I grew up in a rather large family. By “rather large” I mean there were 11 kids. Yes, my parents were crazy enough to have 11 children. And yes, they know about birth control. Seriously though, you would think that by the time the fourth child came along (me) that they would have gotten the hint that we were a strong-willed, rowdy bunch of kids. My dad jokes about the fact that they kept going for the perfect child… He said it’s yet to happen.
As our family grew, our dining room table became more and more crowded. As you can imagine, it takes a large table to host 13 individuals every morning at breakfast. At some point my parents realized the need for a larger table. I guess the alternative was to stop having children, but they were still under the illusion that perfection could be achieved, so a larger table it was.
It was October, and the plan for us to purchase the new table was to pick up walnuts as a family. So we packed up in the ole 15-passenger and went for it. We’d drive around and Mom would spot a walnut grove or a tree in someone's yard, so we’d stop and ask the property owners if we could pick up their walnuts. I was embarrassed embarrassed as a kid because it seemed so desperate. But we did it. We picked up 20,000 lbs of hulled walnuts. We worked in the rain, in the heat, in the fun, in the exhaustion. We didn’t stop until walnut season was over. Our hands became stained, our backs hurt, and we never wanted to see another walnut tree again.
Post walnut season the new table was purchased. It was like Christmas morning at our house, excitement all around! The chairs and benches newly stained. And the table large enough to host everyone with elbow room to spare. It was ours. The Kent family table. And we each had a place at our new table.
I love going home to my parents’. The rush of childhood memories is imminent as we pull into the drive. Everything from the smell of pancakes and black Folger’s coffee to the crisp breeze in the air takes me back to early mornings, family devotionals, and movies on Sunday nights. It’s a fresh reminder of who I am: a Kent.
Names have the potential to carry weight with them. There’s power and identity in them. Sometimes we stand on the shoulders of the last generation and build. One generation builds into the next, all with the same identity found in the family name. My family name has meaning and purpose to it. It carries with it the identity of a large family, hard workers, creative individuals, and a commitment to others. We have little choice in the imposition others place on us due to our family name. I am a Kent and proud of it. My parents carried the name Kent well.
Here’s the best part about being a Kent though: I belong at my parents’ table. Let that sink in. I always have a place at my parents’ table. I belong there simply because I am their son. I did nothing to deserve a spot at their table. They’ve never made me pay for a spot at their table. I naturally belong there because of who I am and knowing whose I am. I am the son of Bob and Jan Kent.
My mom is an amazing cook! Growing up I never wondered if she was going to burn our dinner, if breakfast would be awful, or if lunch would be fast food. She always had food prepared for us.
Growing up our table hosted many meals; meals my mom would prepare for us, meals we kids would help prepare. Breakfast and dinner we would gather, as a family around the table, and share a meal together. We would talk about the activities of the day while eating what was before us. Some meals were rushed, others would linger on for hours. This was life. This was our family, sitting around the table, eating, talking, singing, reading, praying, crying, sharing news, and speaking of the future.
As an adult, I love what my parents instilled in me. Family is meant to gather together and eat together. Sit. Be in the moment. Wait until everyone is finished. Be present and enjoy the food and the company of those around you.
THE FATHER’S TABLE
I believe our Heavenly Father has a table as well. At this table we, who bear His name, have a place. We gather and share a meal together, with the Father at the head sharing his goodness, mercy, grace, love, peace. There is laughter at the table as the dishes are passed. We share about our day, our brothers and sisters encourage us and the Father wipes our tears. He invites us to gather around and share with Him all that He has prepared for us. We come together because He has invited us, and we are His.
There are no limits as to who is invited or how many may come. It was not built by us. We did nothing to earn a place. We didn’t pay for the table, the meal, or our name. Our Father made the table. Our Father prepared the meal. Our Father made us His children through His son Jesus. We simply accept the invitation and come.
I like to imagine that our corporate gatherings (you may call it “Church”) are His table moments for us here on Earth. We gather because He has invited us. “Hey, come share a meal with Me. Come. Sit. Enjoy what I have prepared for you.” He invites us into a conversation with Him. “How’s life? What’s been going on? How is the job I gave you? How is the family I have placed around you?” You can almost hear Him saying, “Why didn’t you bring them? They have a place here too. I really wish you would have brought them.”
So we gather around the table, but we often sit there acting like there is nothing set before us worth having. We fail to feast on His goodness, mercy, love, and grace. We act like we have all we need. We pretend He is not even there. We gather. We sit. We endure the hour and fifteen minutes gathered around the table and we can’t wait to leave and get back to our lives. And the whole time our Father sits there, excited that His children have come to share in what He has prepared for us.
What would our table moments look like if we came with a proper perspective and healthy expectation? I imagine excitement, joy, laughter, wonder, amazement, and transformation. I imagine a heart of service toward our brother or sister in the row, an understanding that all belong here regardless of (insert whatever your bias is) and an excitement to bring anyone and everyone with us! We gather together, as brothers and sisters, and eagerly wait to see what our Father has prepared. Our expectation becomes one of constantly knowing He will show us more of who He is and who we are in His eyes.
Everything changes when we understand we are sitting at the table of our Father; a Father who prepares the absolute best for His children and desires for us to just sit with Him. He never leaves us hungry but always leaves us wanting more. And in the midst of our apathy, He continually says, “I love you. Are you listening? I love you. I love you for no other reason other than I just love you.”