The first thing that comes to my mind is the dinner table.
Later on I found out that certain families had the table set up where the food would be in different bowls and plates and it was for family members to share out what portion they wanted, or for someone to actively there and then share on behalf of others. That wasn’t the dinner table in the home in which I grew up. That dinner table had the place-mats with the fork and knife set out for the participants. My sister, my brother, my Dad and I would be sat around the table and my Mum would bring out our plates with the food already served up on it. She had done all of that in the kitchen knowing what we would want and to the size of the portions we would be satisfied with. Sometimes we would go in the kitchen and collect the plate with our food already prepared on it and bring it to the table. Either way, more often than not my Mum who had worked hard to prepare the meal would also share out the food for all of us in the family ensuring that she was the last one to eat. My recollection is that my Dad wouldn’t start eating until my Mum was ready to eat. Those little things left an impression on me. It was a little note of respect and gratitude from my Dad to my Mum for all her efforts.
My memory of the meals my Mum prepared features nothing but outstanding food. It was a work of art and a labour of love for her. My Dad knew how to cook and could look after himself and us if the need arose, but it was usually my Mum that made the dinner. It was not a chore or a bore to her – it was a delight. That was evident in the quality of the experience of consuming those meals. I enjoyed the art and appreciated the love. I have no account or recollection of her disliking it or getting annoyed by it and this is despite her working hard elsewhere and often being tired through her efforts. She did it wholeheartedly.
Reflecting on it now, it’s apparent that she saw it as a service to her family and an offering to God. Her best for her family was an indication of her best to God.
It’s not for me to say whether or not I’ve learnt those lessons and applied them well in my own life. I can, however, acknowledge that I’m about as likely to go into a kitchen and prepare a meal as my Mum was likely to complain about cooking. Not that I can’t do it, but when the bar is set so high, I leave it for others to attempt to reach and settle for whatever emerges from those efforts.
Elsewhere, though, there is something about that mentality and approach to serving that has continued to be held up as a standard that does need to be applied in the primary relationships of my life. It’s why I’m not so prone to put on a front when good friends come over to visit me at home. I don’t want them to see a pretend image of life at home with my wife and children. I want them to see what’s real in my engagements with them. Not to say I would like to embarrass or shame my loved ones, but I don’t want to put on airs and graces in front of others as though my children were brought up in posh settings. It’s also important for me that the first place my children see serving is in the interaction between their Dad and Mum. It’s also important that what they see reflects something of the attitude my Dad and Mum had to serving.
That reinforces what I believe is evident in the eternal interplay between Father, Son and Spirit. Serving is not a concept original to humanity. It’s supposed to reflect the nature of our Creator. That’s why the profound thing about the Son of Man and the Messiah was that He walked among us as a servant. Serving His Father by serving others and especially leaving an example for His disciples to see what it really was to love each other. That pattern of service should be first seen – and naturally observed as the norm – in the relationship of the first relationship in the home.
I appreciate that family formations are diverse today and circumstances and situations can often mean that there won’t be that kind of first relationship to observe. That does not mean, however that a first relationship cannot be provided to establish that pattern as the norm. As long as that is, then it can help shape and influence a generation of people who may otherwise reach the conclusion that relationships are about being self-centred and selfishness rather than other-focused.
The foundation for serving all other people is found in a family that serves each other.
For His Name’s Sake
C. L. J. Dryden