Dear God, Bless this TV Dinner

December 10, 2008

Dear Jesus, thank you for this good food. Amen.

Thus was the family mealtime prayer at my house for the better part of my early childhood, and an integral part of my spiritual formation.

Last time, I talked about praying and speaking in front of others, and I’m still on this kick with prayer, so we’re going with it. Mealtime prayers or ‘grace’ is a cornerstone of Christian culture. If you grew up in a Christian home, it may be the first prayer you learned besides ‘Now I lay me down to sleep.’ The dinner grace is repeated so often, it fuses itself to the identity of the family, so much so, that every other dinner grace seems wrong.

Consider the following:

The first time I visited my cousins, they recited that old ‘God is great, God is good’ prayer. WRONG.

The first time I had dinner at a friend’s house, they sang their prayer. DOUBLE WRONG.

That prayer wasn’t the first thing to go terribly wrong that evening. I also discovered that other moms set the table differently, prepare mashed potatoes differently, and cut our meat differently. As a child, it’s very hard to accept the strange, oftentimes wrong ways other moms do things, even if the potatoes are better than your mom’s.

Thus, by this anecdotal evidence, I can conclude that God found our grace to be superior, and therefore, our meals were more blessed, nutritious and tasty.

I don’t think it is possible for a man over 40 to say grace without using the line, ‘bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies.’

These days, my wife and I don’t have a set prayer, we just pray ‘as the Spirit leads.’ But sometimes the Spirit seems to be leading my wife for a long time, and I’m secretly afraid the food is getting cold while God is blessing it because I’m a jerk like that.

Sometimes we like to pray ‘at’ each other. Like my wife prays, ‘Lord, bless this food, and please help my husband to stop being such a tool.’

Some pastors exist almost for the sole purpose of saying grace over the potluck dinner. This occurs in the case of a church run by a ‘matriarch’ or ‘patriarch,’ a layperson who seems to own a controlling interest in every aspect of the church.

Pastor’s like to show off how holy their kids are to other pastors and/or test the holiness of other pastors’ kids. So my family is over at another pastor’s family’s home for dinner, and I’m just a little tyke. The host pastor tries to test me, you know, see if my pops is doing his job right with me by saying, “At our house, we pray before we eat.” So I bow my cute little holy head, fold my hands like sweet baby Jesus, and prayed the socks off that dinner. Match point, me.

The prayer which I recited at the start of this post was our grace for several years. Until dad had the bright idea of writing a new grace for Thanksgiving. Which my brother and I would recite. In front of the entire family. Cute.

My grandmother could swear up a storm. Normally it didn’t matter, since Grandpa was deaf. She’d work herself into a frenzy over Thanksgiving dinner. Then, when all was almost ready, everyone would be circled around for grace, and Grandma would tear out of the kitchen looking like she was about to pass out. She was known to get the ball rolling on the meal with the line, “Say the —- prayer!” That sufficiently set the tone for solemnly praising God for the manifold blessings He hath bestowed upon us.

And now, since I’m a pastor, I am the de facto grace giver for every family function on my wife’s side. That’s the thing I do. Aunt Jean knits, uncle Steve gets hammered, and Matt, the new guy says grace.

On my side its different since we have three preachers. If there’s one thing preachers don’t like it’s sharing the spotlight. So we keep it civil. We just keep a strict and carefully recorded ‘grace rotation’ going from one holiday to the next. This Christmas, it’s John’s turn.
Just kidding. We all pray one after another, trying to one-up the last one. Whenever someone throws down and makes the last guy look like an amatuer, everyone goes, “Oooooh,” or “What do you say to that, John?” with their heads still bowed.
Okay, I’m just kidding with that too. We all just pray simultaneously, trying to talk over one another, while holding hands in a circle. Our dinners are very blessed.

Did your family say grace faithfully? What was it? Did it evolve over time? Did every other grace seem somehow less holy?