Friday, October 12, 2007

Causing Togetherness

Now that the Soper family has two teenagers, including one who drives and works part-time after school, we find ourselves working harder to guard our meal times together. This is borne out of the memories Angela and I have of consistent family meal times (mainly dinner) growing up, not to mention the wealth of social science research which shows a direct correlation between families who eat together and the general well-being (including less likelihood of drug use, alcohol abuse, and promiscuity) of the children. Now granted, correlation is not causation. Just because two things are related does not mean one causes the other. If there is a correlation between the Astros losing at home and rainy days in Houston, this does not mean that rain causes the Astros to lose. The Astros lose because they stink (this year). But the correlation between meal times and family togetherness and well-being is powerful and intriguing. It borders on causation.

A friend of mine in Los Angeles listened as a young neighbor who was home from college exclaimed at how much she enjoyed eating with her friends in the school cafeteria. She marveled at how satisfying it was to mix conversation over a meal with people she cared about. My friend asked her, “Didn’t you ever experience that with your family?” The young lady replied sadly that her family rarely sat down for a meal together at home. They all helped themselves to food and ate in front of the television, in separate rooms, or at different times. The home kitchen was like a fast-food walk-thru.

Someone recently mentioned that he has a burden for rich white kids. Say again? Aren’t rich white kids (re: teenagers) the ones who have it all: cars and cell phones and lots of independence? Exactly. Their “independence” often ends up isolating them from their parents, who are all too content for the family to be busy (productively so, of course; this is America) and disconnected. So, this man has a burden for busy, materially well-supplied but lonely kids from intact but disconnected families who inside ache for togetherness and family closeness and would gladly give up many of their activities and toys to be closer to their parents and siblings, though they would never tell their parents that. But they do tell their therapist, youth minister, or school counselor.

Why did Jesus spend so much time sharing meals with people? Why did he get so much flak for his meal associations? Jesus intentionally shared meals with people because to share a meal is to invest yourself in the relationship, to establish connection, to break down walls, to convey commitment and interest. Thus, Jesus leaves his followers a meal to celebrate together each week. Not a drive-by wafer and juice pick-up, but a shared meal in his memory gathered at the table as part of our worship together.

Friends, fold up your TV trays. Clear the dinner table of its clutter. Simplify your calendars. Do you really need to be in all those activities? Are they just a smoke-screen for relational laziness? Establish your meal times. If not every night, then three or four or five nights per week. Couples without children and empty-nesters, you too! Something happens when we eat together. Meals correlate with relational well-being. They cause togetherness. They are a beautiful part of the Christian life.


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