Last week I described why I choose to pray. This week I am going to describe how to pray before a meal. It is not a difficult thing to do. It really is not. But, it may cause you fear, especially if you have to pray before a meal in front of people that you do not know well. As with all things – you will get better with practice.
Many families pray before they eat
It is common for families to say a quick prayer before eating a meal. The main point of the prayer is to thank God that you have food to eat. Some families do not have food to eat – which is reason enough for us to give thanks that we do. Growing up my parents kept it simple. We said the following prayer before dinner which will be familiar to many. We did not pray before breakfast or lunch. I do not know why, but it really did not matter much to me.
God is good, God is great, let us thank Him for our food. Amen.
Simple prayer – short and sweet. Nothing wrong with saying this prayer. It is better than not saying anything at all. This short prayer is designed for young children. It is easy to remember, easy to say and does not require much effort. Perfect for little ones. Neither one of you boys is little anymore, so I think we can do a little better than this version.
No reason to go long
I have witnessed many people pray before a meal. If there is one pet peeve I have about this topic it is people who go on and on praying before a meal. This sometimes happens at formal dinners, especially when there is a large audience. The person who says the blessing feels a need to include a lot of thoughts, and a whole lot of words. It is easy for a clergy member to fall into this trap. They know more about God than the rest of us and usually have much more experience praying in front of a large group. I do not believe that God is impressed with the eloquence of the words you use. He prefers a sincere heart to a puffy attitude. I recommend you keep it short and simple. No reason to go long.
What to say when you pray
The main point of praying before the meal is to thank God for the food on the table. Focus your words on that topic. Be sure to actually say thank you to God. Ask Him to bless the food. If the meal was prepared by someone who is sitting at the table, then you should also thank that person. There would be no meal without their work. One exception – if you prepared the meal do not pray for your own hands. That is weird. I also think it is appropriate to ask God to bless everyone that is with you – whether it is your family, friends, or people you do not know well. I have never heard anyone complain because someone else asked God to bless their life. Lastly, I like to pray in God’s name. Several different ways to do that. You can say “in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ”. Another version is “in your mighty name”, or “in your holy name”. It is not important which one you pick. Just go with the one you are comfortable saying. Below is an example of how I might pray before a family meal.
Dear Lord, I thank you for this day. I thank you for the food we are about to eat and the hands that prepared it. I ask you that you bless this food to our bodies. We ask a special blessing for our family. In the name of your son Jesus. Amen.
I might use a shorter version if I am praying at someone’s house.
God, I thank you for the food we are about to receive. Bless it to our bodies and the hands that prepared it. I ask that you bless each and everyone gathered here today. In your name we pray. Amen.
Praying at a special occasion
You may be asked to pray for a special occasion. For example, you may pray at a birthday party, before the Thanksgiving meal, Christmas, Easter, or another holiday. In these scenarios, I would go with a longer prayer, but not too long. If it is someone’s birthday you should pray for that person in particular by name. Ask God to bless them on their special day. A simple example is below.
Holy Father, we are gathered here today to honor Opa. Today is Opa’s birthday. We thank you for Opa, and ask that you bless him in a special way. We thank you for the food that we are about to receive. We ask that you bless it to our bodies and the hands that prepared it. In your mighty name we pray. Amen.
For Thanksgiving, you may want to take a slightly different approach. Some families will give everyone there a chance to say what they are thankful for before or during the prayer. Either way is fine. I think it is a nice way to give everyone the opportunity to show gratitude on this special holiday. If you choose to have everyone give thanks before praying simply go around the table, and then pray. No need to get fancy during the prayer. If you want to integrate everyone’s inputs into the prayer, then here is one way to do that.
Dear Jesus, we gather today to celebrate Thanksgiving. We give thank for your many blessings this past year. I thank you for (say what you are thankful for here). Now we are going to go around the table so that everyone has the opportunity to say what they are thankful for. Let’s start with (name of person seated next to you. Go around the table). We thank you for this meal and the hands that prepared it. We thank you for everyone seated at the table, and ask that you bless each and everyone of us. We thank you for those who serve our country, keeping us safe, especially anyone cannot be at home for Thanksgiving this year. In your name we pray. Amen.
For Christmas, I would thank God for sending His Son into the world to save us from our sins. On Easter, I would include something about the resurrection. Keep it relevant, and keep it real. Last bit of advice. If you ever have the opportunity to pray at a large gathering or in front of an audience, then I highly recommend that you practice your prayer beforehand. God will not get mad if you rehearse several times. I prayed for each of you the day you were dedicated in the Church. You better believe that I practiced many times, and knew every word I was going to say. The last thing I wanted to do was embarrass myself, your mother, or either one of our families. For God’s sake, whatever you do, don’t wing it.