The question, asked by a friend on Facebook, was only cloaked in simplicity, I soon realized.
In an instant, I was transported back 21 years, into an Arby’s restaurant near Bremerton, Wash., where I’d traveled for a faith conference from our home along the Olympic peninsula.
About to devour my french fries, I looked over to a small table near a window, where two women sat, hunched over in prayer, thanking God for their roast beef sandwiches.
The sight of it pulled me in. Saying grace before meals didn’t happen often growing up, except on special occasions. But seeing those two women bent in such solemnity in so mundane a setting arrested my heart.
Shortly afterward, I started saying grace, too. And it has changed me.
Not everyone on the Facebook thread had the same feelings about thanking God before meals. One said that while being thankful to farmers seems appropriate, thanking God when so many go hungry doesn’t seem quite right. “I think it is a way of saying I am blessed when others aren’t.”
Ouch. I had to ponder her concern. Does the act of thanking God for our food in a world wrought with starvation constitute a type of gloating?
It’s a fair question, but I don’t think avoiding saying grace is the final answer. God created the world so that all would have abundance, but it is up to us to find ways to distribute it fairly. Christians are called to be “the hands and feet of Christ.”
But there’s something else going on. We were made to praise and thank God, and not doing so leaves us less human somehow, because ultimately, everything comes from God, and by that fact alone, our thankful response is both natural and right.
Soon after I started my own tradition of saying grace, I began to realize it wasn’t just about food. As I paused to thank God for the food I was about to consume, my heart expanded in ways I wasn’t expecting.
I love what one Facebook respondent said, noting how interesting it is that we were “made with the necessity to eat. It is literally something we have to do.” He added that he’s thankful to God that “this thing that we ‘have’ to do multiple times a day” is a full sensory experience.
Another said that while she often forgets to pray, she rarely forgets to eat, “so (saying grace) serves as a regular break throughout the day to pause and be thankful.”
In doing so, she added, she often ends up thanking God for other blessings, “like the sunshine, the rain, being healthy, talents, having family, etc.”
And while farmers and others who bring the food before us also deserve our gratitude, when we trace back the bounty to the original giver, we still discover God at the base of it all.
Pausing to be grateful at mealtimes grows an attitude of gratitude, and I can’t imagine anyone who cannot benefit from such a perspective.
I will admit it took a while for my family to catch on. Saying grace at home was one thing, but when I started initiating grace in public, some initial grumbling ensued.
I get it. As an older child or teenager, you don’t want to be noticed, and yet I couldn’t escape the realization that God’s provisions come whether in a private setting or in public, and our gratitude should, too. We can accomplish this without calling attention to ourselves.
Eventually, it started to stick. Now, even in times I’ve been rushed and forgotten to pause to pray, one of the kids will usually start in on their own, leading the rest of us, and reminding me again what’s most important.
It’s humbling for me to see how much these little traditions take hold in the hearts of our children, even if they don’t yet grasp the full significance.
“There’s something special about food/meals,” a final respondent said to my friend’s question. “Most events begin and end with a great meal.” Take the Last Supper, for instance, he said. “Coincidence?”
God definitely thought things through in making food a necessity, allowing us a chance to pause several times a day, fold our hands and raise our hearts upward.
In thinking on all of this, my gratitude expands yet again.
“Thank you, God, for the food you’ve given me today, and for my very life. Help me live in a way that helps bring your abundance to every last one of your children.”
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on Oct. 17, 2015.]