The old-fashioned notion of family dinners has eroded into a bag of piping-hot food thrust through a fast-food delivery window. Processed foods and instant desserts have taken the place of slow-cooked succulent meals that would entice kids to drive home from college just to take a taste. I guess goodness takes too long. But in years past, when we were enriched with the time to use the kitchen table as a place where the family gathered, nested and strengthened itself, well-decorated homes always had a centerpiece. The meal might change, but the centerpiece remained in place.
I believe what builds any institution isn’t what changes, it is what remains the same. Likewise, dysfunction is a result of persistent calamity at the center of the table. You cannot sustain a family if the issues become more important than the individuals surrounding it. As we embark on a new year, we must replace the priority of being the one who is right in the family with the proclivity for being slow to anger and quick to forgive.
In 2017, none of us wants to gather in an atmosphere full of vengeance, but since few of us have a family atmosphere of total tranquility, we should instead focus on what we do have: chairs filled with the flawed but loved family members who turn a house into a home. Let’s build around what we have until we develop what we want.
The only way to accomplish this is to make your constant centerpiece a beautiful arrangement of forgiveness. This cannot be removed even though sometimes it will be watered with our own tears. Remember, whatever we model for our children develops into how they conduct themselves, and “our ways” will be incorporated into their thoughts long after we are gone. No one escapes the need for forgiveness, due in part to the inevitable conflicts that come with being alive. I want to encourage you to exhibit the kind of mercy that draws your family back to the table.
We all seek and need a place of acceptance. A place that will challenge our foolishness without removing our seat at the table. The table of love should be welcoming and inclusive, but that doesn’t work if you consume more grace than you prepare for others.
Yes, this centerpiece comes at a high price, precisely the cost of your ego and self-entitlement. It’s even been known to require the high tax of restrained temperament and opinionated expression. But like anything else in life, you get what you pay for. Be patient, and the beauty of that patience will become an heirloom that passes from generation to generation and you will see it live within your grandchildren and beyond. In short, hold that family together by keeping it centered on what matters most: love and survival.
T.D. Jakes is host of an eponymous daily talk show centering on relationships, stories of personal struggle and triumph, and compelling topics in the news and pop culture that capture our nation’s attention. Jakes is also an author, entrepreneur, filmmaker, music producer, philanthropist and the senior pastor of The Potter’s House. For more information, visit tdjakes.com.