1) The meal is to begin and end with prayer. Prayer is led by the Table Master (see #2) unless the Table Master assigns someone else to do so.
2) Father is the Table Master. If Father is not present, Mother is the Table Master. If the Table Master desires, he or she can designate someone else as Table Master for the meal.
3) Once the meal has begun, no one leaves the table without requesting and receiving permission from the Table Master.
4) The Table Master designates one of those dining to be the Server. The Server has permission to come and go from the table as needed to meet the needs of those dining.
5) No one leaves the table until all have eaten, the closing prayer has been said, and the Table Master has dismissed the table.
Our older two children have grown up with these practices, and now we are trying to teach them to our youngest. (Truth be told, we have relaxed on numbers three and four a bit over the years but with a young and active three-year-old in the house are now trying to return to them in earnest.)
Recently we were sitting down to our evening meal when Evan, the aforementioned three-year-old, initiated the opening prayer by singing a song that he had learned in Sunday School:
"Oh, the Lord is good to me, and so I praise the Lord
For giving me the things I need, the sun and the rain and the apple seed,
The Lord is good to me. Amen!"
Because Evan delights so in this song, we have taken to using it as one of our mealtime prayers. But Evan's fondness for the song is such that he would like to use it as our opening and closing prayer at every single meal, and of late he has taken to initiating the prayer so that he can sing his song. Our response has been to try to help him understand that it is the Table Master who decides who is to lead the prayer and that therefore Evan can do so only when the Table Master asks. On this particular evening when Evan launched into his song, the Table Master gently informed him that he, not Evan, would be leading the prayer that evening. Evan promptly started to cry. The Table Master went on to explain to Evan that he, not Evan, is the Table Master and is therefore the one who makes these decisions, to which Evan (crying even harder) replied, "But I want to be the Table Master." He seemed at the time to be not merely angry or frustrated at having his will usurped but truly heartbroken at the full realization of his proper place at the table.
Poor Evan. Don't we all know exactly how he feels? For don't we all in our own way want to be the Table Master? Our first parents in the garden certainly did. Their Father gave them their very life and placed them in the most perfect possible home, asking only that they trust in Him to provide for all their needs as they sat at His table. But their greater desire was to become like the Table Master--to decide for themselves when they would approach the table and what they would eat when they got there. And we are no different in our own stubborn insistence that we know how best to govern our own lives.
Yet in spite of our repeated and failed efforts at self-determination, our Lord continues to patiently call us through the power of the Holy Spirit to fix our eyes on Him, the one true Table Master, trusting the nourishment He provides, speaking the prayers He gives us, and relishing our time at the table until He pronounces that the meal is done. For "in Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth" (Ephesians 1: 7-10).