“Come on girl, there’s a seat at the table.”
“I have found my people, and there’s room at our table!”
I know you’ve heard it. People with the best intentions (or maybe not) throw this phrase around to imply inclusivity. I guess it’s meant to motivate, encourage, or make the person saying it sound more approachable. Either way, I don’t like it. Not if it stops there. Here’s why.
Let’s say you walk into a crowded cafeteria. You look around, and you spot one open seat at a table full of strangers. Do you sit there? Now, if you’re my husband, you would probably plop right down and insert yourself into the conversation. As for me? Not a chance. I would rather eat alone than open myself up to that vulnerability. In fact, I might rather eat my lunch off the bathroom floor. Social settings make my skin crawl, debatably more than OCD does.
So why was the open seat not appealing? I needed a space to eat my lunch, and the room was available to me, right? What’s the problem?
A seat at the table is not enough, friends. Good intentions are an excellent starting point- but they’re just that: a starting point. Noticing the need, and making room at the table is the first step. And then? Then we have to seek out those who need to be at the table. Especially those that look, act, and think differently than us. Because I promise- it is infinitely harder to invite someone to the table who challenges you than someone who maintains the status quo. The invitation with action is how we serve others: It’s how we bridge the gap of loneliness, close the chasm of isolation, and foster relationship that is so essential for human life. Of course there’s room at the table, but this is simply an observation without the initiative and effort to nurture connection.
Let me try to tie this to the current state of our society. I understand that this seat-at-the-table mindset seems to be the exact opposite of cancel culture (where we currently find ourselves); But, if you’re not careful, they’re just branches of the same tree. We say it because Jesus said it. But when we explore the context in which He offered this invitation, it is most likely in stark contrast to the situations we find ourselves in today. I even have a sneaking suspicion that when “there’s room at our table” is uttered, there is a second part of that sentence that is implied: “IF you think the way we do”. IF your belief system matches ours. That is quite a big IF, and a very divisive one at that.
Let me insert my own moral failings here to help you relate. Recently, I have become overwhelmed by the cacophony of conflicting voices and viewpoints.
“If you voted for [blank], then I don’t want to know you.”
“If you don’t publicly talk about [blank] then you don’t care about others.”
“If you don’t think [blank] is wrong then you are a [blank, blank, blank.]
The anger and unrest is evident and alarming. And although it has been a long-time goal of mine to love people well, ESPECIALLY those with different beliefs…I have felt my heart becoming hardened. I got caught up in the details, the pressure to enter each battle, and started to internalize the arguing. As that anxiety began to settle in my soul, I was constantly on edge. AM constantly on edge, actually. Easily set off, annoyed by differing viewpoints, and lacking all gentleness or empathy that I once possessed. This is a common phenomenon in our world today- the hardening of hearts. Because we are now being fed the idea that you cannot love someone well unless you agree with their “side.” It’s the idea that you always have to have an opinion, and you always have to pick a side. That this is war. And where war is, love is not. Where division is, community is not. We have essentially labeled the open seats at our table as ‘reserved’, while claiming they are open. Division, blame, hatred, grudges, rumination… it’s the devils playground. It is more than enough to harden hearts and effectively divide us.
So, are we always forced to agree to disagree? No, but you aren’t going to illicit change if you can’t even get close enough to have a conversation. I can assure you, social media comment sections are not where hearts are softened. It’s at the table. No weapons, just food and conversation. With mutual respect and underlying love. So don’t say it, “there is an open seat at our table”, unless you’re ready to send out the welcome wagon. Because there are a lot of open seats and a lot of hungry people waiting to be invited to the table. People that look differently than you, speak differently than you, and even some that stand on the opposite side of the battlefield. Guess what? The invite is still open for them. Especially them.