I start planning our menu for each week on Sunday evenings. For me, there is rest in searching old cookbooks for new recipes that will ensure satisfying suppers for my family. I enjoy that time of day when Wade and I gather around the table with our two boys, and we are able to say a prayer of thanks and then share about our days. It’s a social occasion even if the guest list is small.
Even though we are rather traditional in our familial roles where I do most of the cooking, ensuring a pleasant mealtime is not only my responsibility. Etiquette actually teaches that everyone at the table plays a part.
Growing up, my family had its own mealtime blunders. Remember the ancient poodle that choked and gagged during each blessing? Believe me—there were more… from the unappetizing to the unapologetic. Most recently, my grandmother with dementia told me that I appeared “tired,” just moments after she had served me several compliments. Of course, my brother enjoyed it most when Nan clarified that those compliments were merely “formalities,” and that I really did look like I needed a nap or a fierce regimen of vitamins. In her fragile state, she still bothers with formalities, but she’s certainly not concerned with filters.
On the other hand, my mother has a servant’s heart. She has taught me the fine art of playing hostess and the importance of making others feel welcome. However, there is one rule of etiquette that she neglects.
When gathering together for a meal at home, it is a sign of respect to allow the mother—the hostess—or any other guest of honor be seated first. When I was young, my mother was the last to sit down… partly because she was always serving all of us, but also because we didn’t have enough chairs for everyone. When she would finally sit, most often her little body was perched on a milk can, readily jumping up for the needs of others.
I’m thankful for her example. In a world where everyone is concerned with the comfort of self, it speaks volumes when anyone is readily serving others. I can often relate to Martha (the sister that gets a hard-time for being concerned with the provisions for a supper for Christ, but let’s ease up on ol’ gal for a minute). Undoubtedly, she was just following her time’s own rules of etiquette and doing what she thought was appropriate. I love and admire Martha’s servant-heart; she (and far too often, I, too) just needed a little re-directing.
I think the great lesson of etiquette in regards to meals and seating is actually a mixture of what Christ taught Martha and the “hostess sits first” rule. May we remember that the meal is to be shared—that it is a social occasion designed for us all to engage lovingly with one another and to relish company. That all of life, not just supper, is more pleasant when everyone assists and serves others. Each occasion is another opportunity to be thankful for the food, family, and friendships.
It will be a battle to have my mother seated first in her cabin at any supper. I imagine that as time goes on, I will take her spot on the proverbial milk can and attempt to serve others so well. For certain, one thing will never change: my brother will forever enjoy a good laugh at my expense…
- Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42 (NASB)