My co-worker and fellow blogger shared this article with me in which the columnist challenged people, in the new year and the new decade, to look at a few things through fresh eyes. The writer listed 52 suggestions, one for every week of the year. This week’s topic is saying grace over dinner.
“And when he had taken the five loaves and the two fishes, he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and brake the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before them; and the two fishes divided he among them all.” — Mark 6:41
In my house we called the prayer before dinner “the blessing.” I’m guessing that’s a southern thing, which I like. I like that some of the things I do I do because I’m from the south. That aside, I like the picture that is painted when we “say the blessing” before eating as opposed to “saying grace.” What does that mean, to “say grace?” Does it mean to ask for grace? Acknowledge grace? Give grace? Doesn’t matter because I like “saying the blessing” better.
Growing up, we said the blessing before each meal we had together as a family, which on most days was breakfast and dinner, but on Sundays all three meals. We held hands and my dad was the one who prayed. His prayer consisted of mainly thankfulness and some petition — Thank you for this day, for this food, for bringing us together, etc. If someone in our family or someone close to use was sick or going through a rough time or just something “big” going on, he’d ask for God’s hand in that situation. He typically closed with “bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies. Amen.” Occasionally it seemed like dad might forget that we were all sitting at the table, hungry and able to smell the food, and he would go on and on for what we kids thought was too long.
Saying the blessing before eating is one of those areas of faith that, to me, is easy to fall into the category of “going through the motions.” For those who pray before a meal how many times is it heartfelt vs. just “what we do.” And if it’s just something we do, a.k.a., a habit, is it even worth it? Does God hear the blessings that are just empty words? Even worse, does it hurt His feelings if we say empty words, especially all the while thinking we’re doing a good thing? If done with the right heart, praying a blessing before a meal can be a beautiful and fruitful experience. But if not, it’s just words, right?
I noticed a while ago that a friend with whom I occasionally have lunch used to say a silent prayer when we had lunch together. We are both Christians, and this friend knew that, so I often wondered why he never prayed aloud, thinking maybe he was embarrassed or was afraid of my reaction, yet all the while I was proud of him for praying anyway, even quickly and silently, while I sometimes was already chewing my first bite. I felt bad I didn’t do the same, that I was so out of the habit of praying before eating that it didn’t even occur to me and that my friend was feeling like he had to pray silently around me. Afterall, I’m the preacher’s daughter, I’m the one always sometimes harping on him about church and the Bible, etc. and here I am being the worst example in this area. So one time I just asked him if he would pray the blessing over our food and he did and now we do that pretty consistently. His prayers are always short and straight to the point, and he always includes this phrase: “thank you for the opportunity to break bread together,” or something like that. That sounds so much like the things people say in prayers that I didn’t think much of it, didn’t take it to heart even. What I didn’t know until recently was that that phrase carried meaning for him, that when he said that, it was a reminder to him to consecrate not just the food but the meal — the time — to the Lord.
Slow down. Eat around the table every now and then. Take a few seconds or a minute to tell Me how thankful you are for the meal, to dedicate that food and that time to Me. Be an example to your children to consistently pray to Me before every meal, like your parents were to you. Invite Me to eat and share in mealtimes with you. — God