“Here’s what I think . . .”
I just love living in Oxford. Most meals with friends or meals in my home here or talks with my children (including Nathan and Joel who don’t live here), are stimulating to me. I am learning something all the time. My view of God continues to expand. My desire to be a message maker grows in such an environment.
All of these great, truly life-changing discussions started at our dinner table. Night after night, chomping on something savory and warm, salty or creamy, bread slathered with butter, the stage was set for enjoyment, friendship, stimulation and purpose.
And so, “Here’s what I think,”
was heard every day, every night as our children sharpened their brain skills and built intellectual muscle.
It was a night just like any other, which is to say it was another evening of rousing discussion. Soup spoons suspended in midair, quizzical brows, the thumping of a printed-out article on the table. The article in question had been the source of that evening’s discussion. I can’t recall the exact topic of debate, but it likely had something to do with a current event, a book, an important idea or theological point, or some aspect of music or art or culture. And everybody—everybody!—had an opinion about it.
Once a learning exercise that Clay and I established and encouraged, dinnertime discussions grew to be the pulsing heartbeat of the Clarkson table. It seemed dinner had two purposes—to eat and to discuss.
In the beginning, I hosted these conversations. When our kids were very young, I would ask each of them to tell Clay the most interesting thing they had learned that day, share where we had gone on a field trip, or talk about what they had done with their friends. Their simple but enthusiastic sentences would tumble over each other as they shared the new facts they had picked up and adventures they’d had. In those days the dinner table was a place to practice manners and especially the arts of listening and asking. The goal was to honor the extroverts with a listening ear and gift the introverts with space enough for their words to be heard.
As they grew older, sometimes Clay would bring a book or article, read or summarize part of it, and then ask their opinions. We made a family policy that no idea was considered unworthy of our discussion and that no one, regardless of age or background, would be chastised or ridiculed for sharing an opinion. We sought to validate the thinking process in order to strengthen the muscle of thinking and engaging in ideas.
These days, when everyone is home, we still enjoy the ease of conversation and sharing that became so precious to us—along with the lively discussion that feels so familiar.
It is no wonder that Joy grew up to be a debater. Breathing in the oxygen of our table talk each evening prepared her brain to express her mind and back up her opinions.
I believe that fostering mealtime discussion has been vital to the spiritual, social, and emotional growth of all the individuals at our table. I hear tales that there are families who sit quietly at dinner, speaking not a word. And I must admit that at moments I wish we could practice that more often—especially when there are just boys at home. I am quite convinced that the glory of a man, at least a Clarkson man, is to win a discussion.
And yet I believe that our lively dinnertime discussions are one of the things that most positively shaped my and my children’s lives. Establishing the dinner table as a place of discussion fosters an environment where truth is sought through dialogue, graciousness is taught and upheld, and convictions are formed.
Thought and will are two of the greatest gifts God has given us through His image in our hearts. In His great wisdom and love, God designed us not to be automatons who respond with thoughtless obedience, but to be thinking, willing participants in His will. Though it is hard to fathom, God has made a place for us at His table, and He invites us there to pray, to ask, to wrestle, because He values our responses to Him. He wants us to relate to Him out of love and conviction.
True discipleship must reflect the fact that God values our voice, thought, and will. Dinnertime discussions reflect and enact this value, making a place where everyone can be heard, be exposed to truth, and have the space to develop convictions in the context of community. Through dinnertime discussions, convictions can be formed, confidence can be gained, conversation can be practiced, and consideration can be taught.