07 March 2018

Saying grace… and a little bit more.

When you don’t have time to pray, but do have time to eat, multitask.

Whenever I write about taking time out from every day to pray, I hear the excuse, “But I’m so busy.”

This, from people who always manage to find time to keep up with certain TV shows and movies, to play their favorite video games for hours, to comment on Facebook about an hour wasted in some other recreational activity. Yeah right you’re so busy.

But I accept there are plenty of people out there who are legitimately busy. Every once in a while I have to work a shift, rush home for an eight-hour break (and in that time squeeze out six hours of sleep), then go right back and work another shift. Certainly doesn’t happen often, but I know people whose jobs regularly require that and more. I’ve had such jobs. I get it. Life gets crazy busy, and who has time for “me time”—much less God time?

When my life got busy like that, I discovered the one spot of time I could spare for prayer: Saying grace before meals.

Yep. In grad school I was trying to juggle classes, fieldwork, and two jobs. Not impossible if you’ve got the time-management skills, but not easy either. But prayer time kept getting hijacked. Prayer was after breakfast, but my students might deliberately track me down at the end of breakfast time, and I’d deal with them instead of talk with God. Or I’d have to go someplace early. Or I’d otherwise get the time interrupted—and I’d find myself praying on my commute, which was tricky but not impossible.

I’m not one of those fools who insist on praying first thing in the morning. I learned better the hard way. I’m still sleepy first thing in the morning, and God isn’t gonna get my best, and he should. Besides, as self-disciplined as I can be, that snooze button is a huge temptation. Some mornings I’d pick sleep over breakfast. So picking sleep over prayer?—that’s a no-brainer. I’d make a terrible monk.

One of my college roommates was really big on morning prayer meetings. (Morning people. You know how they can be.) I’d skip his meetings all the time, no matter how much he tried to guilt me about it. The alarm would wake me; I’d reset it for an hour later, tell God, “You can speak in dreams; do that,” and roll over. Yeah, I know; bad Christian.

But long ago I got into the habit of grace before meals. And when my prayer life was getting spotty like this, I realized some of these prayers before meals were starting to get extra long. ’Cause I was playing catch-up: “Hi God. We didn’t speak earlier. I gotta ask you about this…” and suddenly I was praying 5 minutes over lunch, my sandwich was getting cold, and the other people at the table were wondering what’s with me. Nothing; just praying.

Anyway. When I tell this story, people tend to laugh. But some of ’em respond, “What a good idea.”

Um… I don’t actually mean it as a good idea. But y’know, if it helps your prayer life—and you’re eating cold food anyway!—by all means start praying longer before, or during, your meals.

Longer grace… and other people.

Back in grad school my prayer posture was the traditional eyes closed, head bowed. I’ve got out of that habit since. Partly because I frequently find myself having to pray in public—and since nobody needs to know I’m praying, ’cause Jesus says public prayer is a no-no, my posture has changed to something more invisible. Eyes open, head up, praying silently. I’ll even eat while praying. God doesn’t mind.

So yeah, meal times can effectively become prayer times. Hey, you meet with your friends over lunch. Why not God?

But I realize a lot of Christians were raised to bow their heads and close their eyes. (’Cause that’s how I was raised too.) Some of ’em aren’t aware this behavior is optional, and it freaks them out when Christians pray any other way. Others of ’em do know they don’t have to pray that way—but it’s an old habit, and they find it really difficult to break it. They gotta pray with their eyes closed, head bowed, hat removed… and until the grace is done, they gotta leave their food untouched and remain silent. And if other people are still praying, often they were raised to wait for those other people to finish. Which means if I’m praying for 10 minutes, they gotta wait for me. Which they don’t appreciate. ’Cause they’re hungry. And growing more and more annoyed with me. You remember what it was like when the pastor prayed way too long before the church potluck.

Well, we Christians always have to take other people into consideration. If their hangups about saying grace means our prayer practices bother them, quit bothering them! Pray when they’re not around.

When you’re eating in a public place, bear in mind you’re essentially practicing public prayer. Doesn’t matter if you’re doing it silently: If your prayer posture is head-bowed-eyes-closed, everybody can see how you’re sitting, and they can tell what you’re up to. If they’re antichrists, your public piety is gonna really annoy them. If they’re irreligious, they’ll either feel unnecessarily guilt ’cause they don’t pray so long, or self-righteous because they know better than to pray in public. Either way, you’re being gratuitous. Stop that.

So if you’re lunching with God in public, ditch the prayer posture. Sit normally. Pray silently. And don’t chew with your mouth open.