dealing with hard days, catching up on work, scrolling our phones, or binge-watching a television show, there are so many ways to isolate ourselves. But by eating around the table, a small outlet is provided to come out of isolation. We may not even realize how good for our hearts and minds it is to be around others and how easily it can keep us from being alone. But creating the space for it provides an escape from secluding ourselves from others.
Providing an Invitation
When my husband and I bought our first home, I went on a hunt for our first piece of furniture–a dining room table. I had a small budget but big plans for that table. I searched thrift stores and online marketplaces. I went to weekend yard sales and dedicated a great deal of time to finding it. And one day, I happened upon the perfect table. It had a few stains on it that I would need to treat, and it needed one leg replaced, but this table could seat a whopping ten people. Whenever I shared news of my thrift finds, I received a few funny looks and responses– "Why in the world would you need such a big table for only two people?" Well, of course it was so I could invite people to take a seat at our table! Gathering around the table provides a space to invite others into our homes. Whether neighbors, coworkers, friends, or family, we need a place to direct an invitation. If we rarely gather in one place in our homes, it can be more difficult to invite someone in an intentional way. But by gathering together, we send a message that we are pausing our schedules and to-do lists and other routines to get to know someone, serve them, spend time with them, and open up our lives to them.
Members of my church have beautifully displayed the multitude of opportunities that are provided by gathering around the table–in ways as simple as filling up someone's glass and as grand as preparing the entire meal. The closeness of the table places us in a position to offer a hand and serve those around us. It's a simple way to encourage our families to consider the interests of others above our own, even when that means giving the last of the delicious biscuits to someone else instead of keeping them for yourself.
Some days and circumstances may prevent us from gathering around the table. We must show ourselves grace when those times arise. But it is worth the extra effort to make it a priority, for there are far too many things of this world seeking to rob us of time spent with friends and family in good fellowship. Let's not neglect the small and simple ways of cultivating opportunities to gather around the table. What a true gift it is to foster those relationships! I can assure you that not only will you bless others, but the time spent with them will in turn bless you.