This blog is not ours, not directly. It is Jean-Luc's. He wrote this not long ago, and I asked him if I could reprint it on our blog. So, from Jean-Luc's perspective, come sit with us at dinner.
Our dinner table was always a center of laughter, of joy, of stories and songs, of the day's events, of schedules and commitments, and of discipline and correction. I view our table with deep fondness...it has fostered so much that I see as necessary to my growth. It also fostered memories which I cherish and will re-live when my childhood is far behind me.
Our table was a place where we entertained guests, foreigners, the homeless, the helpless, relatives, outcasts, and friends. It was where Dad taught us to sing, and dutifully bore our painful, childish screaming attempt in the process. Our table heard conversations about God, life, government, sports, money, marriage, children, wine, food, church, the military, family, and about love.
The round shape of our dinner table has puzzled me. When I was younger, I viewed it as an oddity (after all, none of my friends had round tables). As I grow older, it signifies the respect and equality which my parents show us when we come together as a family. No person's opinion is omitted or overlooked; everyone is responsible to contribute. The things for which the table stands are an integral part of my being. I was shaped and molded, I grew and developed, I laughed and loved (and even lied occasionally) at our round table. That table represents values, memories, and lessons which I cannot divorce from my childhood. The importance is inestimable; the lessons, invaluable; the memories, irreplaceable.
It was at the table that I was taught to serve. Meal times were a priority in our house. We sat, ate, and prayed together. Because of the large fanfare it took to feed six children and two parents, meals were a daily, family activity. Through setting the table, wiping the table, bringing food, sweeping, etc...I learned humility. I had to humble myself, submitting myself to the will of my parents and siblings, and serve them. I learned that service requires humility.
It was at the table that I was taught to love. Meals were not always a smooth affair. Occasionally, conversation became heated (or I would kick my little brother under the table). Drinks might be spilled, or food catapulted across the room. Through the chaos, we conversed with one another, and shared life together. I learned (and am still learning) to care about what others were saying, and about what they thought. My parents practiced endless patience and love in dealing with me and my siblings.
It was at the table where I learned to listen. Listening, for me, was, is, and will be one of my most difficult challenges. As a young lad, I came home bursting with stories of the day's adventures, happenings, and mishaps. Meal times were an opportunity for me to narrate the day's fantastic events to an audience of seven interested listeners! Or not.
Dad was constantly correcting me, "Son, it's not about you. How many people are at this table?"
"Eight." I responded.
"Therefore, you should talk one-eighth of the time, and listen the other seven-eighths."
When I did talk too much (which was often), he would calmly redirect my exuberant energy..."Eat your food, son."
Meal times, whether it was breakfast, lunch, or dinner, forced us to listen to one another. It forced me to focus on someone else's day, priorities, agenda, or story. It forced me to hear what was going on in their lives, thereby forcing me to be a part of it. And this coercion was in no way demeaning nor detrimental to my development. On the contrary, it made me value people where I otherwise would have focused on myself. "All the world's a stage," but I am not the main actor.
We loved one another; therefore, we listened to one another. Through listening we learned about each other. As we learned, we discovered what each person needed, and we met those needs. By meeting each family member's needs, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual, we were serving. By serving each other, we loved each other. Because we loved one another we valued the other person, and their thoughts and ideas. Because we valued them, we listened to them. As we listened, we discovered their needs, and met those needs. We served. We loved. We listened. And the cycle continues. Serving, loving, and listening are all interconnected. As you follow the cycle, relationships are taken deeper – to new levels. More listening creates more service which shows more love, and so on. And the relationship continues to deepen and germinate, and soon there is rich connection.