Growing up in a family that was very intentional about sitting down at the table together each night, the transition away from home and into a space without a common table of my own was challenging. While there were often still people gathered around the table, I didn’t have a space of my own to start my own traditions as I was used to doing. At the time, this never specifically struck me as odd or disappointing. While I didn’t have my own table to cultivate community around, there were other ways this manifested throughout those years. And while I still don’t have a table, one practice remains the same.
Steaming cups, frothy milk, perfectly [or not so perfectly] pulled espresso shots, and a table. Not a table placed in the center of a dining room in a beautifully decorated home, but a table, in the middle of a coffee shop, used as a common place for people to meet – to gather around.
In fact, at this moment, I sit at a coffee shop in the Brussels airport, watching people gather together. Some, you can tell, are in a hurry, while others have stopped to linger, making the most of their international layover. But even in moments of the hustle and bustle of airport life, people still sit around a table – sharing words and coffees and moments together. *NOTE: I started writing this blog almost two years ago and I am, in fact, not sitting in the Brussels airport. Unfortunately.*
Community around the table can look different in various seasons and stages of life. But for me, in this season, “the table” is the corner comfy chair with the little wooden coffee table in front of it. It’s gathering and connecting over our commonalities, even if the only thing we have in common is the steaming drink that sits in front of us.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve showed up at a coffee shop, normally earlier than planned, meeting someone for the first time. Though to some this may seem intimidating (and honestly, I still feel this way sometimes), there is something beautiful and life giving about hearing someone’s story, coffees being sipped, and nothing known in common other than the mugs in our hands.
Common ground. That’s what coffee is. It’s the leveling of expectations – stripping down our preconceptions and our fears – creating a space that allows us to get down to the basics. Whether conversation comes easily or if it takes work to get things moving, the vulnerability and courage displayed by simply showing up permeates through the noise around you.
I’ve always said the best conversations happen while sitting on the kitchen floor or driving on a road trip. But after the last few years, I may have one more to add to the list. Honestly, I think some of the best conversations I’ve had, either first meetings or with the oldest of friends, were experienced with mugs in hand. The steam somehow breaks down the barriers put up by unknown expectations or anticipation; removing the walls that so easily place themselves between words and meaningful conversations.
I know for myself, fear creeps into every aspect of life it can. The big and small things alike are all permeated with some level of fear or the anticipation that accompanies it. As it’s something that has been more present in the last few years, I’ve also been much more aware of fear’s ability to impact my life in significant ways. So, you would think the thought of meeting someone I don’t know, in a coffee shop I may not have been to before, to probably make some sort of small talk (which I often dread), would terrify me; to the point that I would use any and every excuse to avoid such event. And to be honest, often times it does. But you know what, acknowledging that, yet stepping out anyway is not only empowering, but rewarding beyond measure.
There’s something about that table, in that random coffee shop, with that piping hot coffee in your hands that screams out “bold” – on both sides of the table. Because let’s be honest, the person sitting across from you is most likely feeling just about the same thing you are. But you know what, you both showed up. You both took bold steps forward – risking vulnerability and possible rejection, all for the sake of relationship and community. And suddenly, you’re both on the same page, at the same starting line, with the same goal in mind.
People going beyond the surface, the exterior, the façade, to truly engage with another human being on a level that is beautiful and God honoring. So many times, we place a big emphasis on “community”, as it’s something we all strive to have in our lives on multiple levels. However, I believe relationship with others, seeking and chasing after The Creator – individually and together – will naturally become “community”. It’s not something that needs to be accomplished, but instead becomes something we are able to experience because we are relentlessly pursuing the Lord together. And it may start with something as simple as boldly saying yes to the unknown waiting for you in that corner coffee shop.
So, whether or not you have a table in your home to gather people around, whether or not you feel as though you’re in a place to invite people in to your space, or whether your “table” is outside of the four walls you consider home, know that the place you find yourself is significant. Even if this is simply the coffee shop around the corner with the person God has placed in front of you, for such a time as this.
Rest in the fact that no matter where you find yourself, boldly stepping out to walk alongside someone else, your "table" will meet you where you are. All you have to do is say yes - and order the coffee.