Growing up in a neighborhood filled with children, come evening the call would go out from various homes, “Dinner time!” Play would stop. Games would end. We would run (or meander) to each of our homes and gather ‘round the kitchen table. It was a steady ritual, punctuated by routine. We could count on it without ever knowing how blessed we were.
It was our normal.
But what was normal for me has now become rare in the fast paced, packed schedules of most families.
When my sons were growing up, our schedules were full too. Practices and projects. School events. Church groups. Friends. Still, gathering around the table to share the evening meal as a family was a priority. Sure, there were days when it simply wasn’t possible but more often than not, dinnertime at the Eldredge home was 6:00pm. (Still is.) Sitting down at the kitchen table was our nightly normal.
Ritual. Relationship. Nourishment. Training ground.
The kitchen table was the place to learn and practice manners. We re-named napkins, “lapkins” with the hope it would help our sons remember where they were supposed to go. (That creative effort has had limited results.) But more than learning manners, the evening meal was a place to connect, to check in, to get a pulse, and to share our lives. “How was your day?” “How’s that project going?” We’d tell stories, ask questions, notice moods, talk about God and share in all the ins and outs of living together as a family. Our sons could count on it and we counted on them to be there; to stop whatever they were doing (with or without groans) and come to dinner.
— Stasi Eldredge
It wasn’t until I’d gone off to college that I realized just how rare our family dinnertime was. When I would visit friends for weekend breaks and short holidays I noticed over and over how most (if not all) families I visited didn’t eat dinner together, and those that did felt pretty disjointed… you never knew when or what the evening meal would look like. Which isn’t to say that we had the idyllic suburban family dinner; I have many a memory when my younger brother Luke would finish his food and collapse to the floor to lie next to the dog, despite how many times he was asked not to. On one famous occasion our dad took a bite of a homemade pasta with pesto before spitting it out and shouting “Don’t eat it, it’ll make you sick!”
As brothers we took turns setting the table, clearing, and doing the dishes, so it was only natural for one of us to try to arrive first and quickly set the table then sit grinning at the other two, safe from the least favorite role of scrubbing. (It wasn’t long before our parents instituted a set schedule).
Now, as I begin building family traditions in my own home, with just my wife and me, it’s amazing how important some choices feel, like sitting down to a meal together at the end of the day. It gives us a chance to stop whatever else we are doing and spend time together. And when I can, I always aim for 6:00pm.
– Sam Eldredge
Stasi Eldredge is the author of Free to Be Me: Becoming the Young Woman God Created You to Be and Becoming Myself, and coauthor with her husband John of the bestselling women’s spirituality classic, Captivating. A teacher and conference speaker, Stasi leads the women’s ministry of Ransomed Heart, a ministry devoted to helping people discover the heart of God. She is also the coauthor with John of Love and War. Her books have sold nearly 3 million copies. Stasi lives with her family in Colorado.
Sam Eldredge is coauthor with his father, John, of Killing Lions: A Guide Through the Trials Young Men Face. Sam graduated with a bachelors in English and is currently managing And Sons Magazine, an online magazine for men. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife, Susie.