Ask any momma what stresses her out the most about motherhood and many would probably say - feeding babies. There are numerous articles and recipes online about kids and food. Occasionally there is some fun to be had with kids and food-like when they want to start feeding themselves. Get your camera ready, Momma! Baby is about to give you some great shots for Instagram!
The first time my 8-month-old demanded that I let her feed herself (read demanded as “she grabbed the spoon out of my hand every time I tried to put it in her mouth”…Every. Time.) I fought her on it, thinking, “Oh no way! You will have this stuff everywhere.” But she wore me down, which had been her way since birth when she refused to nurse. I gave in and let her have at it. Yep. It was everywhere. The wall, the curtains, the floor, the back of the chair, her hair, my hair…everywhere. It was a wretched mess that I had to clean up after every meal.
By the fourth child though, I had learned to hand the spoon to my kids ASAP because I needed those babies to be independent. I didn’t even care where the food went as long as some of it got in her belly. I’m not sure I took any pictures because by kid four, who has time for pictures during dinner? At that point, I was just trying to get everyone to sit at the table together for at least 30 seconds like normal people. “Just be normal!” I would yell and then realize they were all now quietly staring at the crazy lady with dried applesauce from lunch still in her hair.
Dinnertime is a beast, isn’t it? And it comes around everyday with desperate cries of starving children acting like I haven’t fed them in days. I mean, really y’all! My life revolves around shopping for, buying, storing, prepping, cooking and cleaning up food. And we won’t even go into the insane rabbit hole of healthy eating that I fell into because…well, nobody needs that kind of negativity in their life. My new motto is “Be happy. Eat ice cream.”
On days when I have lots of energy and feel inspired, I cook a feast. The other 364 days of the year, I try to pull it together in a rush at the last minute. Either way, a few bites are taken, a few bites are forced to be taken, and then everyone is excused. It really doesn’t seem to matter how good the food is, or how much time I put into planning and preparing. Kids just eat how much they want and move on. Like locusts, really. Ew.
But there are lessons about the dinner table that are changing my understanding of feeding my kids. There is a spirituality to food that really requires more attention than I usually give it. For most of my mothering years, eating has been about nutrition, which has led to lots of arguing about eating greens and trying to get “just one more bite” into my babies bellies. And guilt! Oh, so much guilt!
Lately, however, dinnertime has shifted in our house. Maybe it’s because the babies are not really babies anymore. Maybe it’s because I have just a bit more energy to give toward meals than I have in the past. I can’t tell you for sure what has shifted other than my understanding that food isn’t just about eating.
I know this shift began when I read this quote from Sally Clarkson’s book The Life-giving Table:
When we sit at our tables, we’re not just an aggregate of individual family members eating and drinking to stay alive; we’re a congregation of communing souls hungering and thirsting to experience the goodness and beauty of the life God has designed just for us.
Full disclosure - I often endure dinnertime, anxious for it to be over because I am exhausted from the day and ready to get those monkeys of mine in bed so I can sit quietly with my husband and a glass of wine. But, as I have contemplated the spiritual connection between our food and our souls, there has been a very slight shift in my attitude (very slight).
Dinnertime is gradually becoming more about conversation and communion with each other. It has become a time of reconnecting with each other after time apart at work, school and other activities. I have found that as we have intentionally started conversations at the dinner table, the kids have been a little slower to run off when they are done eating. It’s almost like they enjoy sitting at the table and talking to us. And, to my surprise, I sometimes really enjoy hanging out and talking to my kids during and after dinner!
This, I have discovered, is where the real feasting happens. As we discuss different topics and events from the day, my daughters are sharing their hearts a little bit more each time. They share their thoughts, ideas and opinions more freely than they have in the past. This excites me, because I’ve come to realize that when I take time to listen to their hearts, they are more open to listening to what I have to say, as well. When we give our attention to listening to our children’s hearts, we are better prepared to offer them the truth of the Gospel in a way that means something to them because we’ve really heard what’s going on in their minds and hearts.
I have been guilty in the past of trying to force bites of the Gospel into my children’s hearts like the Brussels sprouts they really don’t want to eat (actually, I hate Brussels sprouts too, so they never show up on our table). Yet, that’s not how God has fed our souls. Rather than forcing the Gospel down our throats, he invites us to “work…for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you” (John 6:27). He has set the table for our souls through the work of Jesus and invites us to join. He does not force anyone to take a seat, but instead invites us as a generous host would invite guests to a fancy dinner. Those who make excuses as to why they cannot come will sorrowfully miss out (Luke 14:15-24).
I don’t want my babies to miss out! But I cannot force them to take a seat. I must trust the work of the Father in their hearts. He is the one who draws them to Christ (John 6:44; 65-66). I know his desire for them to come to him is greater than mine. He is the one who works in our hearts and grows our relationships for the purpose of his Gospel, so I must trust him.
So, what’s an anxious Momma to do as she watches and waits for her children’s hearts to be drawn to God?
She prays and sets the table. She prays daily for the souls of her children to be drawn to the feasting that leads to eternal life. She faithfully sets the table with stories of truth that both little and big ones will not be able to resist listening to. She daily invites them to willingly take a seat at the table, and partake of his goodness and mercy. And when they refuse the invitaion, she faithfully tries again the next day.
That is our prayer for our children, but it is also a prayer for ourselves. My youngest loves avocados, because I love avocados. She watched me enjoy eating them and just had to give them a try. Sweet Momma, we cannot feed our children bread that we don’t have. We must first “taste and see” so that our children can know that God is true and good (Psalm 34:8). We must commit to daily sitting at the table with Christ, and feasting on the Gospel for ourselves. When our children see that we are filled and satisfied with God, they will want to know him, too. That is why I continue to write here. I long for mommas to encounter the Gospel for themselves and then share it with their children. I believe this is the most important work we as mothers have to do. We cannot be lazy and distracted disciples. We must focus our hearts and minds on the bread of life, or we and our children will spiritually starve to death. Stay faithful to your calling, Momma! Share what you know about Jesus with your children, search to understand what you don’t know, and be filled with the sustaining bread of life that He is!
Now, if you’ll excuse me, it is the dinner-witching hour and the natives are getting restless for their food...
They said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always." Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst...All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out." John 6:34-37
On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” Isaiah 25:6-9
There are many who say, "Who will show us some good? Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!" You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. Psalm 4:6-8
And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” Revelation 19:9
For further encouragement, study John 6:22-71; John 3:26-36; 1 Corinthians 11:23-32