I was reminded this morning by Sally Clarkson’s new book, The Lifegiving Table, of the eternal potential hidden in a simple piece of kitchen furniture. And so, once again, I’m re-engaging in one of the most basic, yet essential components of our family’s life together at mealtime: manners.
The manner in which you do something is the way or pattern in which you operate. So in one sense, table manners are simply the way in which you eat. But they're more than that. Manners have long been considered the civil way to eat a meal. Since the Victorian age, whether you were rich or poor, enjoying a bowl of porridge or a side of beef, the goal of good manners was to avoid being rude or vulgar. Even more, manners were an effort to consider others’ needs above your own.
Still, it’s tempting to talk about manners, and require manners, and commence manners-training in a way that leaves kids thinking manners are all about making Mom happy. Paul’s admonition in Philippians 2 is as much for frustrated Moms (and Dads) as it is for kids who slurp their soup and talk with food in their mouths.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others (Philippians 2:4-5).
I wrote out some reminders this morning and posted them where we could see them on our way to the breakfast table. We won't get this right the first time, but it's helpful to remember the standard of good behavior, and the loving motivation for requiring it. Beyond that, it's essential to recognize our need for help. I pray the Lord will refine our ways at table time; that we will serve one another selflessly, listen attentively, ask questions of each other thoughtfully, and seek to grow deeper relationally as we gather each day to enjoy the bounty He spreads before us.