There have been two important times in my life when I was invited “to the table”.
The first time was when I was still in San Diego, and the college group I attended launched the idea of “The Open Table”. It was a place for college kids to meet and hang out with other college kids who loved Jesus (and eat food). Even if a person didn’t love Jesus and was simply searching for something to believe in or something to be a part of, the heart of the Open Table was this: that’s okay, come as you are. We want you here.
The second time I was invited to the table was during my year as a resident assistant during my undergraduate years. A few days before the housing residents arrived, I sat under the shade of a large tree in the Pacific Northwest amongst other resident assistants. It was there that our Resident Director read to us from a book that would quickly become among my favorite books. She quoted from Shauna Niequist’s book Bread & Wine (Shameless plug: If you haven’t read this book, please do!).
“We don’t come to the table to fight or defend…We come to the table because our hunger brings us there. We come with need, with fragility, with an admission of our humility. The table is the great equalizer, the level playing field that many of us have been looking everywhere for. The table is the place where the doing stops, the trying stops, the masks are removed, and we allow ourselves to be nourished, like children. We allow someone else to meet our need. In a world that prides people on not having needs, on going longer and faster, on going without, on powering through, the table is a place of safety and rest and humanity, where we are allowed to be as fragile as we feel.
Come to the table.”
Reflecting on these two significant moments, especially after Bread & Wine, I realized that living a life of inviting people to the table, and being part of a table, is exactly how I want to live my life–I never had the words to convey such emotions and desires until recently.
In recent days, I’m seeing a great divide in the world around me in big and small ways. Christians are becoming divided over issues to the point of slandering a certain population. Countries are at war amongst each other because differences are seemingly too great to overcome. Religions, and lack thereof, contend each other for who is right and who is wrong. Friends and family refuse to speak to each other over hurts. The list goes on. Many people seem to be in this mindset of “fend for yourself”. Overall, the act of living is extremely messy and when things get rough, we have the tendency of shutting down to everything around us, not being the open tables we need to be.
I will admit that at times I have not been the table I needed to be. There have been times when I’ve been so incredibly messy that I believed I had nothing but crumbs to offer to the people around me. Some days, that is still very true, but more often than not, it’s an excuse to keep from opening my heart to the needs around me as well as recognizing my own needs.
I’ve always been excited for Autumn, as this season has always represented new beginnings to me. As this Autumn slowly rolls around, I will be starting internship in a couple weeks. My second year (and last year) of grad school will consume my life, and I am entering this season with a heart that feels like such a mess. I am tired–working and studying within the helping profession leaves me drained in ways I never thought possible. I am navigating the waters with a friend I’ve been in a long-standing stubborn squabble with. I’m learning to push through my natural inclination to shut down after a strange situation with an even stranger boy that abruptly ended. Finally, I am figuring out how to let the “real me” come through when all I feel is a deliberating sense of anxiety and low moods around the people I come in contact with–friends, family, and new people alike. And in spite all of my silly mess, I want to offer grace.
In spite of it all, I know I have a table to offer. At my table, I will not hide my mess and offer others the sacred safety and room to do the same. Regardless of the divides I see in the world in me, I want offer grace to allow people to come as they are and be nourished. I want to be a place where pretending doesn’t have to happen, trust can be built, and a place where both the people I love and the people I encounter can come to receive nourishment without judgement.
I strongly believe that the act of living involves messiness, and among the most wonderful things about living is that we never have to carry our messes on our own. Coming to the table should mean coming to a place of grace in which we carry each others burdens and receive nourishment for weary hearts regardless of backgrounds.
Come to the table.