Dinner-table-Missing-ChildApart from the four years I was studying in Canada, I have never spent a Chinese New Year reunion dinner without dad. His absence loomed large this year. (Dad passed away October 15th 2003.) I recalled that we always had steamboat for our reunion dinners. In recent years we used an electric cooker. But when I was younger we would use a small charcoal stove. Dinners then were always hot affairs. (The brandies didn’t help.) Dad and I would always eat our Chinese New Year dinners with our shirts off. Mum would always tease that the men in the family were not decently dressed for dinner. We would have the same exchange every year. And it was always funny. The reunion dinner just wasn’t the same this year.

I wonder how many of us will be missing folks at our reunion dinners this year? I think back on those four years I was studying in Vancouver. My wife had an uncle in Vancouver so we were with family during Chinese New Year. But we missed our parents. One thing that sustained us on those occasions was the realization that the separations were temporary. One day we would come home to Malaysia and the family would once again be complete at Chinese New Year.

Perhaps things are not really that different this Chinese New Year. No, dad wasn’t around. But our separation is still temporary. Dad is with the Lord. He won’t come back to us. But we will go to him.

Indeed all reunion dinners this side of heaven are temporary. But the reunion party at the marriage feast of the Lamb should be out of this world.

Dad’s absence at the dinner table reminded me that there has always been one person missing at our dinner tables. We know that Jesus is present with us in spirit. But not in the flesh. And that this is on purpose.

Jesus reminded His disciples that in fact He had to go.

“…I am telling you the truth: It is for your own good that I am going, Because unless I go, The Paraclete will not come to you; But if I go, I will send Him to you.” John 16:7 NJB

I can imagine the disciples missing Jesus at the dinner table, His smile, His smell, His mannerisms… But Jesus made it clear that His absence was actually for their benefit. He had to go to move God’s programme to the next stage. He had to go for the Holy Spirit to be poured out on His people.

Turning again to The Lord Of The Rings, I imagine Sam Gamgee sitting down at his first dinner with Frodo gone. I can imagine his grief. I can also imagine Sam not growing into his full potential if Frodo had never left.

The death of my first wife from cancer devastated me. Indeed it was a prelude to much more pain. Yet, 11 years after that loss, I am beginning to see how her passing opened the door for me to grow in significant ways. Her going was a kick in the butt for me to grow up.

There will be people missing from our tables that we will miss terribly. But sometimes, loss, and its attendant pain, give birth to growth and new life. That is my hope and prayer as I face this first Chinese New Year dinner with dad gone. I pray that his passing will eventually lead to significant growth in all who knew him, starting with his immediate family. Starting with me.

In the meantime I find solace in the fact that I will feast with dad again one day. When we meet at Jesus’s feet. Indeed there is some sort of logic here. The longer we live, the more people will be missing from our tables. But the closer we will be to seeing them again.

So dad, we really missed you at the dinner table this Lunar New Year. But we know you are waiting for us at His.

Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan