A few years ago my husband and I watched all the seasons of the tv series, Parenthood. There were some amazing parts, sad parts, and stupid unnecessary parts…but the thing that kept me coming back – episode after episode – was the recurring scene where the entire family enjoyed a meal around the dinner table. It was a great big table that became longer as the family became bigger. That particular scene embodied my most important goal in life – to have a great big happy family who enjoyed sitting together around the dinner table.
I think that sitting at the dinner table is a really important part of the family experience. In our kids’ growing up years, this was the place where we hammered out life situations, faith, and politics, as we sat across from one another at our dinner table. It was lively and it was fun and it built strong bonds that still hold today.
In the past few days my husband and I have watched a few Christmas shows where a family scene at the dinner table has triggered memories that have made me want to lay down and bawl. (I get a bit dramatic sometimes but this is the truth.)
The scenes from two different shows were of adult siblings, and then they did a rewind showing the same siblings as little kids sitting across from each other at the dinner table. And it made me think of our siblings – my husbands and mine – and where we came from and where we are now. And it made me feel so sad, it physically hurt.
My husband and I each grew up in families of six with happy dinner tables and lots of family fun. And today many chairs sit empty. Both of my parents, along with our oldest brothers, have passed from this earth. And some of our siblings are no longer a part of our lives. While the holidays are magical and beautiful, they also highlight the empty chairs at the table.
I think of the empty chairs of two friends of mine who brought so much joy to my life. One of them seemed to drop out of life and I don’t know where she lives…and the other is a prisoner to addiction. I love them, I would love to sit across the table with them, yet their chairs remain empty at the table and in my heart.
Maybe the hardest thing of all are the chairs that remain empty because of irreconcilable differences. Until I was about 55 years old, I didn’t accept the hard truth that sometimes there is no way to reach across the table. I always believed that if two people loved each other they should be able to work through their differences. They should be able to sit scross from each other as long as it takes until a reconciliation is reached. Right?
Life doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes the chairs of the most important people in our lives will remain empty. It’s just the saddest thing…
I know four women who had amazing marriages and the chairs of their husbands are empty because they passed from this earth. Yet – there are those of us who are still living on the planet earth who cannot get along well enough to sit together across the table…it just doesn’t seem right.
How do we manage the loneliness of the empty chairs in our lives? The sibling who is like a stranger, the beloved family member who has passed, the friend who is no longer, a marriage that did not weather the storms, or the child whose life was cut short? How do we ever find joy at the table without grieving the empty chairs all around?
This is not easy. It’s almost impossible. But God…
There are a number of verses in the Bible that speak about the situations in life that threaten to take us down and leave us flat…and the scripture answers those situations with two words over and over …But God…
We cannot do this in our own strength…we cannot bear the pain of the empty chairs…But God will help us to bear the pain,
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. – Psalm 73:26
I have a friend who has found herself in a broken relationship with her family of origin and it has broken her heart in a million pieces. We recently had a conversation and she shared her heartaches through tears. And after awhile she shared with me…But God has done these things in my life.
God showed up and filled new chairs at her table. She met a woman at church who looks so much like her that they could be sisters. They dress in the same sporty sort of way and have the same coloring and hair style. This woman reached out and asked her to sit across the table and share a cup of coffee…and they became instant friends.
She was invited to join a Bible Study and now she sits in a circle of chairs with women who are strong in character and are earnest about growing in faith. This amazing group of women is helping to fill the holes in her soul.
Her pain is great – but God has also given her a strong and loving husband and two little ones to care for. She is already creating a new family and a new table to share together.
To take up a place at a table is to occupy a sacred space. The table is where we share meals, stories, heartaches, laughter, and triumphs. It’s were we remember where we have been and dream of where we are going. It is the place where we pray.
Loved ones grow older and we cannot keep them in their familiar chairs forever. And we may not always be able to sit at the same table with all of our friends and family members.
But with God…we are able to cherish our table moments with those who are still with us. We can thank God for the trusted people who have been a consistent part of our lives on a daily basis. These are the kind of people who don’t just reach across the table – but they grab hold of our hands letting us know that they need us as much as we need them.
And maybe someday that person will come back to sit in the chair that has been waiting for them. Maybe we will reach across the table and reach new agreements. Maybe God will do a miraculous work at our table.
Many years ago I asked my mother in law how she endured the pain of losing her 29 year old son who died in a motorcycle accident, and these were her words to me –
”God gave me enough joy to carry me through. The years have gone fast and it won’t be long until I see him again.”
Tomorrow night my sister in law and I are going to a candlelight service at my aunt’s church in Edina, MN. It is a memorial service to remember the people whose chairs will sit empty this holiday season. It’s a beautiful service and you may want to join us at Candellight Memorial Service .
The day will come when we will sit at the table that the Lord has prepared for us. We will be reunited with those who have gone before us. Those empty chairs will be filled with the people who we miss so very much today. We will laugh together and catch up on our lives.
We will sit with amazing people we have never met before and we will sit with the Lord Himself. It will be lively and fun and the food will be exquisite. The music will surround us and the chairs will be filled. There will be no more tears.
Our joy will be complete.
“Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the Kingdom of God.” – Luke 14:15
Until next time,