I have a thing for the table, for food and friends and a place to gather and share a meal. To me, there is something wonderful about this space, about staying in instead of going out. There’s something beautiful about inviting people to pull up a chair, fill up their plate, and stay awhile. For me, I have found that the best meals, the most meaningful conversations, the most laughter I’ve shared with others has happened around the table as we pass pots and pans and take one more scoop, one more bite.
This is what I love. This is the place I love.
Recently, Troy and I made plans with friends we’d been trying to spend time with for months. We’d planned to go out to eat, maybe grab a pizza or wings or burgers or any one of the nearby options, but instead we invited them to my house. We traded a crowded restaurant for a home, and for me, I felt a silly giddiness about it all. My heart of was filled with excitement knowing that we would end the day at the table, forks and knives scrapping against one another, glasses of lemonade being filled and refilled, cups of coffee brewing well into the evening. My love affair with flavors and this place was all-consuming as Troy and I brainstormed and planned and shopped.
This, not that. What about this recipe? What if we tried that? Do these flavors go together?
Instead of rushing to make all the food before our friends came, we decided to cook together once everyone arrived. The four of us gathered in the kitchen, munching on heaping bowls of fresh cherries and strawberries as we cooked and talked and chopped and diced. In a moment, this room that was once quiet now echoed with the sound of laughter and conversation and knives hitting the cutting boards. It seemed to shrink as the four of us worked, one of us cutting sweet potatoes, the other chopping chicken, one slicing pineapple, the other squeezing lemon juice into a pitcher. We made messes and memories, bumping into one another, adjusting the oven temperature and lighting the grill.
And as we worked, we talked. We talked about relationships and about the future. We talked about hopes and dreams, about what “ideal” looked like. We talked about jobs and college and careers. But more than that, we laughed because food and joy should always walk hand in hand.
After the final timer went off, we gathered at the table where a place was set for each of us. And this is the beauty of dinners around the table. After cooking, there was a spot for each to come and sit and be. The kitchen, I’ve found, is a place of hurry and work and timing, and the table is a place of rest. This space, if you let it, is a place of contentment, of slowing down, of laughter, and of kindness. It’s a place that invites conversation and questions, a place that creates the space for friendships to form and to deepen.
In the chaos of life, in the busyness of weeks, it seems that there is little time for this space. We are a culture that runs off of fast food, microwave dinners, pre-made meals that only need to be thrown in the oven. We rarely take the time to cut and chop and dice together, let alone sit at that table.
But that evening, I found that the table created a safe place. We spent hours there, laughing and chatting, snitching food from pans instead of our plates. The table became the place where we could show our truest selves and be met by kindness and grace. Just as we found nourishment for our bodies, we found nourishment for our souls, for the parts of ourselves that longed to connect with others, to truly be seen.
Of course, the table isn’t the only place where these kinds of connections happen, but to me, it has proven time and again to be the best. Because the table invites people to come as they are, allergies and preferences and pickiness included. The table has a place set for everyone, a plate waiting for anyone, a cup, a fork, a spoon, a napkin, a knife for all. And when we take the time to create this kind of place for people, to invite people and to love people through food, through a seat around our table, something holy happens.
In the midst of laughter and silliness, joking and eating, we just may find our souls at rest, connecting more deeply with those we sit with. Our God is a God of connecting, of listening, of loving people. Our God is a God of creating spaces for people to enter. Our God is a God who invites people to himself, to come as they are, their messes and memories included. Our God is a God who nourishes us in the deepest ways, watering our parched and dry souls when we allow him to.
And in a small way, this is what dinners around the table have the potential to do. If we allow Him, if we create space and carve out time for moments, the God of the truest form of hospitality is present at the table, in the conversation and the laughter.
May we be a people who invite and create space and listen and love. May we be a people who work together, who make memories and messes as we try to create something beautiful. May we be a people who set a place, who save a chair for others.
And may we be a people who gather around the table.