Sometimes I wonder if I will ever eat a leisurely meal again, unpunctuated by interruptions. Breakfast is often consumed while standing, monitoring cereal consumption, watching for tidal waves of milk to come hurling over the cereal bowl rims. Lunchtime is a breathless race to place edible food on the table before the residents revolt in mutiny and march themselves through a Taco Bell drive thru on foot. (please note: they never eat at Taco Bell, because I normally manage to suppress most mutinies.) In between these times are moments where they like to act out Oliver Twist and the Little Match Girl, begging for more food or extra snacks, precluding the making of my own food at times.
Then, there is the crowning glory of the culinary day, dinner. The time in which I prepare food while one child transforms into a koala and pretends by leg is a tree and the other thinks she is Alton Brown and tells me she knows what she is doing and that she should be able to use sharp knives. The food finally gets placed on the table, hot and edible. Everyone eventually meanders to the table, we cut up food into bite size pieces, drinks are placed, and it is go time. The youngest child takes one bite before she scrunches her face and begins to send food to the floor in a pattern somewhat like rain dripping down the drainpipe. The oldest insists that she is going to gag on the food. Water spills, the other sippy cup is being used as a fountain, following the food from the virtual drain pipe to the river on the floor. I clean up the puddles. I take my first bite. The food is now cold. We attempt conversation. There are more interruptions. More drink requests. More conversation. Laughter. Despair. More bites of cold food. Finally everyone else has finished. I scrape my plate and stir the leftover bits around. I start to clean up the floor, scrape plates into the trash, and run warm water over messy plates, before we begin the mad rush into the bedtime wonderland.
Meals do not often occur as I envision them. They are not the beautifully, plated and gourmet events I imagine. Not much about life is.
But there are some meals, moments of meals, when I feel like I’m looking through a magazine at a beautiful meal, that isn’t really showcasing the food. Not a real meal, but still a kind of event that makes one full. These moments happen when I least expect them. Like a breeze through a window, like a candle that flicks light across a room, it happens quickly and is gone. It takes a laugh, a giggle, a smile from one side of the table to the other, even while rice is strewn over the floor and broccoli shoved to the side of plates. I see happiness. I see plenty. I see provision. I see beauty.
I see time, time that seems long and interminable when I’m picking rice and broccoli off the floor, again. I see time that goes too quickly, like a firefly in the summer night’s air, flashing in and quickly darting away when I hear a delighted giggle. On long days it is hard to remember that time goes fast. On the quick days, it is hard to remember that the brilliantly exploding moments, ones that fade too soon life fireworks, are a necessary part of life’s path.
It is hard to remember, in the interminable moments and the full moments, that one day we will feast with Christ. Feasting with Him is a vague idea that is often hard to imagine in the middle of our mundane. We repeat our meals and go through the motions of cleaning up, preparing, eating, and cleaning up again. In our lives, in the middle of our messes, the repetitive motions often seem just that, repetitive. In the beginning of a challenge, we bring excitement with us. At the end, we either bring disillusionment or grand achievement. But the middle is when we need grace and commitment.
Often those short, perfect, magazine-like moments are gifts from God, They are gifts that show us small graces now and the large graces to come. Sometimes those moments we share, laughing together, in between spilled water and refilled plates and reaching for extra napkins and cutting up food are the ones that give us glimpse into the joy of togetherness that the New Heaven and New Earth will provide. I see tiny children who depend on me for survival. I see a God who makes all things consist and cares lovingly for each of His children. I see a piece of perfection that could be, if the mess were held at bay. I see messes that will be gone, and curses that will be undone, and an existence that will be redeemed along with my soul and body.
The short conversations that I have with tiny people are grace. The laughter we share, the bread we break together, even the bread that crumbles all over the floor, are the grace that tells us know we are made for another world, a greater feast.
CS Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him and with Him everything else thrown in.” That is true at meal times. That is true at every time.
And so, during the interrupted meals, I remember a better feast is coming. A feast where I hope my children join me.The hope of this feast cancels out the frustration of my non-feast like events. This will be the ultimate meal, full of grace and beauty. I do hope then, that I can put my fork in my mouth before someone needs a refill.