BEHAVIOR AT TABLE

Did it ever occur to you to inquire why all civilized people have their
food prepared at particular hours, and all the family sit at table
together? Why not have the food prepared, and placed where every one
can go and eat, whenever he pleases, by himself? One great advantage of
having a whole family sit together, and partake of their meals at the
same time, is, that it brings them together in a social way, every day.
But for this, and the assembling of the family at prayers, they might
not all meet at once for a long time. But eating together is a mark of
friendship; and it tends to promote social feeling. In a well-regulated
family, also, it is a means of great improvement, both of mind and
manners. It is, in fact, a _school of good manners_. You will perceive,
then, how very important it is, that your behavior at table should
always be regulated by the rules of propriety. If you acquire vulgar
habits here, or practise rudeness, you will find it difficult to
overcome them; and they will make you appear to great disadvantage.

I shall mention a few things to be observed, at the table, by one who
would maintain a character for good breeding. And, first of all, be not
tardy in taking your place at the table. In a well-regulated family,
the master of the family waits till all are seated before he asks a
blessing. Suppose there are five persons at the table, and you hinder
them all by your tardiness three minutes, you waste fifteen minutes of
precious time. To those who set a proper value upon time, this is a
great evil. There is no need of it; you may as easily be at your seat
in time as too late. When called to a meal, never wait to finish what
you are doing, but promptly leave it, and proceed to your place. Above
all, do not delay till after the blessing, and so sit down to your food
like a heathen.

The table is a place for easy, cheerful, social intercourse; but some
children make it a place of noisy clamor. The younger members of the
family should leave it for the parents (and guests, if there are any,)
to take the lead in conversation. It does not appear well for a very
young person to be forward and talkative at table. You should generally
wait till you are spoken to; or, if you wish to make an inquiry or a
remark, do it in a modest, unassuming way, not raising your voice, nor
spinning out a story. And be especially careful not to interrupt any
other person. Sensible people will get a very unfavorable impression
concerning you, if they see you bold and talkative at table. Yet you
should never appear inattentive to what others are saying. Be not so
intent on discussing the contents of your plate, as not to observe the
movements of others, or to hear their conversation. Show your interest
in what is said by occasional glances at the speaker, and by the
expression of your countenance; but be not too anxious to put a word in
yourself. Some children make themselves ridiculous, by always joining
in, and making their remarks, when older persons are speaking, often
giving a grave opinion of some matter about which they know nothing.

Be helpful to others, without staring at them, or neglecting your own
plate. You may keep your eye on the movements around you, to pass a
cup and saucer, to notice if any one near you needs helping, and to
help any dish that is within your reach. By so doing, you may greatly
relieve your father and mother, who must be very busy, if they help
all the family. By cultivating a close observation, and studying to
know and anticipate the wants of others, you will be able to do these
things in a genteel and graceful manner, without appearing obtrusive or
forward.

Study _propriety_. If asked what you will be helped to, do not answer
in an indefinite manner, saying, you “have no choice;” for this will
put the master of the house to the inconvenience of choosing for you.
Do not wait, after you are asked, to determine what you will have, but
answer promptly; and do not be particular in your choice. To be very
particular in the choice of food is not agreeable to good breeding.
Never ask for what is not on the table. Do not make remarks respecting
the food; and avoid expressing your likes and dislikes of particular
articles. One of your age should not appear to be an epicure. Show your
praise of the food set before you, by the good nature and relish with
which you partake of it; but do not eat so fast as to appear voracious.
Never put on sour looks, nor turn up your nose at your food. This is
unmannerly, and a serious affront to the mistress of the table. Be
careful to use your knife and fork as other people do, and to know when
to lay them down, and when to hold them in your hands. Be careful not
to drop your food, nor to spill liquids on the cloth. Do not leave the
table before the family withdraw from it, unless it is necessary; and
then, ask to be excused. Neither linger to finish your meal, after you
perceive the rest have done.

Besides what I have mentioned, there are a great many nameless little
things, that go to make up good manners at table, which you must learn
by studying the rules of propriety, and observing the behavior of
others.

All well-regulated Christian families are assembled, morning and
evening, to worship God. Seeing we are dependent on him for all
things, it is suitable and proper that we should daily acknowledge our
dependence, by asking him for what we need, and thanking him for what
we receive. That we should do this _as a family_ is highly proper. But
if it is our duty to worship God _as a family_, it is the duty of every
one in particular. It is as much your duty as it is your father’s.
You must, therefore, not only make it a principle to be in your place
punctually at the time, but to enter heartily into all the exercises.
Some children and youth appear as if they had no interest in what is
going on, at this most interesting household service. But this is not
only showing great disrespect to your parents, but great irreverence
toward God. It will help you to right feelings, on these occasions, if
you imagine Christ Jesus present in person. God is present spiritually,
and in a peculiar manner, at such times, to bless the families that
call on his name. When, therefore, the family are assembled for
prayers, you should put away all vain or wandering thoughts. When the
time arrives, and the family are assembled for devotion, seat yourself,
in a serious, reverent manner; and if there should be a few moments’
delay, do not engage in conversation, nor in reading newspapers, or any
thing calculated to divert your mind; but direct your thoughts upward
to God, and seek a preparation for his worship. Suffer not your mind
to be occupied with any thing but the service before you. Let not your
eyes wander about, to catch vagrant thoughts. Let not your hands be
occupied with any thing, to divert your attention or to disturb others.
Have your Bible, and take your turn in reading. Be attentive and
devout, during the reading of God’s holy word, endeavoring to apply it
to your heart. If the family sing, enter into this sweet service, not
only with your lips, but with your heart. When prayer is offered, place
yourself in the attitude which is taken by your father and mother. If
they kneel, do you kneel also,–not sit, nor recline, but stand upon
your knees, in a reverent posture. Shut your eyes, and keep your heart.
Let your heart embrace the words of the prayer, and make them your own.
Remember that the devotional habits you form at the family altar, are
the habits that will follow you to God’s house, and probably adhere to
you through life. And what can be more shocking than to see persons
pretending to gentility, who do not know how to behave with propriety
before the great God that made them! If you were in company, and should
treat the person that invited you with as much indifference as you
treat God by such conduct, you would be considered a very ill-bred
person. He has invited you to come to his mercy-seat to converse with
him, and to receive favors at his hand; and yet, by such conduct as I
have named, you show no interest at all in the matter.

Family devotion, when rightly improved, is a very important means of
grace. If you attend upon it seriously and reverently, you may hope
that God will bless it to your soul. It tends, also, to tranquillize
the feelings, and prepare you to engage in the duties of the day with
serenity and cheerfulness.

I suppose, if my readers are the children of pious parents, they have
been taught from their earliest recollection, to retire, morning and
evening, to some secret place, to read their Bible alone, and engage in
private prayer. This, in very early childhood, is often an interesting
and affecting service. But when young people come to a certain age,
if their hearts are not renewed, they are disposed to regard this as
an irksome duty, and gradually to leave it off. They find the old
adage, in the primer, true,–“Praying will make thee leave sinning, and
sinning will make thee leave praying.”

It is a sad period, in the history of a young person, when the early
habit of prayer is given up. Then the heart becomes like the garden of
the slothful, described by Solomon:–

“I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man
void of understanding; and lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and
nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was
broken down.”

There are no good plants thriving in the prayerless soul; but weeds,
and briars, and thorns, grow thick and rank, occupying every vacant
spot. The stone wall is broken down: there is no defence against the
beasts of the field. Every vagrant thought, every vicious passion, find
free admittance. The heart grows hard, and the spirit careless. Sin is
not dreaded as it once was. The fear of God and the desire of his favor
are gone. “God is not in all his thoughts.” That youth stands on the
very edge of a frightful precipice.

I would not have you think, however, that there is any _merit_ in
prayer; or that the prayers of one whose “heart is not right with God”
are acceptable to him. But, what I say is, that every one ought to pray
to God with a right heart. If your heart is not right with God, then
it is wrong; and you are to blame for having it wrong. I will suppose
a case, to illustrate what I mean. You see a child rise up in the
morning, and go about the house; and though its mother is with it all
the time, yet the child neither speaks to her nor seems to notice her
at all. After a while, the mother asks what is the matter, and why her
dear child does not speak to her? The child says, “I have _no heart_ to
speak to you, mother. I do not _love_ you; and so I think it would be
wrong for me to speak to you.” What would you think of such conduct?
You would say, “The child _ought_ to love its mother; and it is only
an aggravation of its offence, to carry out the feelings of its heart
in its conduct?” “Would you then have it act the hypocrite, and speak
with its lips what it does not feel in its heart?” No; but I would
have it love its mother, as every dutiful child ought to do, and then
act out, in its speech and behavior, what it feels in its heart. But I
would never have it excuse itself from right actions because its heart
is wrong. Now, apply this to the subject of prayer, and you will see
the character of all impenitent excuses for neglecting this duty. And
those who go on and continue to neglect it, certainly have no reason to
expect that their hearts will grow any better by it, but only worse.
But in attempting to perform a sacred duty, the Lord may give you grace
to perform it aright, and then you will have a new heart.

If possible, have a particular place of prayer, where you can be
secure from all interruption, and particular times for it. At the
appointed hours, retire alone, and put away all thoughts about your
studies, your work, your amusements, or any thing of a worldly nature,
and try to realize that God is as truly present as if you saw him
with your bodily eyes. Then read his word, as though you heard him
speaking to you in the sacred page; and when your mind has become
serious and collected, kneel down and acknowledge God as your Creator
and Preserver, your God and Redeemer; thank him for the mercies you
have received, mentioning particularly every good thing you can think
of, that you have received from him; confess your sins; plead for
pardon, through the blood of Jesus Christ; and ask him to give you
such blessings as you see and feel that you need. Pray also for your
friends, (and for your enemies, if you have any;) and conclude with a
prayer for the coming of Christ’s kingdom every where throughout the
world.

Some young people neglect to pray, because they think they are not
able to form their words into prayer. But you need not be afraid to
speak to God. If you can find language to ask your parents for what you
desire, you can find words to express your desires to God; and he will
not upbraid you for the imperfection of your language. He looks at the
heart. If that is right, your prayer will be accepted.

Let me earnestly entreat you to have your set times for prayer, at
least as often as morning and evening; and never suffer yourself to
neglect them. And, especially, do not adopt the unseemly practice of
saying your prayers in bed, but give to God the brightest and best
hours of the day, and not offer to him the blind and the lame for
sacrifice. You will find the regular and stated habit of prayer, thus
formed in early life, of great value to you, as long as you live.

But let me once more caution you not to trust in your prayers, for they
cannot save you; and do not think, because you are regular and habitual
in attending to the outward forms of duty, that you must be a Christian.

Prayer, if sincere and true, will prepare you for engaging in the
duties of the day, or for enjoying calm repose at night. If, for any
cause, you neglect prayer in the morning, you may expect things will
go ill with you all the day. You can do nothing well without God’s
blessing; and you cannot expect his blessing without asking for it. You
need, also, that calm, tranquil, humble spirit which prayer promotes,
to prepare you to encounter those things which are constantly occurring
to try the feelings, and to enable you to do any thing well. Therefore,
never engage in any thing of importance without first seeking direction
of God; and never do any thing on which you would be unwilling to ask
His blessing.

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