The Importance of Eating

I have a friend who was raised Amish. He was baptized in his late teens, but then ended up leaving the church in his early 20’s, and was shunned. Though he knew the consequences full well, it was still a devastating and life-changing event for him. In all the years I’ve known this man, I’ve heard him say over and over, “They wouldn’t eat with me.”

I’ll be honest, that didn’t sound like such a big deal to me. I mean, who cares about a chair at the supper table? In the overall scheme of things, being banned from a meal didn’t seem all that important.

But when Lori Copeland and I started writing The Heart’s Frontier and I began really delving into the traditions and deeply-held beliefs of the Amish lifestyle, I realized something. A shared meal *is* a big deal. The evening meal is a time of intimacy, of sharing with each other, of relaxing after the day’s labor, and of giving thanks. It’s a time when families and close friends come together to enjoy God’s bounty, and express thanks for God’s blessings. In our rush-rush-rush society, many of us have forgotten that. Amish families still treasure traditions others have forgotten, though, and shared meals are a very special time of intimate fellowship for them.

The Amish are not the only ones who hold family mealtimes in high regard. In Jewish traditions, family mealtimes are precious, and intimate, and special. I have a friend who recently spent some time in Israel, and she told me that when she was invited to dinner with a Jewish family, her guide told her, “It is a tremendous honor they are bestowing on you.” Think about it. What did Jesus say? He said he stands at the door and knocks. If we open the door, he will come in, and sup with us. He is saying, “I’ll get to know you intimately. I’ll share special times with you.”

It wasn’t until then that I realized why my Amish friend was so affected by his banishment from the family table. It was not simply a matter of saying, “I don’t really feel comfortable in that church, so I think I’ll try this one for a while.” The Amish faith is not simply another denomination, like Methodist or Baptist or Presbyterian. It’s a lifestyle, a culture, a way of living. To accept an outsider into the intimate circle of community is a tremendous thing. And my friend had become an outsider. Suddenly, I understood the situation from both sides. I felt the pain that each of them suffer.

I’m happy to report that, in the ensuing years, my friend has enjoyed a reunion with his Amish relatives. After years of absence, he made an effort to reach out to them, and they responded. He’s become their driver when they need to run errands beyond the reach of their buggies, like to the doctor or hospital. He has attended family weddings and funerals. To his surprise, his tentative offerings of reconciliation have been received and welcomed. And just a few months ago, one of his brothers invited him to share a family meal.

Don’t you just love it when God heals a broken relationship?

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3 Responses to “The Importance of Eating”

  1. Such a happy ending to a sad situation. The Amish are so forgiving when it comes to things happening to them – then why do they shun the family members? Where is the forgiveness, then? I am so glad that this young man can spend time with his family once again!


  2. This is a happy ending to this situation, but please understand, Dianna, that this young man’s shunning had absolutely nothing to do with a lack of forgiveness.

    Shunning is the last resort measure the church takes to try to restore someone who has left the church to full fellowship again. It is done out of love and with much prayer and sorrow.


  3. We were members of the German Baptist Brethren for a time. When we left the one thing was that they would no longer “greet” us with the holy kiss. We were not shunned in that manner, but that no longer could we share in that intimate acknowledgement of brotherhood and it hurt and made us feel quite alone.


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