The Disruptive Witness of Praying Before Meals

The Disruptive Witness of Praying Before Meals by Alan Noble  for The Gospel Coalition

I don’t think I’ve ever felt comfortable saying grace before a meal, even at home, and when I’m in public I dread it. I try to time the prayer so that the server won’t interrupt us. The idea of a server waiting while my family prays over a meal makes me feel self-conscious and guilty, as if I were imposing my religion on them. I don’t want anyone around me to feel uncomfortable watching and listening to me pray. Besides, I tell myself, does it even matter if I pray for the food? I paid for it. I know I’m grateful. And I’m in a hurry. Isn’t the necessity of saying grace just legalism—empty ritual that actually makes me less grateful? In the moment, especially when I’m hungry, it’s much easier to start right in on the food and maybe, if I feel guilty, I can pray something silently like, “Sorry, God, but you know my heart.”

It could be that you haven’t experienced any reticence toward praying over a meal in public, but I hope you can see that many other Christians do feel uncomfortable. No small part of this discomfort stems from the rise of secularism in our country. Even in the fairly religious states I’ve lived in, such as Texas and Oklahoma, you don’t see most people praying over their meals in public. Our society’s broad assumption is that religious exercise belongs in our hearts, in our homes, or in our churches. It doesn’t belong in a booth at McDonald’s.

Our society’s broad assumption is that religious exercise belongs in our hearts, in our homes, or in our churches. It doesn’t belong in a booth at McDonald’s.

Public displays of religion are more offensive than public displays of affection, which I think partially explains some Americans’ reactions to Muslims who say their daily prayers. For many Americans, seeing someone practicing religion in public feels a bit like watching the inebriated or mentally unstable in public. What are they going to do next? Why aren’t they being rational? Why couldn’t they keep this to themselves?

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