Come to the Family Table: Slowing Down to Enjoy Food, Each Other, and Jesus

Come to the Family Table: Slowing Down to Enjoy Food, Each Other, and Jesus

by Ted Cunningham, Amy Cunningham


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In our busy world, family time around the dinner table is easily displaced by other things. Ted and Amy Cunningham call parents to a slower way of living that allows them to intentionally build into their family’s relational and spiritual fabric and into the community around them.

No more rushing to the table for a quick bite so we can get back to our other activities. Prioritizing mealtime slows us down long enough to enjoy our food, each other, and Jesus. Inspired by the slow food movement, Come to the Family Table seeks to encourage families with intentional strategies to engage one another and create the table as a space for practical ministry to their community.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781631463662
Publisher: The Navigators
Publication date: 08/01/2016
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.70(d)

Read an Excerpt

Come to the Family Table

Slowing Down to Enjoy Food, each other, and Jesus

By Ted Cunningham, Amy Cunningham

Tyndale House Publishers

Copyright © 2016 Ted and Amy Cunningham
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-63146-368-6



The family table is a much-needed break in the midst of the grind.

God never hurries. There are no deadlines against which He must work. Only to know this is to quiet our spirits and relax our nerves.


Take It Slow


If you've spent any time in an airport, you know that travel means hurry, delay, run, sit, and "throw all of your plans out the window — you're sleeping in a chair tonight at gate D31." Ted speaks at marriage conferences and date night challenges around the country, so we travel often as a family. And we used to eat way too much junk food on the road. We would go to the nearest chain restaurant, quickly order, ask for the check as the food arrived, and eat everything on our plate. Planning margin to enjoy a meal was not even a consideration. It wasn't long before we found ourselves a few pounds heavier and depleted nutritionally and emotionally.

Something needed to change. I picked up magazines in airports on cooking healthy and eating real food. Then came the cookbooks. Eventually I gathered several recipes with fresh ingredients and bold flavors.

While home for extended periods of time, I prepared the new dishes. We spent less time watching the Food Network and more time in the kitchen. Good, wholesome food on the table slowed us down too. The time, preparation, and care put into a meal made us savor it.

This new take on food challenged us to step up to the plate when we traveled. We now google farm-to-table, locally sourced restaurants in the area. We schedule our travel around having wholesome, longer meals upon arrival in a new city. Ted, Corynn, and I find ourselves anticipating great meals in new places. We talk about it leading up to the meal. Most times, it is not forgotten once consumed. We relive the meal days, months, and years later. Sure, the food is important to us, but the experience becomes a memory that we savor and hold on to. The equation? Good conversation with family and friends + environment + service + good food = a blessed memory to enjoy together.

The desire to slow down the pace of our kitchens, tables, and homes is catching on. The Slow Food Movement launched in 1989, three years after Carlo Petrini, an Italian journalist, condemned McDonald's for moving next door to a Spanish gourmet restaurant. Fast food in Rome? What would this do the health and culture of Italy?

The Slow Food Manifesto states,

We are enslaved by speed and have all succumbed to the same insidious virus: Fast Life, which disrupts our habits, pervades the privacy of our homes and forces us to eat Fast Foods. To be worthy of the name, Homo Sapiens should rid himself of speed before it reduces him to a species in danger of extinction. ... May suitable doses of guaranteed sensual pleasure and slow, long-lasting enjoyment preserve us from the contagion of the multitude who mistake frenzy for efficiency. Our defense should begin at the table with Slow Food. Let us rediscover the flavors and savors of regional cooking and banish the degrading effects of Fast Food. ... Slow Food guarantees a better future.

While we appreciate the passion in this manifesto, we are not fanatics. There are few choices and no fine dining options between Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Springfield, Missouri. We've had more than a few cheeseburgers from McDonald's on that route. We joke, "Let's call it 'quick-service food' instead of 'fast food' to make ourselves feel better about this."

Balance is our goal. Speed is the enemy of intimacy. We do not want our meal pace to reflect our work pace. The family table is best served slow, not fast. In the midst of the grind of life, God wants us to pause, slow down, and enjoy what He provides. Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 says, "I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil — this is the gift of God." Just as Jesus reclined at the table of a Pharisee (Luke 7:36) and with His disciples at the Last Supper (Luke 22:14), we recline at the family table to give children and parents room to breathe. The drive-throughs of the fast-food movement escalate our chaotic schedules. Intentionally slowing down around the family table provides much-needed balance in the home through creating space for margin, safety, and laughter.

The Family Table Creates Margin

Comedian Tim Hawkins jokes about the fact that everyone today is in a rush. When someone needs to use your bathroom, they ask, "Could I use your restroom real quick?" When was the last time someone asked, "Could I use your restroom for a really long time? I don't know what's going to happen in there"? We have forgotten why it is called a restroom. We should rest while we are in there. Why are we in such a big hurry? Whatever happened to margin?

Author Richard Swenson describes margin as "the space that once existed between ourselves and our limits." The benefits of margin are "good health, financial stability, fulfilling relationships, and availability for God's purposes." Our homes need it. We fizzle and fade without it. We are grumpy when we don't get enough of it. Too much of it and some consider us lazy.

Margin means room to breathe. It's a reserve. Have you ever felt panic and anxiety and helplessness in the face of being almost out of gas and unable to find a gas station? Margin keeps a little fuel in the tank. Margin refuses to run on fumes. It does not rush from one errand or meeting to another.

Margin is the gap between your load and your limit — and the family table increases the space between your family's load and limit. Our family used to say yes to every request for a meeting or counseling appointment, every invitation to a party, every meal invite. But we are a much happier and healthier family when we say no to other good stuff and yes to time around the table.

Never allow your load to be dictated by anyone else. After all, you are the expert on your limit. There's not another person on the planet who understands or controls your limit. No one knows you better than you. The understanding of your physical, emotional, and relational limits determines your necessary margin.

Scripture calls us to a margin-filled life. God rested after creating for six days. Jesus ministered to multitudes, and then He rested. We read in Mark 6:30, "The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught." They were running full steam in their ministry, giving the reports to Him. He told them, "Hey, let's break away and chill for a while. Let's rest our bodies and our emotions. Let's take some time away so we can be more effective for ministry." (Okay, that's our paraphrase of Mark 6:31, but you get the idea.)

We humans rebel against the whole idea of rest, so God had to command it: "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy" (Exodus 20:8). Holy means set apart. The Sabbath looks nothing like the other six days of the week. It has a different pace and rhythm: "Six days you shall labor and do all your work" (verse 9). For six days God wants us to work and provide for our family. Productivity is part of God's plan for the family. "But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work" (verse 10). We need to slow down the pace of home, table, and kitchen and provide margin to rest and relax.

The Family Table Provides Safety

Consider for a moment your posture at the table. Is it warm and inviting or cold and distant? Do your children approach the table excited to spend time with you, or do they question your mood and passively resist you? Do your family and friends feel emotionally safe at your family table? Safety exists at the table when slowing down creates intentional space to communicate value to those who sit there.

Recently a pastor challenged us with how others feel in our presence. He said that there are two ways to enter a room. The first way is rooted in self and says, "Here I am." The second is concerned about the well-being of others and says, "There you are." When you walk into a room or conversation, do you look for ways to bless the one standing right in front of you? Even if it is a quick conversation, the quality of that time includes both verbal and nonverbal communication.

Relationship experts teach that 7 percent of our communication is verbal and 93 percent is nonverbal. Your approach and the way you sit at the table communicate to people how much you value them. Before you speak your first word, others know where they stand (or in this case, sit) with you. Consider the following nonverbal ways to create safety around your family table:

• Eye contact says, "I am interested and focused on what you are saying." Looking over the other person's shoulder says, "I wonder if there is someone more interesting to talk to" or "That conversation over there looks like more fun than this one." Looking at your watch or mobile device shows people that you would rather check the time or social media than talk to them. (And by the way, you are fooling no one with your phone sitting on your lap during dinner.) The look in our eyes can also communicate many things — sadness, curiosity, surprise, joy, relief, confusion, anticipation. Proverbs 15:30 says, "Bright eyes gladden the heart" (NASB). "Bright eyes" expresses excitement to the one you are greeting. People know when our eyes say, "There you are — I'm so glad to see you," and they also know when they say, "Oh boy, they're going to take up way too much of my time."

• Facial expressions honor others too. A wink says, "I get what you're saying." Raising your eyebrows shows excitement, shock, and intrigue. Gritted teeth can portray fright. A simple smile lets the other person know that you enjoy their presence, story, or joke. A furrowed brow and straight lips show empathy. Flat faces are the enemy of enthusiasm.

• Your mannerisms communicate an open or closed spirit. Folded arms say, "I'm not receiving your critique." Arms at the side are nonthreatening and communicate openness to the feedback of another. Sitting on the edge of your seat and leaning forward shows interest and enthusiasm, but too much of it can come across as aggressive. Slouching down in your chair is a sure sign that you are tired and ready for bed.

• Your proximity to the other person is an often overlooked nonverbal. Consider where each guest will sit and how the seating will impact conversation. We have a dear senior friend whom we always place between us because she is hard of hearing. She wants to hear all the conversation but can't do so sitting at the end of the table.

• Physical touch is a type of nonverbal communication that shows forgiveness, companionship, and even romance. Parents hold hands with their children to protect and lead them across a busy street. A husband shows chivalry by placing his hand on the small of his wife's back as she walks through the door he opened for her. A gentle hand on the shoulder can say, "Will you forgive me?" Appropriate physical touch shows love.

The Family Table Invites Laughter

Great laughter lingers at the table because slowing down allows us to relax. Laughter is never in a rush to get away. It is contagious. One joke leads to another. Just watching someone laugh makes you want to laugh. Ever walk into a room and hear laughter and immediately start laughing before you ask, "What did I miss?"

You know that book The Five Love Languages? I think laughter should be the sixth love language. There are a lot of ways to help bring humor to the family table.

Embrace everyone's personality. Not everyone has the same sense of humor, but everyone has something to offer. For example, Dr. Kevin Leman teaches that last-born children are natural comedians. Your favorite standup comedian is probably the youngest in their family. I (Ted) was the last born in my family, and humor, comedy, and laughter are my passion. Our younger child, Carson, is our family's comedian and keeps it light around our table. So let the comics in your family cut loose at mealtime!

The comics may keep the jokes rolling, but make sure there's space for everyone else to enjoy laughter too. Our daughter, Corynn, might not be the comic Carson is, but we love it when she throws a line or two out for a laugh. She asked me the other day, "Dad, is the song 'Friends in Low Places' by Garth Brooks about Florida or hell?" She tried to convince me that it was a serious question, but I convinced her that she has great wit.

And encourage those who think they struggle with being funny! Amy convinced herself years ago that she does not have the timing necessary for good joke telling. Not true. She has learned to lean into her timing issues and make that part of her routine. We get many miles out of the same joke. After I tell a joke, we often work on how Amy would deliver it. With passion, she delivers the punch line and gives us all the look that says, "You'd better laugh."

Don't ask for performance. We get the biggest kick out of our kids reciting movie lines or song lyrics at the table. We can see a movie one time as a family and the kids memorize a dozen or so lines. We've become those parents who say, "Do that one line from ..." You may have experienced this. But when we ask our kids to perform, they shut down. Wait and let it flow out of the overflow of their hearts. Keep the mood light and you will have plenty of laughter.

Discover everyone's laugh style. Our family regularly takes inventory of our personal laughing styles. We love the "Tripp and Tyler Laughing" video, where they categorize dozens of laughs like the chuckle, the wheezer, the clapper, and the machine gun. I have a "slow machine gun" laugh. Corynn calls her laugh the "clogged machine gun." Carson considers his laugh a "cute slow machine gun." Amy has a "silent, tilt the head back" laugh. I call it patriotic because she always places her hand over her heart when she is about to lose it. It's her way of holding it in. I tell her, "Like a sneeze, it's dangerous to try to hold it in. You've got to let it out."

We hear these four laugh styles every day in our home. Discovering everyone's laugh style is a great way to remove the vacuum of laughter from your home. However, this does come with a caution. Make sure your children know not to identify the laugh styles of guests visiting for a meal. That can be quite awkward. Wait until they leave, then cut loose. (Just kidding.)

Use humor to soften the blow. Humor can help us cope with the demands of this life. My all-time favorite quote on humor, attributed to nineteenth-century preacher Henry Ward Beecher, is, "A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs. It is jolted by every pebble in the road. Good humor makes all things tolerable." Laughter at the table provides a necessary break at the end of a difficult or challenging day.

Additionally, humor can play a valuable role in helping guide people into and through difficult conversations. I recently received an e-mail from a senior woman in our church. She has served in the same international ministry for sixty years and has been a member of our church for fourteen years. After a challenging sermon, she wrote,

Your humor at the beginning allowed for what was to follow. I have noted often how you get us to laugh at your candid experiences, then point us to Scripture that shows all of us that sin is not funny. Your sharing allows us to identify and relate the points to ourselves and say, "Yeah, I've said that, done that, felt that way."

Now, while humor can be an effective way to navigate difficult situations, it isn't always the right response. My glaring weakness as a pastor is using too much humor at inappropriate times. When I feel the congregation wrestling with a deep truth or conviction, my pastor's heart wants to rescue them (and me). As a husband, I often use humor to diffuse conflict. As a dad, I sometimes use it to get the kids to like me again after discipline. These approaches aren't healthy. There is a fine line and skill involved in using humor to soften a difficult conversation. Humor should never be used as a distraction from something that needs to be worked through. Sometimes we must wrestle with difficult issues at mealtime and need to guard our tongues from sarcasm and jokes.

Allow humor to cultivate health in your home and relationships. When you walk into a home and hear laughter, you know immediately that people are enjoying one another. I love when my children laugh together, and I believe it pleases our Father when we enjoy one another in fellowship. Humor brings down walls and bonds us to one another, even those of us from different backgrounds, cultures, and denominations.

Proverbs 17:22 says, "A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones." Laughter heals us emotionally. And according to Ecclesiastes 3:4, there is "a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance." Emotionally healthy families experience a wide range of emotions. Some seasons bring sorrow and mourning. Other seasons bring joy and laughter. Expressing these emotions around the table ministers to the well-being of the entire family.

Set the Pace

You don't need to have a three-hour dinner every night to slow down the pace of your home. Start slowly increasing margin in your home and at your table. Set a limit on the number of fast-food stops each week. Consider Taco Tuesdays or Pizza Fridays at home and allow every member of your family to participate in the preparation of the meal. Open your hearts to one another. Laugh together. Declaring one special day a week for a long, slow meal increases your desire for more of it. It creates space in your life for God and others.


Excerpted from Come to the Family Table by Ted Cunningham, Amy Cunningham. Copyright © 2016 Ted and Amy Cunningham. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xv

Introduction xvii

Part 1 The Family Table Is for Us

Chapter 1 Space around the Table 5

Chapter 2 A Place for Memories 21

Chapter 3 Food, Wine, and God's Favor 41

Chapter 4 Together, Wherever 57

Chapter 5 The Family Constitution 81

Part 2 The Family Table Is for Others

Chapter 6 Hospitality at the Table 105

Chapter 7 A Simple Table 125

Chapter 8 A Lavish Table 139

Chapter 9 Honoring Marriage at the Table 161

Chapter 10 The Love jug 183

Notes 199

Recipe Index 201

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