548) Table Manners (part one)

     

     Several years ago, a little known author named Robert Fulghum made a hit with an article he wrote called, Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.  It was a nice piece of writing– simple, down to earth, and filled with wisdom.  It contained several basic Kindergarten rules like play fair, don’t hit others, say you are sorry when you hurt someone, clean up your own messes, share with the others in the room, don’t take things that aren’t yours, put things back where you found them, and, when you go out into the world, stick together and things will go a lot better for you.  That sort of thing.  You may remember it.  It was written in such a way that the reader could make the application to all of life, including adult life, and see how the whole world would indeed be better off if everyone simply lived by the basic rules learned in the Kindergarten classroom.

     I read a similar article one time in Touchstone magazine by Patrick Henry Reardon.  The name of the article was Wisdom from the Table, but it could also have been called, Everything I Need to Know I Learned at the Dinner Table.  The article begins:  

The quest for wisdom begins with learning how to eat.  The most basic steps toward virtue are mastered at the family table.  Character begins with etiquette.  Teach a child how to dine like a human being, and you have gone wonderfully far in his education.

     At that point I almost turned the page and skipped the article, expecting some high-brow lessons on how to properly fold the napkin when you place it on your lap, which fork is the correct one to use for your salad, and so forth.  But when I saw that the first rule at the table was to say your prayers, I decided to read on.  It was well worth it.  It turned out to be like the Kindergarten article– lots of down to earth wisdom, but along with an eye on heaven.   There are only four things to learn, Reardon says, but those four things, if learned well, would influence one’s entire life.  “Mealtime,” said the author, “should nourish the soul and the mind as well as the body.” 

     First of all, the meal should begin with a prayer.  Even the smallest child, even before learning to talk, can learn to bow his or her head at the beginning of the meal.  One should, after all, at the table pause to thank God for his blessings, some of which the family is about to share in with the meal.  Food and water, when plentiful, can be easily taken for granted.  The mealtime prayer reminds us that those things come from somewhere; from Someone.  They come from God, as his gracious and undeserved gifts, without which we could not live.  In the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray we pray “Give us this day our daily bread.”  When that daily bread is given and there before us, the very least we can do is give thanks for it.  In that most widely used Protestant meal prayer, we invite Christ’s presence and pray for his blessing.  “Come Lord Jesus,” we pray, “be our guest, and let these gifts to us be blessed.”  In our home, from the time of my childhood and now with my grandchildren, we add a prayer of thanks.  We add a verse that is found in many of the Psalms, and especially in Psalm 136, where it says again and again, “Oh give thanks, unto the Lord, for He is good, and his mercy endures forever.”

     Gratitude to God is an essential element of faith.  Thanksgiving is a central, often repeated theme in the Bible.  And gratitude is also the key to a happy life.  Life is, for us all, filled with suffering, full of ups and downs, full of sadness and disappointment.  But it is also filled with blessings, blessings that include the gift of each day, and, the food to sustain life day to day.  Gratitude to God remembers that even life itself is a gift, and to keep that in mind gives a person of any age a firm foundation for faith and for happiness.  On the other hand, a lack of thankfulness can lead to resentment for what one does not have, and fill one with sadness and unbelief.  Beginning each meal with a prayer of thanks is a basic first step toward teaching such gratitude.

     Second, because we have just thanked God for our food, we must not complain about it.  Complaining about the food should be discouraged.  Such complaining contradicts the prayer of thanksgiving just said for the food there given.  On the contrary, we should eat gratefully all that is put before us, and this is a good lesson for children to learn.  Did you ever hear a child say, “I don’t like that?”  Did you ever say that?  Well, a good lesson for life is to learn that we need to receive gratefully what life offers, even when it is not always exactly what we want.  Our daily experiences will oftentimes not conform to our preferences, life will at many times and in many ways disappoint us, and a child can begin to learn to accept that by something as simple as eating green beans even if he or she likes marshmallows better.  In all of life you must learn to put up with many things you do not like.  This simple lesson is indispensable to the formation of good character, and it can be learned at the family table.

     Several years ago I spent a week in Haiti, and for many months after I returned I did not feel like complaining about anything.  Everything that we so easily take for granted became for me an opportunity for gratitude:  clean water, a warm shower, plenty of food, peaceful sleep without worrying about disease-carrying rodent or bug bites, and far safer conditions on the road, to name just a few things.  Most of the people I met in Haiti had none of that.  Having consistent, nutritious, safe, plentiful food is a blessing not enjoyed by hundreds of millions of people.  We can learn at a table full of food to first of all be thankful, and secondly, to not complain; and then we can work to apply those attitudes to all of life.  (continued…)

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Luke 11:3  —  Give us each day our daily bread.

Numbers 11:4-6…10b  —  (the people complain about the food)  The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat!  We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic.  But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!”…  The Lord became exceedingly angry, and Moses was troubled.

Psalm 136:1  —  O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.

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God is great, God is good,

And so we thank Him for our food.  Amen.