Sunday, July 22, 2012

Knights of the Dinner Table

Anyone who knew me growing up can testify to my being a notoriously picky eater. Many kids are finicky, but I was ridiculous: I didn't even like pizza or french fries.
      It came to a head one night when I was told I couldn't leave the table until I'd finished what was on my plate. Somehow a pile of refried beans had found its way there (I certainly didn't put it there!). I concluded I would have to spend the rest of my life at that table. I wasn't being stubborn; I simply viewed it as impossible. It was akin to being asked to eat a scoop of mud.
      I don't know how long I sat there, but it was dark, and everyone else had scattered to their bedrooms. Finally the punishment was upped—I can't remember what was said, but somehow I was motivated to give it a teeny tiny try. There was melted cheddar cheese on top—which I didn't like either, but it wasn't as bad. I flipped the whole thing over so the cheese, not the beans, would touch my tongue, gave a quick chew or two, and gulped it down with some milk. I survived! I kept on doing that, 'til bit by bit, it was gone. It was a miracle.
When Jesus sent out the seventy-two disciples to preach the Good News, he gave them very specific instructions. What we usually notice is that they weren't to bring anything with them—no money, no bag, not even sandals. Amidst such tough directions, this verse tends to get lost: “Eat whatever is set before you” (Lk 10:8). As a kid, that would have been much harder for me than going barefoot!
      But now, I see it as a great verse to add to my arsenal of Helpful Scriptures for Parents. It's a perfect verse to whip out when the kids start complaining about dinner.
      And it's great advice tooat least assuming you have a conscientious cook, preparing a healthy, well-balanced meal. If we only eat rich and fatty foods, avoiding the icky vegetables, we won't get all the vitamins and nutrients we need, but will probably get diabetes and heart disease instead.
      But there's more to it than physical health. Jesus wants us to do the same at the dinner table of life: that is, we need to accept whatever He sends us, trusting that it's good for us even if bitter and hard to swallow. A diet of all desserts and no vegetables is no better for our souls than for our bodies.
      Of course, that's easier said than done sometimes. Jesus must have realized that, for after all, He did say, "What father among you, if his son asks for bread, would give him a stone, or if he asks for a fish, would give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?” (Lk 11:11-12). Sometimes what's on our plate sure looks like a scorpion, but we must trust our heavenly Father enough to believe that He knows what is good for us.
      Culinary courage is more than a healthy habit or an apt spiritual analogy, though. It is also a will-builder. I tell my kids to eat their vegetables not only for their health, but also so they can learn to make themselves do things that are good but that they find unpalatable. We need that kind of daily exercise in discipline or our wills will become flabby and weak. It is by being faithful in the small things that we gain the strength to conquer greater challenges.
      We may not have dragons in our modern world, but there are still threats that make us wish for knights like St. George. We can start training them, at the dinner table, to conquer themselves first and offer up the sacrifice involved (which for a kid might be sizeable!). And while we're at it, maybe we can do a little will-training and sacrificing of our own. 
     It might seem useless, but just because spiritual benefits are invisible, doesn't mean they're not real. Remember, it's the One we're praying to, who can make the real difference. Just as He did with the five loaves and the two fish given by the little boy, He can multiply our little gifts of prayer and sacrifice into splendid results.

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