As a young child, I remember my family saying grace together at the dining table before eating dinner. It was usually always the same, very common grace: “Come lord Jesus, be our guest. And let these gifts to us be blessed.” Those words still ring clearly in my soul, like a favorite lullaby or the words to the Lord’s Prayer. It was the same prayer my father’s father said every time the extended Andersen family gathered for a meal together. I can imagine it was a prayer passed down from his father, and his father before that. And my father repeated it to me as way to remember the faith and tradition of our family every day when we gathered for a meal. It was a beautiful way to pause the hustle and bustle of daily life and just remember to take time for God’s presence in our family.
Until we stopped, that is.
I can’t really place my finger on when we stopped saying grace together. It was probably somewhere between moves #2 and #3. My parents, both lawyers in the government at that point, were very busy. It wasn’t that we stopped making time for family, but that family time shifted into something besides the traditional sitting-down-at-the-family-table thing. And when we did get the chance to sit down at a table to eat together, nobody wanted to stop the flow to say a worn-out prayer. The food smelled too good, the pre-dinner chatter too enjoyable to stop and regurgitate what felt by then like an overly rehearsed bit of play-acting. Just continuing to enjoy the moment of family togetherness felt more genuine.
And that’s fine, I guess, but if we can’t make time for God together as a family during these increasingly infrequent moments of togetherness, when do we make time to be together with God? How do we go about creating opportunities for family spiritual practice in a way that feels genuine? What does a modern-day grace sound like?
I can only speak for myself, but I know for me saying grace often makes me feel uncomfortable. Not so much because I’m out of practice, but more because the emphasis on thanksgiving in a grace doesn’t make me feel grateful so much as painfully aware of how much others don’t have. Asking God to bless our meal or thanking God for giving us our food strikes a bit too close to prosperity gospel for me, that somehow I am being rewarded for my faith in God with food on my table, even while others with more enthusiastic faith than mine have none. I can’t give thanks for a meal with a joyous heart anymore, not without feeling the weight of knowing someone else somewhere in this world is going hungry while I’ll probably be making room in my fridge for the leftovers.
But something kinda incredible happened when I let my discomfort with my own abundance take over during grace. I stopped listing all the things I have and just started feeling God’s presence at the table. Yes, I felt God’s presence in the meal I was about to eat, but I also felt God’s presence in knowing that someone else wasn’t eating. I felt God’s presence in having my husband with me, but I also felt God’s presence in being aware that someone else was alone. I felt God in the gift of my health, my studies, my career, but I also felt God’s presence in realizing that many were struggling just to make it through each day.
At the heart of it, I think saying grace should be less about giving thanks for our abundance and more about giving thanks for God. After all, it’s not really about the dishes being served, it’s about the connection we have to each other as members of the community of God seated together around the table and around the world. It’s about that moment when Jesus broke bread and poured wine with his followers and reminded us that we are all one in the body of Christ. Saying grace is about setting aside two minutes to devote to feeling the presence of God in our lives, enriching us, lifting us up, and constantly restoring us to righteousness.
When you think about it, saying “grace” really should be about, well, grace. It should be about God being with us in our brokenness, about God welcoming us to the table, cracked and imperfect as we are. It should be about feeling the Spirit even when we feel we are at our most unworthy. It should be about the gift of grace which God gives to us so abundantly and which lets us live in glorious community with one another.
Saying grace is a deeply personal thing. I don’t have the answer for how grace should look in your family. But I know for me and my family, grace will involve a lot less talking and lot more feeling as I use grace as an opportunity to connect with the rest of God’s world and my place in it.