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Come to the Table

The call to pause and gather over a meal is an underrated, life-giving mandate with bountiful benefits

This is what I want you to do: I want you to tell someone you love them, and dinner's at six. I want you to throw open your front door and welcome the people you love into the inevitable mess with hugs and laughter. I want you to light a burner on the stove, to chop and stir and season with love and abandon. Begin with an onion and a drizzle of olive oil, and go from there, any one of a million different places, any one of a million different meals.

Gather the people you love around your table and feed them with love and honesty and creativity. Feed them with your hands and the flavors and smells that remind you of home and beauty and the best stories you've ever heard, the best stories you've ever lived.

There will be a day when it all falls apart. My dear friend lost her mom this year. That same month, another friend's marriage ended, shot through with lies and heartbreak. A friend I hadn't talked to in ages called late one Sunday night to ask me how to get through a miscarriage. "The bleeding," she said, "has already begun." As I write, a dear family friend lies in a coma in a hospital bed.

These are things I can't change. Not one of them. Can't fix, can't heal, can't put the broken pieces back together. But what I can do is offer myself, wholehearted and present, to walk with the people I love through the fear and the mess. That's all any of us can do. That's what we're here for. Not the battle lines, keeping people in and out. Not the "pro" and "anti" stances, but the presence, the listening, the praying with and for on the days when it all falls apart, when life shatters in our hands.

The table is where we store up for those days, where we log minutes and hours building something durable and strong that gets tested in those terrible split seconds. And the table is where we return to stitch our hearts back together after the breaking.

I want you to stop running from thing to thing to thing, and to sit down at the table, to offer the people you love something humble and nourishing, like soup and bread, like a story, like a hand holding another hand while you pray. We live in a world that values us for how fast we go, for how much we accomplish, for how much life we can pack into one day. But I'm coming to believe it's in the in-between spaces that our lives change, and that the real beauty lies there.

Most of the time, I eat like someone's about to steal my plate, like I can't be bothered to chew or taste or feel, but I'm coming to see that the table is about food, and it's also about time. it's about showing up in person, a whole and present person, instead of a fragmented, frantic person, phone in one hand and to-do list in the other. Put them down, both of them, twin symbols of the modern age, and pick up a knife and a fork. The table is where time stops. It's where we look people in the eye, where we tell the truth about how hard it is, where we make space to listen to the whole story, not the textable sound bite.

They say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. I believe that's absolutely true. Not that the way to land a guy is by baking him cookies, although it never hurts. But that if you can satiate a person's hunger, you can get a glimpse of their heart. There's an intimacy in it, in the meeting of needs and the filling of one's stomach, that is, necessarily, tied to the heart.

I want you to gobble life up in huge bites, tasting everything, trying every new flavor, remembering every smell and texture like it's the best thing you've ever had. I want you to live with wild and gorgeous abandon, throwing yourself into each day, telling the truth about who you are and who you are not, writing a love song to the world itself and to the God who made every inch of it.

I want you to invest yourself wholly and deeply in friendship, God's greatest evidence of himself here on earth. More than anything, I want you to come to the table. In all sorts of ways, both literally and metaphorically, come to the table.

We don't come to the table to fight or to defend. We don't come to prove or to conquer, to draw lines in the sand or to stir up trouble. We come to the table because our hunger brings us there. We come with a need, with fragility, with an admission of our humanity. The table is the great equalizer, the level playing field many of us have been looking everywhere for. The table is the place where the doing stops, the trying stops, the masks are removed, and we allow ourselves to be nourished, like children. We allow someone else to meet our need. In a world that prides people on not having needs, on going longer and faster, on going without, on powering through, the table is a place of safety and rest and humanity, where we are allowed to be as fragile as we feel. If the home is a body, the table is the heart, the beating center, the sustainer of life and health.

Come to the table.

Adapted from Bread & Wine: Finding Community and Life Around the Table. Copyright © 2013 by Shauna Niequist. Used by permission of Zondervan.

Click here to read more from Shauna on our sister site, her.meneutics.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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