Come to the Family Table:
Slowing Down to Enjoy Food, Each Other, and Jesus
Ted and Amy Cunningham
Paperback: NavPress, 2016.
Buy now: [ Amazon ] [ Kindle ]
Reviewed by Janna Lynas
Looking back, it’s where I grew up: around a table, food the impetus that lured me in and fed my belly. But the people and the stories were what kept me there and fed my heart. Prayer first, food next, then a question asked or a memory shared. The book cover condenses the main premise nicely: “The family table is where parents model Christ’s love, grandparents provide wisdom, children experience a sense of belonging and friends enjoy hospitality” And so Come to the Family Table, by Ted and Amy Cunningham shares personal experiences of a hurried lifestyle that caused an intentional slowing and time at the table with not only their children but the other people in their life that need their time and attention.
In a relational format, Ted Cunningham, a speaker and author on marriage and family and founder along with his wife, Amy, of Woodland Hills Family Church, found their hectic lifestyle of speaking engagements and church responsibilities were leaving them dry and in need of a makeover. They set out to reevaluate the family table of their past and redesign their present family table to leave a lasting legacy for their children and for the reader as well.
The book is divided into two parts: The Family Table is for Us and The Family Table is for Others. Describing family life, what it was and what they wanted it to be, the Cunningham’s sought after intentionality – to be fully present at their family table, at home or on the road. Smartly set with Amy’s takes and Ted’s views woven into each chapter, personal stories of the desire for something different and meaningful takes shape; a sort of formula that requires a little planning, but is worth the effort. The basic format is a healthy meal, a game, devotion and prayer. The Cunningham’s have taken the liberty to share recipes, and suggest inventive and familiar games that will keep your family engaged long after the meal, along with a short devotion and written prayer.
From the perspective of personal story, the authors share revealing experiences with food. Some are poignant memories of shared meals with extended family while another details a story of over indulgence leading to an eating disorder. With grace and transparency, they point back to the One who created food for our enjoyment and the boundaries we observe in our partaking. “We prioritize quality over quantity. More is not always better. What is better? Actually enjoying it together” (50).
While reading the positive message of sitting down to dinner together, I was prompted to consider the table that as of late has been piled with books or work or sports equipment. There have been many meals missed at my table, or spent eating in front of the television. There was no condemnation for this while reading the book. Rather, I felt encouraged to re-establish a designated meal time and put a bit more thought into the time we spent together, not just the act of eating, remembering I am modeling the importance of this time together to not just my family, but to others I invite around my table.
The benefits of eating together are not new concepts. The majority of American families eat a single meal together less than five days a week. Several studies have been published about the emotional and physical health benefits of living life around the table. Anne Fishel, co-founder of The Family Dinner Project, writes, “In a survey, American teens were asked when they were most likely to talk with their parents: dinner was their top answer. Kids who eat dinner with their parents experience less stress and have a better relationship with them.” Even if you’ve not established this practice of eating together consistently with younger children, it is not too late to begin. Although they may act like eating together is an inconvenience, teenagers need this time to feel connected to their people and know that a shared table shows interest in who they are and what is important to them. This is my current dilemma: keeping my teens past the eating when homework, activities and social media all vie for their attention. While reading Come to the Family Table, I was reminded keeping healthy expectations is the key, knowing that every night will not find us all at the dinner table together.
The family table is a place of nourishment, a place of stories and memories, and a safe place of asking questions and finding the answers together in Christ alone. “Pouring into others means you are fully present in conversation and free from expectations. May you each come to the family table with full hearts ready to pour into those gathered… Your family table will inspire other family tables, where we all gather to enjoy food, each other and Jesus”(194).
I believe many readers will appreciate the personal story, relevance and attention to placing Christ in the center of our family tables, appealing to all our families, whomever we are made of. May we all find our places of time, attention and togetherness around something we all need, a meal one with another.
Janna Lynas lives in the Midwest with her pastor husband and four children. She loves listening to real-life stories and taking notes. She writes regularly for Fourwardwrcc.wordpress.com.