For those who gather reluctantly
It’s seven A.M. and I am bleary-eyed, shuffling around the kitchen, washing out my daughter’s thermos and pulling random things off the shelf to pack in her lunchbox. The familiar sensation of frustration tinged just on the side of anger slithers up my spine and nests itself comfortably in a knot at the base of my neck. I’m stressed, and I’m certain it’s not only because I was out late last night and up again too early this morning. It’s because we’re leaving town soon to spend the weekend away with loved ones. I blink my tired eyes hard as I scan the mess in the kitchen around me.
Things will never get done in time, I simply won’t be able to go.
With several days to go before leaving town this is nonsense, of course, but maybe I’m looking for excuses.
I will open my home and my table to friend and stranger alike all day every day, but to receive hospitality, and moreover to take a weekend to slow down and gather, to bask in the joy of friendship and longstanding relationship is, well, stressful. Such a practice means there’s no agenda, nothing to accomplish, no boxes to tic and I’m not always sure how to hold on to my worth outside of those things, so I would just prefer not to go. Thank you very much.
The days leading up to vacations or weekends away are spent with me begrudgingly busying myself around the house.
Have we dusted the ceiling fans recently?
I attempt complete as many tasks as possible in an attempt to work out my anxiety spurred to life by the impending doom of slowing down. Maybe maybe I’m anxious about more than the slowness though. What if the conversation around the table turns? What if our lives have shifted in such ways that we are no longer as close as we once were? What if, as we gather for the sake of loving one another well, I find myself to be unlovable?
It reminds me of Peter, tucking his feet underneath him tightly as Jesus approached him at the table that one night.
“No way, you’ll never wash my feet.”
It’s one thing to show up to the table, it’s another thing to let go of your expectations of how the meal will flow. At any moment, someone may break with social convention and ask about politics or inquire about why I took my daughter to a protest or take off their clothes and start washing feet. And I sit with Peter, feet tucked tightly underneath me while I fold laundry and dust the baseboards, a desperate attempt to control my surroundings before I’m confronted with the disarming space gathered around the table.
I manufacture a certain degree of vulnerability very well, sharing struggles from years gone by and talking freely about struggles I am comfortable with, but always in ways that are very intentional, and honestly somewhat calculated. (It feels ugly to say that.)
When we gather around the table though, and all other bets are off. No one is rushing home to put kids to bed, or ducking out to take calls from work, and the ability to manufacture vulnerability and calculate emotion quickly fall away. I can’t dodge out when conversation drifts a little too close for comfort to a topic that is loaded for me. Instead, I’m forced to slow down, to do the real work of actually being vulnerable—which doesn’t mean talking about how I see a therapist, or how my house is a mess (I did just dust my fan blades…). It means I show up, wholehearted, with no idea how things are going to go. It means having the grace to stay in hard conversations when I can, and being tender and brave enough to say when I cannot keep discussing a subject. It means showing up to contribute but not to control.
For those who gather reluctantly around tables, nervous about where the conversation may turn, angry about questions we already know will be asked again, may we practice the discipline of uncurling our unwashed feet, and embracing the awkwardness of someone breaking from the norm.
You’re going to do this? Right now?
Or maybe we need to be the ones who get up and take off our robes and get to washing, cleaning out the cobweb filled corners long neglected, breaking from the expected patterns to create something new.