Sunday Evening Dinner
About 18 months ago our family started a weekly dinner, it happens every Sunday evening at 6pm, regardless of other events swirling around our calendar. Our goal in this dinner is to have a rhythm for our family that increases our meaningful togetherness and our spiritual conversation. At Becky’s initiation, we crafted this space in our schedule as a communication of our values for God and for oneanother—this is our weekly Sabbath Dinner.
Becky and the kiddos—Demma (5), Cedar (2)—spend the morning and early afternoon leading up to dinner going through a rigorous checklist, getting the house ready, taking care of last-minute odds and ends.
I arrive home from work around 3:30 and we have our family meeting—a weekly rhythm sourced from Bruce Feiler—see The Secrets of Happy Families. This has also been a tremendous family rhythm for us.
After our family meeting the kids and I continue knocking out the checklist while Becky starts making dinner. My to-do list ranges from cutting the yard, changing out the air filters, watering the plants, or helping Demma and Cedar clean their room (which may have been well played in since 11:00am when they first cleaned it).
At 5:50pm several friends begin to trickle in with a side dish or a dessert, and somewhere between 6:00–6:30pm we sit down for dinner together. Each dinner begins the same way. The kids run around turning off all of the lights in the house and Becky lights candles on the table. Becky prays a prayer of blessing over our time together, asking God to be near to us and to delight in our conversation. I lead us through remembering the death and resurrection of Jesus through communion—together drinking from our wine glasses and eating our bread as we remember the blood and body of Jesus and his incredible sacrifice for us. The kids drink their grape juice from mini wine glasses, which they love. And over the last 12 months we have only had two casualties. I think that leaves us at a pretty good ratio.
Our meal transitions from communion to appetizers. As we eat, we reflect on the things that we are thankful to God for. Our remembrance can stem from things that have happened during the week or from moments that come to mind from other points in our lives—ways we saw God specifically impact our circumstances, our simple appreciation for his nearness, a late night conversation with a friend, or a favorite stuffed animal (Cedar’s go to). These are all legitimate content for our time of thankful remembrance.
We move on to our main course and the conversation evolves. Though Demma and Cedar are typically the first to finish, on this special evening, they are allowed to stay up as late as they are able to engage in conversation with everyone at the table. Becky and I like our kids have adult friendships and engage in some level of adult conversation. We feel that it helps them develop meaningful relationships and helps to build their confidence as individually wired human beings, contributing to community through their own ideas and aspects of the conversation.
There is a final transition after the main course; a few lights come on, the kids are tossed in a bath and prepped for bed, one or two people jump up to wash the dishes and clean the kitchen, and someone takes coffee orders. And with clean kids and a clean kitchen, we sit down again for dessert. In my opinion, this is where some of the deepest conversation occurs. It’s those special nights where no one has to rush home and everyone invests a little more time and vulnerability into one another. Coffee in hand, the conversation continues to ebb and flow around more or less meaningful topics—God, pop culture, current events, personal needs, new movies, or the next YouTube sensation. The evening may end with a board game, a movie night, or a simple “goodnight” and “have a great week” on the way out the door.
Several observations of our Sabbath Dinner.
Ritual is important. When we create rhythms around our values, we grow in these values and they become even more meaningful to us. Our kids can grow with tangible memories for each of these values.
Ritual is not everything. Ritual sets the stage for the meaningful and the authentic, but if we depend too much on the mechanics of ritual to create organic experiences and meaningful connections with God and others, we fall short. Even though we “show up,” we seem to miss out on the spontaneous moments and organic ties that are created as we continue to open ourselves up to vulnerability and authenticity.
I am thankful for our Sabbath Dinners. I am thankful for the ways they have helped our family interact meaningfully with one another, for the ways they have brought our friends into our family rhythms, and for the ways they help us remember God in the midst of an often chaotic and busy life experience.
Phil Rice — philrice.blog
Executive Director of Ember