Much of the world assumes that prayer is just a list of requests we give to God for things we want; however, Christianity reveres prayer as a special form of communication with a living God. We do ask for things, yes, but we also quietly listen. Prayer is so necessary to the Christian life that may come as a shock to some folks that I don’t pray anymore before I eat.
From the time I was a little girl, my parents had taught me to pray at mealtimes. The little rhyming prayer, which no doubt countless children have prayed, was simply: God is great. God is good. Let us thank Him for our food. Amen.
Well, it didn’t rhyme perfectly, but it did help me remember it better. It was also catchy enough that I’d really want to pray it before eating. Sometimes, at big family dinners, my cousins and I would gun for the chance to be the one to pray that prayer. Of course, during really special mealtimes, like Christmas, one of our parents would pray something that didn’t rhyme and that was definitely more grown-up-sounding and “godlike.”
Breakfast, lunch and dinner, my family would all join hands for someone to pray before we ate. It used to make me squirm a little if we did the hand holding thing in a public restaurant. (Actually, it still does a little bit. I don’t know what holding hands has to do with praying. I have never read a passage explaining how Jesus held hands with his disciples when they prayed together.) The sight of a tableful of people holding hands and bowing their heads certainly makes an impression on the server, however. We’d lift up our heads after a prayer, and a waitress would be standing there with a sheepish look on her face, holding a pot of coffee or a basket of rolls.
Later, out on my own, my mealtimes became sporadic and informal. Sometimes, they were no more than snacks I tried to gulp down (no utensils or plates) before dashing off to a college class or my job shift or any number of activities I tried to juggle. Eating food on the go definitely doesn’t have the same ceremony that sitting down to a meal has, so praying before meals became sporadic and informal. (“Uh, thanks for this bag of … whatever, God. Amen.”)
Eventually, I just fell out of the habit of praying before meals. And when I became a little more organized and actually started making grocery lists and doing weekly food shopping, praying before meals just didn’t make sense.
After all, how could I thank God for food that had been in the refrigerator or cabinet for four days already? It seemed somehow shameful that He’d provided the food on Monday, but it wasn’t until I ate it on Friday that I got around to thanking Him for it. And why should I offer the Lord thanks for the same breakfast cereal that I had had for days? Would He bless only the flakes that fell into my bowl yesterday, or was the whole cereal box covered?
It could be that praying before each meal is a holdover from our previously agricultural-based society. When you worked hard to harvest something to eat from a field, sweated out a four hour bread-baking process or chopped up an animal from God’s creation, you’d be more than grateful to give thanks as you sat down to eat what you worked so hard for. It was fresh from the outdoors to the table. But today, most Americans don’t eat that way and don’t work as hard for the food on the table—which could be all the more reason to be thankful, for some people.
The Lord looks at our hearts, so He knew I was grateful to Him for providing for my needs. But I knew I needed to start thanking Him for it. So, I have begun thanking God at the supermarket or on the way home. Why not? It’s not that different from praying at a restaurant, except that there, the food is already cooked. Besides, I shop alone, so I get to avoid holding someone’s hand while I pray. Visualize that in the produce section. I wonder if potato stockers are as patient as waitresses?
That has led to other, more immediate prayers of thanksgiving: I try to remember to thank God at the mall for the clothes I’m able to buy there and the clothes I receive second-hand. At the mailbox for the paycheck I receive. In bed for the new day I’ve awoken to. In the driveway when I arrive home safely. You get the idea. I thank God all the time.
I don’t live extravagantly, but I feel rich. I think offering thanks—more immediately—does that to you. And yes, that means praying in a restaurant even when my family wants to hold hands.