Several months ago, after scarfing down a plate of scrambled eggs, ground turkey, and avocado, I realized that the seconds hand on the clock had only finished one short lap during the time it took me to eat breakfast.
This is what happens when you teach third grade for three years and are used to eating lunch while copying homework packets, talking on the phone to disgruntled parents, making last minute changes to afternoon lesson plans (or writing them for, say, the first time), comforting the kid who just got hit in the head with the tether ball, yelling (in the kindest, most affectionate way possible) at the fifth graders who just sprinted past the door, and rounding up paint for the last minute art project you're going to do that afternoon—all at the same time. In about three minutes, give or take.
When you are a third grade teacher (and grad student) your work becomes your life, which means you don't leave your work at work, which means you don't leave your Road Runner-style eating habits at work either. Enter: meal-breathing; the act of inhaling your meal in just a few short breaths while solving the world's problems. You've gotta breath anyway; breathing in your food is just a clever way of multi-tasking.
After years of eating so fast I couldn't actually taste my food, I decided to make some changes in my dining experiences. So I did what any balanced, well-adjusted 26-year old would do: I got out a stop watch and timed myself eating breakfast. And let me tell you, slowing down took F-O-R-E-V-E-R. It was torturous. It was with great delight that finished my meal, pushed my trusty timer's stop button, and looked down at the final time for my slow-motion meal: five minutes.
Folks, this is not healthy. Not healthy at all. A healthy person doesn't find a five-minute meal a grueling marathon. Healthy people recognize that meals are not just a few steps in a daily routine; they are a snapshot of a lifestyle that spills out of the heart. They are the outer evidence of an inner state; a mirror reflecting the noise and upheaval swirling around in the heart. Healthy people carve time out of their day to rest, to open themselves up to the work of the Holy Spirit in their noisy heart, and they may even use meals to do it.
I really want the healthiness of my meals to go beyond the fact that I've got a plate full of whole foods with the proper proportion of carbs to protein to good fats. I want to be the kind of person who is okay with silence, with being alone, and with slowing down to absorb and be thankful for life's little details, even when I have a mile-long to-do list. I want to be the kind of person who lives in the moment rather than trying to blaze through it; who has a well-ordered inside that results in a well-ordered outside.
Slowing down at breakfast and dinner is one of the steps I'm taking toward giving God a still and silent opportunity to order my inner landscape, since he's the only one who can truly do that kind of thing—our job is to put ourselves in a position that invites him to, thus partnering with him in this inner-ordering. So for all you fellow speed eaters and just plain speed live-ers, here are a few changes I've made that are transforming my breakfast and dinner dining experiences:
1. Set the table for yourself. Use your nice dishes (no paper or plastic allowed), stemware, and a lovely placemat, if you have one.
2. Light candles if it's dark.
3. Make sure there is always a vase (even a small one) of flowers at the table. Putting a vase of flowers on the table is like putting lipstick on after getting all dolled up for a night out. It is the final touch; the cherry on the sundae, the sprinkles on the donut, the generous dollop of sour cream on the taco salad. Furthermore, I once heard that having flowers around the house makes you live longer. To compensate for the hundreds of hours I spend in traffic here in Los Angeles, hours that no doubt raise my blood pressure and are accelerating my death, I have flowers in virtually every corner of my studio. I have also taken up gardening, just to cover my bases.
4. Do not turn on the T.V. I repeat, do not turn on the T.V.
5. Put your fork down after each bite (this is Nancy Jackson wisdom). Look around, lean back in your chair, and take a deep breath. If you're having trouble loosening up from an intense day, try this breathing technique: Let your stomach totally relax so it's sticking out (you may not need to think about this, depending on where you're at in the meal), inhale through your nose (your stomach should expand, rather than your chest—work on that), and breath out through your mouth. I got this breathing technique from the Pioneer Woman, and let me tell you, she never steers me wrong. Except the time I tried to make her best ever frosting recipe and almost gagged from the copious amounts of butter. Other than that, she's very reliable.
6. Eat outside if you can. Between bites feast your eyes on the different shades of color around you, and if you live in Los Angeles, notice the different textures instead (cement, chain link, aluminum...). Smell the breeze and listen for birds.
7. Ask Jesus to join you. He will. He's great company. And company always makes meals seem like celebrations, especially if your company turns water into wine and parties with angels anytime somebody transfers their trust to him. Life should be celebrated.
8. Think back over your day; pray. Ask God what he's doing in your life and heart. Listen. He often talks into the silence, with a still small voice.
I know a lot of you have families of your own and dinner is a rich time of gathering with your home community, rather than a silent time of reflection. But I'm guessing that having a family of your own means you must pace yourself just to make it through the week, so I'm wondering, what do you do to step out of the chaos and into the stillness for a bit?
That goes for all of you: I'd love your suggestions for slowing down as I learn to revamp, not just my meals, but this life I've turned into a rat race. What works for you?
© by scj