Stephen looked puzzled. What he saw didn’t make sense. Our neighbors’ 10-year-old son was peering at us through the glass of our backyard French door.Slowly, he opened the door, stepped in and continued to stare. Finally, he asked, “What are y'all doing?”
It wasn’t as though he couldn’t tell we were eating dinner. He’d walked in while we were at the table many times. And, usually, we’d grab another plate and fork and Stephen would take his place next to our own 10 and eight-year-old sons, Jarrod and Jordan.
However, this time it was different. What confused Stephen were the flickering candles. Still befuddled, he asked, “Somebody’s birthday?”
Joanne, already setting a place at the table for Stephen, said, “No, sometimes it’s fun to make a normal meal special by having candlelight.”
Sadly, Stephen and many other children, for one reason or another, grow-up without the opportunity to receive the rich benefits of consistent family mealtimes. For Joanne and I, these precious evenings were often when we learned what our kids were doing, who they were “hanging out” with and what really mattered to them.
These undistracted mealtime-moments let them know that we cared about everything in their lives. Since they are now in their 20s, they have a better understanding of why we always ate together.
There are multiple benefits to family mealtimes:
• In 2012, researchers at Cornell University noted that if you practiced shared mealtimes, “Your child may be 35% less likely to engage in disordered eating, 24% more likely to eat healthier foods and 12% less likely to be overweight.”
• Twelve years ago in a study of sixth graders, researchers at Cornell’s Medical College noticed a link between those who had family meals and lower rates of delinquency and aggression.
• Researchers at The National Center of Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found that the more children dine with their parents, the less likely they were to drink, smoke and use drugs.
Why are family mealtimes so beneficial?
It could be that some children behave better when they believe they are constantly supervised.
Author, Polly Campbell, suggests another possible reason: “Mealtimes are an ideal place to practice mindfulness, [the] art of paying attention. Mindfulness is about noticing, experiencing, seeing what is all around you. …When we are mindful we connect to our inner self, the spiritual center, the place where love and appreciation and compassion and gratitude bubble up. Mindfulness …often leads to the bigger thing.”
Joanne and I have seen how connecting with the sacred helps in making mealtimes nutritional on all levels. We’ve learned that the spiritual, what we understand to be “the bigger thing," enables us to take care of all the little things, -- our family’s and other’s needs.
Perhaps, we can give others attention, appreciation and affection because we are spiritual beings animated by the divine. Could we be part of the divine’s strategy for nourishing another’s mind, body and spiritual sense?
As our meal surprised Stephen, your meals can surprise your family and friends. Let them eat by candlelight. Shower them with attention, appreciation and affection. If you do, they will have the opportunity to experience the benefits of a shared meal.
No matter how small or large your family is, a daily effort should be made to bring its members together.
Undistracted mealtime-moments will let your family and friends know you care - about everything in their lives.
Keith Wommack is a syndicated columnist, Christian Science practitioner and teacher, husband and step-dad. He has been described as a spiritual spur (since every horse needs a little nudge now and then). Keith’s columns originate at: KeithWommack.com