The Table Impacts
Let’s begin with an admission.
For me, this whole “life happens around the table” idea doesn’t make sense. It never has.
That phrase doesn’t bring me a sense of peace or nostalgia. The table doesn't bring back memories of illuminating conversation and beautifully arranged complex carbohydrates. Nor does it represent warm, familial gatherings or life lessons learned over the pouring of gravy. Maybe you feel the same?
Don’t get me wrong. I grew up in a beautiful home surrounded by a strong family with strong values. I am truly thankful for my upbringing. It was secure. There was joy and support, and many meals that left us in laughing fits.
But if I’m truly honest, when I think of “the table” my mind drifts to memories of shame, loneliness, and fabulous decor.
I come from a family of means and position. A family with a strong, ministerial platform. From the outside looking in, we were the perfect representation of all-American entrepreneurship. Happy, healthy, and hustling.
However, for me personally, that happy, healthy, and hustle came at a price.
In my family, feelings were a highly misunderstood battleground. I use the term “battleground” intentionally, as emotions in the home were something we always fought for, but rarely won. I have very specific memories of being dismissed from our table if there was a disagreement or disruption of some kind.
Now, I realize there were absolutely moments where a raised voice merited a dismissal, but it was deeper than that. This was not a safe home. Our table was not a safe place for discussion. It was a table that invited only those that stood for one ideology, one political party, one moral compass.
Because of this, I grew accustomed to a life of emotional silence and dishonesty. I was bound by an upbringing that only allowed optimism and devalued any negative feeling. If you’re sick, don’t say it out loud or you will “breathe life” into the disease. If you’re angry, don’t allow yourself to react or you will come across as uncontrolled or ungodly. If you’re broken-hearted, cry it out alone, don’t dare ask for comfort. Tears equate to weakness. Strength lies in the best face forward.
If you make a mistake, cover it and cover it fast. You will lose your ministerial calling the minute someone discovers your imperfection. Yikes. This one has kept me spiritually debilitated for way longer than I’d like to admit.
My Mom is known country-wide for her decorating skills. Our house was always shockingly ornate around Christmas, and people would come from all over to see the 18+ trees and life-size carolers. I remember multiple holidays where the dining room decor was so extreme, the thought of eating at the table would offend. No one was to touch the tablescape or eat anywhere in its general vicinity. For us, the holidays never meant gathering around a table. It meant TV trays and separate rooms. Best face forward also came at a price.
This was my cage. When you get down the dark and dirty, all families have one. Some find their prison lies in an alcoholic father, others an unhealthy family member, a black sheep, an overbearing parent, a liberal sister, a conservative brother, the list goes on and on. For me, it was the lack of authenticity.
But God is faithful. He sees us, understands us, and knows when we need to understand ourselves. I began writing this post weeks ago, but couldn’t really seem to find a redemption. I’d been struggling to piece it together, because I didn't want to come across negative or unappreciative of my amazing family. But today in the midst of a ham roll-up and tomato soup, He answered my prayer and gave me an ending I did not expect.
This morning I had a bout of grief over my grandfather currently in hospice. I was asked to get a quick flight out to say goodbye to him, and was flustered and stressed in the process. I was working for a friend at the time, and she made every effort to love on me and let me freak out in that moment. I kept apologizing over and over for being briefly distracted, which was really just my go-to guilt for FEELING something. But in the middle of frantic flight searches and the welling of tears, I looked up and saw that she’d made us a beautiful lunch and had placed it in front of me.
In that moment, a click was made in my heart that I desperately needed. My emotions did not disqualify me from her table. My feelings SET her table. My authenticity was celebrated here, not dismissed. I was heartbroken, doing my best to be strong and “rise above it,” but at THIS table that was completely unnecessary. At this table, grief and pain, anger and frustration were not only welcomed, but properly tended to and cared for. At this table there was freedom. At last. Freedom.
It seemed like a small thing. I’m sure my friend was just hungry and wanted to make sure I ate in the midst of my panic. Life moved on, the afternoon ended. To her, it was probably an insignificant part of her day.
But for me, it was life-changing.
The table was never meant to be a place of solitude. And for so many this season, that’s what it represents. I lived a life never really feeling like I fit at the table, as though I would be thrown out if they knew my true feelings. My table was not safe, it was place of hidden dreams and secret sins. It was unhealthy and deeply damaging.
So, sweet friend, go ahead and make sure the tablescape is inviting and the sweet potatoes are just right. But as you look around this Christmas, remember that every seat is filled with its own pain, its own personal hell in some cases. Every seat is filled with joy and grief, shame and fear.
So set your table with love. Set it with an audacious authenticity. Set it with grace and hope. Set it with understanding. Allow the tears, embrace the pain, and rejoice in the comfort that only family can offer. Invite the good, the bad, the misunderstood. Have the hard conversations, laugh entirely too much, fill yourself with more than pie.
The table has impact. It carries more weight than you may believe. Tiny eyes, aged ears, and moldable minds sit amongst you. Delight in them, care for them. Make your table your ministry.
My table was set with isolation and shame, but a friend invited me to her table where emotional freedom was not only accepted, but served. Due to my past, I may not completely understand the phrase “Life Happens Around The Table”, but I can promise you this: that little bowl of tomato soup was one of the most impactful moments of my heart. And the life around MY table will never be the same.