By Christie L. Goodman
A plethora of research in recent years has confirmed the value of family meal time – adult and child sharing a meal together around the table conversing with one another. The benefits range from improved nutrition and reduced risky behaviors to improved school grades and stronger self-esteem (Purdue University). And for some, promoting family dinner time has become their clarion call.
Moreover, there is an even deeper bonus: family meal time can improve family communication, strengthen family ties and create a greater sense of identity and belonging. The key, researchers say, is that this is when families share stories – stories of their day and their dreams, people they encounter, who said what to whom, and those priceless tales of the past.
Just this last few weeks at the dinner table, we’ve told our daughters stories of our own childhood friends, family travels, what high school was like, how we dealt with a bully, the first week of their birth, how stressed out my band directors were at contest time too, what driver’s ed was like, how we picked out our wedding rings, and a few childhood exploits of our own parents, etc., etc., etc.
And when their grandparents visited recently, there were even more stories, sometimes remembered differently, refined and retold.
Researchers explain that such family storytelling gives us a sense that we are part of a larger family narrative. “Kids who understand that they come from that kind of a family know that when they hit their own hardships, which are inevitable, that they can push through, they can do it.” (Clark, 2013)
Dr. Anne Fishel explains: “What makes family stories so powerful is that they transmit the idea to children that they are part of something bigger than themselves, and that their identity extends to previous generations. Having what some researchers call ‘the intergenerational self’ expands the universe of stories that can inspire dreams or hint at different paths and at possibilities that one’s own limited life experience doesn’t yet contain.” (2013)
It is that generational history that the writer of Psalm 77 is clinging to. In his distress, he “remembers” the Lord’s “miracles” and “mighty deeds.” He “remembers,” in great detail and imagery, the great parting of the sea. “Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen. You led your people like a flock.”
But he wasn’t there himself. This was not his own personal experience. His is not an eye witness account. No, this was his generational experience. The story had been passed down from father to son, mother to daughter, like a great treasure. It is a part of him.
And he is renewed.
During this Lenten season, let us be renewed through remembering. We remember the parting sea, the angels harkening to the mere shepherd, the woman at the well, the feeding of the thousands, the empty tomb… Let us tell our family stories as we break bread together.