I didn’t see it coming. My 20-something self watched as my do-everything-together tribe that had formed during college started to dwindle. One by one, each friend took a long walk down the wedding aisle. It felt like they were taking a long walk away from me and the life we all did together. We shopped together, talked about boys together and shared frustrations about work together.
And we ate together.
Back then, almost anything constituted a “meal.” We’d rush into a coffee shop and order our “this-this-not-that” lattes and hug each other as we ran off to work. We’d meet up for lunch at the Chinese food place. We’d gather at restaurants after long workdays, because we didn’t cook — except for nachos, obviously.
And then one day I looked up and there was no longer a posse; there was just me. I was the last of my closest friends to get married. I felt alone in my own life. Alone in my own town. Alone at my own table.
For a while, the dashboard of my car became my table. I shoveled fast and hot food down my throat while driving to my next event. But eventually the emptiness caught up to me. Something in my life felt amiss, but I could not quite place it.
One evening, I came home from work to find my roommate in the kitchen. We always seemed to miss each other. She was cooking dinner, and invited me to share the meal with her. We perched atop the kitchen counter, our feet dangling just above the tile, and feasted on sautéed veggies and crusty bread. Over that simple meal we shared our hearts. How tired we were. How unsure of the future we were. How good God was even though life seemed so very blurry. We ended the night kneeling on the kitchen tile, praying for each other. It seemed so natural and so unexpectedly holy.
A Sacred Seat
After that night, it occurred to me that what I was missing was this beautiful act of sharing a meal with others — of having a seat at the table. I needed this act of breaking bread and leaning into community with the people God placed in my life. For some reason, I had equated singleness with loneliness. I felt uninvited in life, and so I uninvited myself from the table. In a weird sense, sitting down to a meal felt like a lavish event that I didn’t deserve —at least not now. Not until I made new friends. Not until I learned how to cook. Not until I was married. Not until…
Thankfully, from that night forward my roommate and I started reaching out to other single friends at work, in our neighborhood and at our Bible study. We had them over for meals. We made it simple by switching up the homes each week and doing it potluck-style where everyone brought something. Our table may have been filled with weird food combos such as cheeseburgers and chicken noodle soup, but it was also filled with love and community.
As I continued my journey to reclaim my table, I sought to take my cue from Jesus. During His time on earth he sat at so many different tables. We know very little about the food Jesus ate, but we know a lot about who He ate with — the greedy tax collector, the adulterous woman, the betrayer, the denier, the doubter.
You can barely get through a few chapters of Luke without noticing that during much of Jesus’ ministry He’s either at a meal or heading toward a meal. Could it be that if Jesus, our King, chose to minister to people through the table, then maybe there is more power there than we could ever fathom? Could our own table be one of the most powerful and consistent places He will use us?
As we sit down and engage in the necessary act of eating, we find unity. Few other practices break down barriers the way sharing a meal does. I believe that the fork is the most underutilized microphone. Give someone a meal and he’ll open his heart.
How can we harness the power of the table? Here are a few ways I’ve found.
Just show up.
I used to have great intentions of bringing people into my home or getting a group of friends together for a meal, but the days and weeks would glide by and my intentions stayed just that — intentions. Now, at the beginning of the week I put meals on my calendar. Brunch with a friend, a reminder to invite people over for pizza night, even a quick coffee break with a coworker in the middle of the day.
Break the rules.
Tradition has taught us that meals occur around a dining room table at 6:00 p.m. But we do not have to abide by this tradition! Depending on your season of life, mealtime might need to happen earlier or much later. Maybe gathering with friends or neighbors or coworkers for a traditional dinner is not an option for you right now. No problem. Gather around late night popcorn or early morning tea. Think outside the box; just get to the table!
Invite yourself to the table.
This might make you uncomfortable, but it does not have to. When I was single, I had amazing friends who were married with kids, and I knew it would be difficult for them to come over to my apartment. So I initiated going over to their place. I’d help cook or I’d bring a side dish. I’d play with their kids. Those were some of my favorite meals. I’d learn years later that they needed me at their table just as much as I needed to be there.
Think community, not presentation.
Sometimes we don’t meet at the table because we’re stressed about presenting a stunning or elaborate meal. Remember that the focus of gathering for a meal is to grow in community. Fancy need not apply. No fancy table settings, gourmet food or showcase home needed. Jesus showed up for the people, and so do we, even if it means grilling hot dogs and serving them on paper plates.
Food for the Soul
Ultimately, showing up to my table happens consistently when I am paying attention to my life and the opportunities to commune with others that God has placed there. When I was single and busy with work, events and get-togethers, the best I could do was show up with a store-bought side dish, and that was enough. When I learned to cook, I branched out to inviting people into my home. I discovered it brought me a lot of joy to give them a tasty meal, no strings attached; all they needed to bring was themselves.
The beauty of gathering for a meal is that relationship status does not matter. Season of life does not matter. Social class does not matter. Chef skills do not matter. Because the most important thing appearing at a table is you — the living, breathing, image-bearer of God. When we shift our focus from what we serve to whom we serve at our tables, the game changes. God can begin the real work of using us right where He has us.
Jesus, who will one day feast with us in the flesh, has this truth for us: You are worth sharing a meal with. You are worth partaking in the breaking of bread. You are worth a place at the table.
Copyright 2017 Bri McKoy. All rights reserved.