Friday, August 01, 2014

Train Up A Child: Greg Pirtle

Greg Pirtle is one of the Student Ministers at the Greenville Oaks Church of Christ. He has undergraduate and graduate degrees from Abilene Christian University. Greg has served youth and families for nearly 15 years. And he is one of the staff members I get to work with beginning next week.

Time at the Table

I will never forget the words I heard from a friend years ago. I was 17 and it seemed to be another typical phone conversation that high school guys have – sports, school, girls – talking about things that seem so important at the time, but aren’t life changing. At some point though, I don’t remember how or why, the discussion took a turn and he said something that has remained with me for over 20 years now. 

“You don’t know how lucky you are, Greg.” “What do you mean?” I asked. His reply…

“You get to sit and eat dinner with your family.”

That’s it. That’s the life-changing sentence I recall, from one high school guy to another. Eating together was a regular practice in my home growing up, but I never considered the importance of it until that moment. And I never questioned it again.

I understand that when my friend was young, his family went through some difficult times, but he lived with godly, loving grandparents who took him to church and provided for him. It may have been a longing for his birthparents or wanting more attention from his grandparents, but of all the things he desired, it was to sit down at the table and eat dinner with his family.

It’s the secret ingredient that no one talks about, yet many statistics include. There are numerous studies showing that sharing meals as a family has a positive correlation in the values and habits of children and adolescents. No real explanations exist for why this is the case, but the evidence is pretty solid.

That alone should be enough to make eating together a priority, but I think there is something deeper. I believe there is a reason we often see Jesus eating with others and why the table is symbolic in our faith.

The table is the one place where everyone is equal. It’s the place where everyone shares a need to be fed. It’s the place where everyone serves and is served. It’s the place where we are reminded that God is the one who provides. It’s the place where we reconnect with God and the people we love.

To show up at the table means you’re committed to being a part of the family. The value and affirmation of each individual is highlighted in the conversation and experience. The bond of the collective group is strengthened and confirmed. 

Every meal is different. There are days where everyone is talking, sharing, laughing and enjoying the time together, and days where it seems way too loud and chaotic to be productive. Occasionally, the presence of a guest blesses our table and it gives us a chance to offer hospitality and enjoy time with friends. Some days no one wants to talk or some of us, maybe none of us really want to be there. Other days, one of us can’t be there, but those present still remember that person and anxiously await their return. Sometimes it doesn’t happen at all. Then, there are those days where someone becomes vulnerable and shares their heart – their joy, pain, disappointment, or hope – and we celebrate, cry, listen, encourage or do whatever seems natural to do in that moment.

The Internet is filled with ideas for making family dinner easy and fun, but our family has a few things we try to do. We always pray. We always share something about our day. We always eat. We always clean up together. That’s about it. Occasionally we’ll do different things like come up with fun questions to ask each other or eat out in the back yard (you can tell our family likes to live on the wild side), but it’s simple and it works for us. Regardless of what we do, just being together feels…sacred. 

I understand this practice is easier to begin when children are younger. I also understand that people are extremely busy and finding time to be together as a family in any location can be difficult. But let me encourage you to remember the words of my friend and his longing to sit at the table and share a meal with his family…and may your time at the table be full.