Katie, a shy student at Forest Elementary School, slowly made her way from table to table in the lunch room. She kept her gaze low, willing herself to avoid seeing the blatant indifference on the faces of the other children. Although she often had trouble fitting in, the pain of being an outsider was more pronounced in the lunch room, where kids swapped sandwiches, shared jokes, and discussed the upcoming class trip. Katie slipped into an empty seat on the last table, unacknowledged by the kids sitting to her left or right. When was the last time you felt like you didn’t fit in?
Joe, a high schooler, hangs out with the same group of kids over his lunch break each day, but he might as well be by himself. The group’s social interaction is limited because they all pass the time by scrolling on their phones. Short exchanges of conversation occasionally interrupt the silence when someone shares a noteworthy TicTok video or a juicy tidbit of social media gossip, but mostly, everyone eats lunch within their isolated bubbles. When did you last feel ignored?
Shelly has mostly given up on trying to get her family to eat meals together. Between the hectic schedule of afterschool activities and the fights that ensue when she tries to enforce the “no phone” rule at the table, she decided to let everyone just fend for themselves when it comes to dinner. Deep down, she worries that not having regular family meals together won’t be good for the kids, but she doesn’t have it in her to fight against the tide. Do you ever feel disconnected in your own home?
The dining table is so much more than a habitat for physical nourishment; it is the place where we can be welcomed in and be known. This is no small thing. Human beings are hardwired with a need for intimacy, connection, and comfort, whether the cultural norms of the day acknowledge and make space for those needs to be met or not. As the social norms of dining have shifted—think, fast food, drive-through dining, phones at the table, etc.—there are far fewer opportunities for people to connect, be known (intimacy: in-to-me-you-see), and be comforted. And make no mistake, those needs do not go away; this is how we are wired. The pain of disconnection is reflected by endless cycles of phone scrolling which—I believe—is both a symptom and cause of the emptiness we feel inside. It’s also reflected in the ever-increasing demand for pornography, drugs, alcohol, hook-ups, and mental health services. We cannot keep going in the direction we are going, but the enormity of the problem is overwhelming. What can be done?
Let’s start with family meals. Over three decades of research have shown that regular family meals offer a wide variety of physical, social-emotional, and academic benefits. Family mealtime is worth fighting for! (See link). Some of the specific benefits of family dinners for kids are:
- Better academic performance
- Higher self-esteem
- Greater sense of resilience
- Lower risk of substance abuse
- Lower risk of teen pregnancy
- Lower risk of depression
- Lower likelihood of developing eating disorders
- Lower rates of obesity
- Better cardiovascular health in teens
- Bigger vocabulary in preschoolers
- Healthier eating patterns in young adults
There are also benefits for adults, including:
- Better nutrition with more fruits and vegetables and less fast food
- Less dieting
- Increased self-esteem
- Lower risk of depression
Ok, but what can be done for those who live alone? How about you invite someone to dinner? Jesus was a master at using the dining table as a place to bring healing and transformation to others. When Jesus told Zacchaeus, a despised tax collector, that he was going to stay at his house (and presumably share a meal with him), his life was transformed because he was made known. Jesus was aware of what this man did (cheated others), but He also knew that was not who Zaccheus truly was. Zaccheus was transformed from a deceitful outsider into his true identity as a “son of Abraham” because Jesus decided to fellowship with the one who no one else would.
“Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham” (Luke 19:9).
So, when was the last time you invited someone over for dinner? Or coffee and cake? (Just thinking about being invited for cake is bringing a smile to my face right now!) Just imagine what an impact you could have on someone by initiating such a simple invitation. Would you be willing to help make someone else known?
If you want to join with me to help fight disconnection (with self and others) one meal at a time, consider adopting one of the suggestions below:
- Commit to having a “no phones at the table” rule
- Schedule regular family meals and stick with it
- Commit to inviting someone over to share food once a month (cake and coffee counts!)
- Go crazy and host a dinner party
- Invite a colleague to lunch
- Take your teen on a dinner date
Although my ultimate dream would be to be like Jesus and have long meals around the table while lounging on couches, I plan to start small. What about you? Let me know below 👇🏻: