It’s 5:30 p.m. on a Tuesday. And in one home among millions, a family with small children is arriving together after everything their weekday routine has taken them through: work, school, daycare, errands, play dates, traffic jams. The pots and pans simmer on the stove, giving off the aromas of belonging. But after a long day apart, this family reunion isn’t exactly a Norman Rockwell painting. One parent walks through the door straight into a barrage of tears and arguing, while the other, battle-worn and glad to no longer be the only adult, offers a weary greeting of “Hello, will you sort this out?” before retreating to the kitchen. The warning of Lego and TV sanctions brings momentary calm. The table is laid, and as the family gathers around it, the calm dissolves into a chorus of lament. “Look at this green stuff. Is that an onion?!” To the kids, the various—and as yet untasted—ingredients cannot possibly add up to the delicious aroma. Because, clearly, they are not macaroni with a side of cupcakes.
How often have I thought, I really should spend some time with the Scriptures, then turned the TV on instead?
Double, double toil and trouble. Burner lit and stove pot bubble. This is the witching hour in America.
For those who aren’t familiar with the phrase, the “witching hour” was repurposed by parenting bloggers who took its original meaning—the hour round about midnight, when people figured witches went out and did their witchery—and applied it to the hour before dinner when increasing fatigue meets growing hunger and everyone in the house turns half feral. That the trouble spills into dinner is an especially cruel twist. So much good can happen at the table, and it’s a real loss to sit down grumpy. It’s a time to talk, to log the face-to-face hours that knit people together. It’s also a time to eat. Our bodies get hungry, and food is a delightful act of grace that meets this need in an especially miraculous way. But try explaining to a hangry toddler the heavenly foretaste offered even in a dish that contains onions.
Of course, the devilish mixture of fatigue and hunger isn’t just a suppertime thing. I can speak from experience of a “witching hour” of the soul. A time when spiritual fatigue and a kind of hunger lead us to feel angry with our heavenly Father. The prophet Amos reminds us of this: “The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “when I will send a famine through the land—not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord” (Amos 8:11 NIV). I’ve felt that famine, and yet how often have I thought, I really should spend some time with the Scriptures, then turned the TV on instead? Like a kid recoiling at his supper and pining for junk food.
Funny enough, being a father and wrangling with my kids over the dinner table has opened my eyes to the fact that I am so much like a child before our Father in heaven. I’ve often caught myself crying out to God about some deferred desire or another, and in a flash I catch a glimpse of myself, exactly like my own sons crying out to me when they want exactly not what I’m offering them. Oh boy, are those glimpses ever humbling. But then I think about the times when my family has sat down and, with little interruption or disturbance, enjoyed our time seated together over a wholesome, delicious meal. Over the years, I’ve had moments like that with the Bible, too.
Wrangling with my kids over the dinner table has opened my eyes to the fact that I am so much like a child before our Father in heaven.
Not long ago, my church worked through the Gospel of John for a few weeks. The pastor was preaching on the passage where the Lord washes the disciples’ feet. In those words describing Jesus—God with us—stooped over filthy, stinking feet, with a towel around His waist and a basin of water, I felt anew that He has been here. Both in the literal sense that Jesus walked the earth, but also in the spiritual sense that He has been present in my own struggles, no less real than the man scrubbing Peter’s feet. Even scrubbing Judas’s. I drove to church that morning feeling the pang of the famine Amos prophesied. I returned home full because, by some supernatural means I may never fully understand, it’s possible to literally encounter Jesus in the Scriptures.
It’s here, in my wanting to want the Word, that the food wars with my kids actually give me a generous serving of hope.
For my wife and me, food is an especially valuable bit of culture that we really want to pass along to our boys. We love the range of cuisine available around our neighborhood in Louisville, Kentucky. We gravitate towards the international—and the spicier the better. Korean bibimbap loaded with vegetables and beef, sticky rice crisping against the sides of the hot stone bowl, all topped with the perfect sunny-side-up egg. A rich Indian chili dish, fiery enough to make you sweat, served over buttery basmati rice with a perfectly charred naan. In addition to the Asian influence, a meat place down the road is largely supplied with hogs the owner raises himself (he’s also married to the woman who runs the bakery on the next block). And that place serves a charcuterie of cured meats and cheeses that will steal your heart. Even the head cheese.
Food brings my wife and me together over and over in a kind of communion, and we imagine a shared love of adventurous food knitting us to our boys. But each time they reject what we offer, it feels like a little knife in the heart. Out of desperation, I’ve found myself haranguing my kids with some very familiar parental logic from my own childhood: “Look here, mister. There are starving children in the world who would be thankful to have anything, much less a meal this good.”
Kids are an amazing, confounding mixture—of tooth-grinding defiance, yes, but also of keen-eyed mimicry that just melts your heart. Try to make them do something, and it’s a war. But let them catch you doing something and enjoying it, and they’ll be tucked right up next to you like a shadow. No different from anybody else, they simply want to be happy. Joy and enjoyment are contagious: If you look happy, chances are they’ll give whatever you’re doing a try.
In fact, I realize that’s what I need, too: people who have a genuine love for the feast of the Word. It gives me hope just to know they exist—believers who have steeped themselves in the Scriptures and who talk about the Gospels, the Epistles, the Psalms the way I talk about restaurants. Even those thorny patches in the Old Testament, like Job or the story of Tamar. I want to be infected by others’ infectious joy over the banquet the Father spreads before us. At this stage in my life—raising young kids, DIY renovating a house, working and going to school—this hasn’t been easy. It takes effort just to find these blessed kinds of people, much less spend time with them. Yet the busier and more stressful life gets, the more I am convinced how necessary it is to chase after relationships with those who love Jesus and seek Him where He can be readily found. And so I pray for such friendships.
Aside from godly friends, I have found one other helpful practice to grow my appetite. Ironically, it has involved consuming less of the Word. There’s a lot in there, and it’s easy to get scattered and overwhelmed, so sometimes it helps to start small enough to stay consistent. That’s why I’ve spent most of the last year or so meditating on the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes. Having this regular meal has helped Scripture seem familiar again. It has whetted my appetite to go further, which I count as no small blessing.
As for the food wars in my house, glimmers of hope have begun to shine through. After years of watching my wife and me dig into the spiciest meals we can manage (sort of a competitive suffering), one son has taken to putting milder hot sauces on his own food. He has even, once or twice, tried some of the stronger stuff with a full glass of water close at hand. I think he’ll come around. And just the other morning he asked me to cook him an egg like mine (over easy)—and actually ate it. He hasn’t asked for another yet, but what a blessed breakfast that was.
Photograph by Yasu + Junko