James A. Perkins approximate word count: 1170
705 Fosters Court first rights
Evans, Georgia, 30809
Praying the Blessing
“Close your eyes, bow your heads, and pray the blessing.” As clear as day, I still see my Daddy and Mama at the dinner table. They never veered from the same command at every meal. Our parents believed that proof of true religion demanded giving the Almighty verbal recognition for the food. Not a single morsel entered any mouth, until one of us prayed.
My sisters and I accepted praying the blessing as part of life, so the ritual didn’t bother us. The sincerity of our prayers didn’t seem to matter, only that we prayed. Daddy and Mama accepted the monotone sounds flowing from the voice of a child. The appointed kid repeated the same lifeless, syncopated, rhythmic lines. “God is great. God is good. Let us thank Him for the food. Amen.”
Our parents provided no explanation for why we prayed. I suppose they thought we would figure it out.
On the occasions when either Dad or Mom might pray the blessing, they offered a model for their children. To me, their intercession seemed to flow without passion but by willful obedience. We kids naturally followed the only example given. The impression I got viewed praying the blessing as an essential but burdensome roadblock to the main objective of eating.
When neighbors invited us to their homes for dinner, they might refer to prayer as grace or giving thanks. I didn’t understand what those words meant. In one home the family skipped praying to God, and simply got to the point by saying, “Let’s eat.” Eating with neighbors provided me to learn how others approached prayer at the table.
Later on, I heard a playmate’s prayer that suited me best. He said, “Good bread, good meat. Good God, let’s eat.” I never tried that one before my parents, because of fear it would make them upset. In my childish mind I thought perhaps even the Creator might frown on the words.
The focus on food led me to think a lot about the idea. Over time, a simple conclusion came to me. I needed to eat to live, but some by gluttony lived to eat.
Later on, the French author Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin expanded my thinking with the observation, “A man is what he eats.”
As I grew older, a new perspective began to soften my heart. Thinking about food and eating, I emerged with a bigger picture about the matter. None of us created the soil on the earth, or the rain, or sun. No individual or group invented the seed that matured into a fruitful harvest. Though we ate the bountiful fruits, vegetables, meats, and fish all of this came to us as gifts. To receive a gift meant there existed a giver, and that must be God. That idea began an inner curiosity that the Lord possessed a personal interest in me.
In considering those things, an “aha moment” happened, when my family traveled on vacation from Georgia to Texas. To occupy the time across the miles, Mother passed the hours by cross-stitching a piece.
After returning home, she framed the completed work and hung it on the wall. I passed that hanging every day, read the poem, and studied the decorative image. The words of Dorothy Frances Gurney preached to me, “One is nearer God’s heart in a garden, than anywhere else on earth.” By continually reading that line, I came to a realization of how the food we ate pointed to God’s heart.
I began to understand. Though people worked the gardens, God orchestrated the whole affair. The Almighty gave the food, because He loves us. This meant that the garden served as a testimony of His heart toward all people. We prepared the dish, and the Lord provided the food to demonstrate His love and kindness toward us.
When that reality touched my heart, I sensed God’s generous and gracious heart extended to every person. I felt that the Lord must be really good and truly great. He should be thanked for giving us the food we eat.
Recognizing God’s goodness prompted me to see the reason for praying the blessing. He mercifully keeps showering us with gifts, whether we acknowledge Him or not. But when a person realizes that God Himself gives us our food, then one learns His motive demonstrates love.
I concluded that since God loves us, then He loves me. That moved my heart to rejoice and made praying the blessing different. I grasped that using lifeless words before a meal revealed my lack of gratitude, and I should be truly thankful to God. The food represented the Almighty’s faithful gift, and the whole thing pointed to God’s love affair with us.
As decades pass from my family’s trip to Texas, Gurney’s statement often resonates, as I hear her line inside my mind. “One is nearer God’s heart in a garden, than anywhere else on earth.”
I can sympathize with our modern world, and the ease of some who take for granted God’s gift of food. How convenient to shop at markets filled with abundance. How common to rely on supermarkets without a thought that God gives the provisions to us. I know I am often guilty of it. I believe numbers of people live, as our family did. Neglect in giving God genuine thanks for His gracious blessings may come easy.
Next time in the grocery store, give this a try. Watch shoppers stroll inside the sheltered interiors of climate-controlled comfort without fear of rain, snow, heat, or cold. Look at the fruits, vegetables, meats, and fish in our American land of milk and honey. Think about how the abundant supply of foods testifies of God’s merciful kindness to us. Learn to appreciate the witness of His hand in the gardens of grocery stores.
When we married, my wife and I agreed to put God first at our table. With each child born, we guided them to include the Lord at mealtime. We accepted the privilege and responsibility in training our children to recognize the spiritual meaning of grace, thankfulness, and blessing.
Some time back, my wife and I discovered powerful inspiration in novelist Jacqueline Winspear’s insight about grace. She writes, “Grace isn’t a little prayer you chant before receiving a meal. It’s a way to live.” We believe it, and so do our children.
I live in the happiness that my God guided me to realize how much He reveals grace in the gift of food. Once that made sense, praying the blessing came easy.
My wife and I now delight in our grown children and grand children. When we visit in their homes, all of us participate in an environment of grace similar to what our sons and daughter knew growing up. They teach their kids how to honor the Lord at their tables.
May His grace be yours as a way of life, and that includes praying the blessing.