By David Baer, Executive Director of FamiliesAlive
In Dolores Curran’s survey work, over 500 counselors, pastors, teachers, therapists, and other professionals who routinely worked with families ranked “table time” as #13 out of a list of 56 possible traits of a healthy family. The #1 trait of a healthy family is that they communicate and listen, but Curran saw table time as such an integral part to this process that she combined both traits into the same chapter of her renowned book, Traits of a Healthy Family. Here are some tips from Christian families to try at your own dinner table, many of them giving you ideas of how to integrate faith into your meal time.
The Question of the Night
By Brian & Becky Shultz
On any given night, when the whole family is able to get together for dinner in the Shultz home, Daddy asks a question at the end of the meal that has to be answered by each family member. When they’re ready, each person raises their hand and is called on one at a time by Dad. To practice the art of communicating and listening, the person speaking must try to make eye contact with all around the table and project their voice so that all can hear. Those listening must make eye contact with the speaker the whole time in order to show their interest. Sometimes Dad’s questions are spiritual in nature: “Which of Jesus’ miracles do you think was the coolest and why?” Or, “What was the scariest/saddest/funniest, etc. moment in the Bible?” Some questions are of memories from the past: “What is your favorite vacation memory?” Some are on the subject of fantasy, or are related to something that the kids are studying, or that Dad has heard or seen during the day: “What would you do if you found $20 lying in the school parking lot?” And, some are just to find out more about each other’s days: “What was the best and worst moment of your day?” Our good friends, the Sikkemas, sometimes like to ask the following question around their family dinner table: “Where did you see Jesus today?”
As we walk through our days (many times separately), it is always good to come together in the evening at the dinner table and be reminded of why we are here and living this life of following Jesus. Did we see the love of Jesus in our own lives or in the selfless acts of a sibling? Did we see His love being displayed through the kind acts of another? Did we hear Him in the encouraging words of a total stranger? The answers we give are helpful reminders for us and our children to remember what this life should be about. We were extremely surprised recently, when dinner was over, and our 2-year-old Jacob stopped us all from leaving the table by asking us, “Qwesyun night, Daddy?”
By Rick & Nancy Feria
One thing we have done around the Feria family table is to share something we appreciate about a family member. It can be something they did for us, or a character trait that we see in them. Sometimes we say something about each person; sometimes we say something to the person on our right, etc. Another idea is to flood one person with appreciations – say on their birthday.
The Paper Game
By Tom & Marjy Larson
This is a game to be done at the end of the meal for those families with children old enough to write. Everyone starts with an 8.5 x 11 piece of paper and a pencil. Each person writes a sentence – the more creative the better. They pass it to the person on their right. That person has to draw a picture to illustrate the sentence. Then he or she folds the paper down to cover up the sentence but not the drawing and passes it to the next person. That person has to write a sentence to illustrate the drawing. Then he or she folds down the paper to hide the drawing and passes it on to the next person. Each time you get a new paper, you should only see a sentence or drawing. Then, when the papers have made the full circuit, each person reads their original paper, showing everyone else as they read. It is great fun, even for adults!
By Becky Shultz
Why my kids have a fascination with childhood stories, I’m not sure. Fortunately, we are blessed with being able to regularly share meals with the kids’ grandparents and great grandmother. When this happens, the kids are sure to ask for a childhood story, not just about their grandparents, but about Mommy and Daddy when they were little, too. These somehow always end up teaching a valuable life-lesson.
Verse of the Week
By Brian Shultz
The Scriptures tell us to hide God’s word in our hearts, so that we won’t sin against Him. So last year, we took a few weeks and started our dinners with scripture memory. It was easy – I just brought my laptop to the table with some zoomed-in views of some pre-selected verses that I thought were critical for the kids to know. We practiced a verse each night for a week. Then we moved to the next one. It was amazing to see how God would connect some of the scriptures we were learning to the events of our daily lives, and it has been our prayer that God will continue to use these truths in our kids’ lives down the road.
By Brian and Becky Shultz
Many years ago, we had dinner at the home of the DeBruler family, where we started our meal by singing the Doxology:
“Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise Him all creatures here below. Alleluia-Alleluia!
Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts. Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Alleluia-Alleluia-Alleluia-Alleluia…Alleluia!”
Ever since then, in lieu of always opening our meal with prayer, we sometimes stand and hold hands and sing the doxology – sometimes the traditional tune and sometimes the contemporary version. Praising the Lord together in song is a great way to begin a meal, especially for those families who enjoy singing.
Focus on Substance more than Manners
By Mike & Jennifer Tinaglia
Our family’s dinner table conversation varies greatly from how I grew up, when the children were to “be seen and not heard,” with a heavy emphasis on manners and etiquette. Dinner conversations at our house typically focus on the events in everyone’s day… sometimes turning to events in the news and even the occasional trivia question. Every once in a while, Jenny and I will throw a curveball and pose a hypothetical question such as the “What do you want to be when you grow up, and why?” question. The kids’ constantly evolving answers are always fascinating as they mature.