Take a stand to sit down (for a meal)

by Fr. Mark Goldasich

Every Christian needs half an hour of prayer each day, except when we are busy . . . then we need an hour.”

I frequently remind myself of these words by St. Francis de Sales. How easy it is, when we are busy, to drop the things that are most important. Doubling our time of prayer when things get hectic? It sounds crazy, but it’s actually the best advice to keep us from going crazy.

If he were alive today, perhaps St. Francis de Sales might comment about another important thing that is in danger of being dropped. I can imagine him saying, “Every Christian family needs to sit down together for meals a couple of times a week, except when they are busy . . . then they need five times.”

Family meals. Remember them? Growing up, I had lunch every day with my grandparents at their home, followed by supper around that same table with my folks, an uncle and often other drop-in family or friends. Not having a meal as a family was the exception, not the rule.

What a different state of affairs we find today. It seems that families rarely make time for a meal together. Work schedules, sports practices and other extracurricular activities so fracture a family’s schedule, that finding time for everyone to sit down at the same time at the same place to eat together is almost impossible.

Not only is that a shame — it’s also a missed opportunity to protect younger family members from destructive habits. A 2006 national survey of youth ages 12-18, conducted by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at New York’s Columbia University, found that “the more often children eat dinner with their families, the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use drugs.” Further research shows that children who eat dinner often with their families are more likely to do well in school, be emotionally content, have positive peer relationships, have lower levels of stress, be bored less often, and be at lower risk for thoughts of suicide.

So, how often does your family sit down together for a meal? If the answer is “never” (or close to it), circle Sept. 22 on your calendar right now. That’s the day the Kansas Family Partnership (in conjunction with CASA, who originally launched this movement) has set aside for Family Day, “a day to eat dinner with your children.” I’m writing about this 10 days before it happens, so families can start now to coordinate and, if necessary, clear their schedules.

To assist families in relearning and reclaiming meal times together, Loyola Press has produced a helpful pamphlet called “Mealtime Matters: Vital Nourishment for Your Whole Family” by Tom McGrath. After summarizing the scientific findings on family meals, McGrath outlines the “intangibles” of shared meals: They foster gratitude; give members a chance to practice the virtues of kindness, respect, tolerance, understanding and joy; offer the chance to create lasting memories; and prepare everyone for a fuller participation in and understanding of the Mass, our shared sacred meal.

He goes on to offer 10 practical tips for successful meals, such as: turning off the TV, cell phones, and handheld games; starting the meal with a prayer to mark the transition from busyness to mealtime; and using meal time as an opportunity to learn and practice table manners. (More information on this pamphlet can be found at the Web site: www. loyolabooks.org/mealtime.)

Another wonderful resource will help families who might be somewhat intimidated about sharing a meal together. If you’re wondering what in the world to talk about around the table, pick up a copy of “Keep Talking: Daily Conversation Starters for the Family Meal” by Maureen Treacy Lahr and Julie Pfitzinger (Liguori, 2005; $9.95). This small, spiral-bound resource, complete with a fold-out base, is designed to sit right on the table. It has hundreds of questions to get (and keep) people talking. Here are a few:

• If you were given a hundred dollars to spend on anyone EXCEPT yourself, who would you spend it on and what would you buy?

• What puts you in a bad mood? Name your three favorite ways to “snap out” of a bad mood.

• How do you decide what music you listen to? Has anyone influenced your music choices?

• If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live? Why?

• If you were a superhero, what would your power be and what would you call yourself? This Sept. 22, why not give the family meal another try . . . especially if you’re busy.

And don’t forget to give some thought to your choice of superpower. I can assure you, your children already have.

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