I can see the promise as I flip the calendar page just a month ahead — white space. There will still be activity; there is no offseason for this rowdy crew of kids. What will happen, though, is that all the activity will not be concentrated into those precious hours after school and before bedtime. The days, no doubt, will be busy, but the evening hours will hold fewer obligations outside our home. This summer, that means the table is going to be set for dinner every night, unless we happen to plan a picnic and take it on the road.
Dinner happens here every night of the year. When the children were smaller and I had more control (any control) over the schedule, dinner was always a sit-down all-together affair at 6:00 p.m. Over the past few years, as they have grown, it’s rare for us all to be home at the dinner hour. To that obstacle there is added the obstacle that came with Dad’s taking a job in the city. His commute and the timing of his workday puts dinner for him around bedtime for everyone else. So, dinner still happens. I plan it, shop for it, cook it, and it is eaten in shifts — little clusters of two or three people at a time, most often at the counter before or between leaving home to go somewhere else.
And I hate it.
Usually, on Sundays, we manage to all sit together. Often my son, his wife and their baby join us. No, that’s not exactly true. Even on Sundays, it’s not all of us, because youth group is on Sundays at dinner time, and that has two teens away from the table and at church. I’ve never quite understood that — the church is competing with the family for Sunday dinner. I am, however, grateful for youth group, so I’ve got my sight set on conquering other evenings for the cause of togetherness.
Recently, I had the pleasure of talking with Leila Lawler, co-author of the new book, The Little Oratory. Among other things, I asked her how to protect the spirit of prayer from the tyranny of workday busy-ness. One of the first suggestions she made was to guard family dinnertime. She insisted it was imperative that families all sit down together. But what about soccer practice, I protested in my mind. What about dance? What about that play rehearsal? How to overcome the reality of the long commute from the city?
I didn’t voice a single objection. Instead, I just listened. And I knew that she was right. Eating together as a family is vital to the life of that family. Indeed, Leila said, “Dinner together is the natural sacrament of the family.” The natural sacrament. The lifeblood. The vehicle for grace. We can’t miss this moment of opportunity.
So, it’s time for a summer resolution. We will have dinner as a family more often than not. It will be the default mode. It might be later than in years past; we have to give Dad time to get home. But it will happen. I’m not going to look ahead to the fall, when all the evening white space gets filled with scribbles of several different colors. I’m just going to take the gift of summer space for what it is. And I’m going to fill it with one thing: real meals around the table all together. The natural sacrament of the family.