Our family always tries to eat dinner together. Yes, there are occasions where this does not happen. One of the kids will be at some school function or at someone’s house. I might be away at a meeting or my wife will be at a training seminar. However, in most cases, we will have a meal together. It has been the practice since the kids were young. While it is not a set rule, the TV is not on nor phones allowed at the table so that we can interact and talk about our day. As my kids grow older, this daily time has become so rich to me. It is the one time during the day where I get to engage in some debate with our daughter about an ethical issue in the world, or some struggle she is facing at school. We have rich conversations about a pastoral situation – what to do, how to approach it, what is right, what is wrong. My son will then pipe in with some thought or comment. Oftentimes, he provides some side entertainment – dancing, joking, or laughing. This is usually the reason we finish our meal long before he does. He has to perform before he eats. On many occasions, my wife and I will have deeper conversations that will extend long past dinner. We will sit and chat about some struggle, joy, or decision we need to make. It is truly one of the most beautiful times of my day. How can it not be? I am surrounded by the ones I love sharing life together.
These conversations are not planned or forced. They just happen. As I reflect on my children’s development, I thank God for how these dinner conversations have been instrumental in their emotional and spiritual health. While we have standards we uphold as a family, this time is fairly open where we can share our thoughts without a sense of feeling right or wrong. We can debate, sometimes intensely over a social issue or movie (our children have become quite good at holding their own on topics). Yet, we also have moments where we share about frustrations or concerns in life and ministry. We allow our kids to share their advice and give encouragement. These moments are life-giving. Sometimes, we just laugh as we share about some stupid video we saw so we all gather around the computer and watch a YouTube clip. Granted, life is not always Norman Rockwell-like. Some evenings we just talk about what happened during the day with little significance. Other times there are hurried moments where we have to get out the door. Finish your dinner. Let’s go. Move it! Or, there is some frustration going on so dinner is a little quieter. Yet, this is life.
I once heard a speaker talk about the pull for parents to create experience rich memories. We want them to see exotic places around the country. We want our kids to go to every sports camp. Heaven forbid our kids are deprived of some activity. So, we take them places, buy them things, and enroll them in everything. More experiences lead to a well-rounded child, right. The speaker contrasted this approach with one that is relationship-rich. He challenged us to invest in our children through the ordinary – walks, talks, and simple time with them. Granted, I am one to desire a lot of experiences for our kids. However, I suspect if you asked my children about the memories they most love, they would say those where we just spent time together playing games, watching a movie, debating a topic.
Deuteronomy 6:5-9 states, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”
This passage sounds like a challenge towards a relationship-rich life. As I look at the competitive nature of the world, I wonder if we are missing the boat. It is easy to be concerned about building our child’s portfolio rather than their character. Suburban life pushes us towards so many activities that we neglect the formative moments such as a quiet evening at home. We burn our kids out rather than build them up. As I write this blog, I am reminded afresh of the precious moment I will have in one hour – 30 minutes to be with my family and see where the conversation takes us. Oh, let me never neglect the important moments.