"Better is a dish of vegetables where love is
Than a fattened ox served with hatred."
"Better is a dry morsel and quietness with it
Than a house full of feasting with strife."
We are entering the season of the “fattened ox” and the “house full of feasting”, are we not? And I, for one, am glad of it! God’s bounty to us – both temporal and spiritual – is grand reason for us to engage in the art of the shindig; for us to say, with the father in Jesus’ story, “bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate”. And so Thanksgiving and Christmas feasting are entirely appropriate and wonderful! And I like a good meal any other day, too!
And yet let us carefully observe the wise words of Solomon in the two texts quoted above.
Now, these words certainly apply to everyday life. It is better to be a family whose resources are pretty slender; whose everyday fare is along the lines of dry cornbread or simple veggie plates – but who genuinely loves and lives at peace with one another – than to be a family whose pantries, refrigerators, and tables are constantly bursting with scrumptious fare, but who are often at each other’s throats! Better a poor, but happy, home … than a rich, but tense, one! Take that to heart … and make life-decisions accordingly.
But let’s also apply Solomon’s wisdom on a micro level. Let’s apply it to the holiday gatherings with family and friends that many of us are soon to (theoretically) enjoy. I think it’s not a stretch to say that the air, at many family get-togethers, can sometimes have some tension (or at least potential tension) lingering in it. Maybe there are great worldview divides between believers and unbelievers. Maybe there are hurts, or disagreements, or bitterness that are often set to one side, but have never actually been buried. Maybe your family tends to just be a little pushy, or irritable, or cantankerous. Maybe sometimes there are just ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’, as the saying goes.
Sometimes these things boil completely over. And sometimes they simmer, fairly palpably, just below the surface. And thus our holiday gatherings, which ought to be celebrations of God’s goodness, and which ought to be filled with enjoyment both of one another and of God’s blessings, can sometimes degenerate into being uncomfortable at best, or downright ugly and/or painful at worst. Sometimes there is “feasting with strife” or even “with hatred”. Because, while the “fattened ox” (or turkey) is on the table; and while the “house” is “full of feasting”, it is not full of love. And thus, some financially struggling family somewhere – scraping together a meal that hardly looks like what we expect out of Thanksgiving Dinner, but genuinely showing love toward one another – is better off than our well-fed, but squabbling or bitter, clans!
So what should we do about it? How do we apply Solomon’s wisdom this holiday season? Well, I don’t think he’d have us just serve dried cornbread or a plate of greens for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner! For, save that it might keep you from having ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’, this wouldn’t actually address the other problems (and even the ‘too many cooks’ problem, when it leads to strife, is deeper than just logistics). No, Solomon is not saying that feasting is bad, or that it is the cause of our family strife. He’s saying that feasting is less important than love; or, to put it positively, that love is more important than feasting – so much so that the family who can’t afford to feast, but who genuinely loves one another, is better off than the bickering family who has the fancy meals.
So how do we make application? Don’t cancel the feasting … but give a great deal more thought and effort to love! Think (and pray!), ahead of time, about situations and people and subjects that you know could be tense. Ask God’s great grace to truly love your family and friends when things are tense. And then choose, in the moment, to do so. Choose, in the moment, to love! Choose not to retaliate or to simmer, but to forgive. Choose not to vent your frustrations. Choose, if you must say something that will be difficult for others to hear, to do so gently, patiently, and (where possible) discreetly. And make sure that it's really something that truly needs saying. Choose to love! For wouldn’t it be wonderful, this holiday season, if the love was even more memorable than the feasting!