You Better Pray for Your Food or God Will Choke You!

praying for our food

Cartoon by Mark Lynch

I grew up in a dysfunctional Evangelical home. We attended church every time the doors were open, read our Bibles, invited our friends and neighbors to church, and practiced the Christian art of praying. I want to focus on the art of praying in this post. I hope what I write will resonate with readers, and provoke their own thoughts about their past prayer experiences.

As a child, I was taught to pray every night before I went to bed. The first prayer I remember praying went like this:

Dear God,

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my Soul to keep,
If I should die before I ‘wake,
I pray the Lord my Soul to take.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen

As I grew older, my prayers became more extemporaneous. I would confess my sins, thank God for saving me from my sin, thank God for my parents, family, pastor, church, pray for the missionaries and lost sinners, and finish off my prayers with a few personal requests. Still waiting for that new Schwinn 3-speed bike with a banana seat and sissy bar, Lord. As a teenager, my prayers became more elaborate, often taking minutes to recite. I wanted God to know I was serious about my faith; that I was serious about making my petitions and requests known to God. In my late teens, as I became more involved with girls, I would ask God to keep me morally pure. Two serious relationships, one at age 18 and the other with the woman who is now my wife, brought frequent prayers for moral strength. I was a virgin when I married, but I suspect had Polly and I waited much longer, we would have rounded third and slid into home. I can remember to this day, kneeling before God, still sexually aroused, and thanking him for keeping me from fornication. I know now, of course, that what kept me from sexual sin was religious indoctrination, threats of judgment and Hell, and fear.

I was also taught the importance of praying before every meal. As a child, I prayed:

Dear God,

God is great,God is good.
Let us thank him for our food.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen

On more than a few occasions growing up, I started eating before the prescribed prayer was uttered. This would usually elicit a stern warning from my mom:

Mom: Did you pray for your food?

Bruce: Uh — mouth filled with food — I forgot.

Mom: You better pray right now lest God chokes you.

Bruce: (Who had never seen a non-prayer choked by God) bows his head and silently mouths a prayer of thankfulness to God.

I had drilled into my head by my mom and pastors that God gave me food to eat, and that if I wanted to continue eating beans and wieners or chipped chopped ham/gravy over toast, I better thank God for meeting my sustenance needs. This training stuck with me, and I continued to pray over meals until I was almost fifty years old.

Over the weekend, we visited Polly’s Fundamentalist Christian parents. Polly’s dad is a retired Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor. Mom is an excellent cake maker, and she had made a double-chocolate cake for us and my oldest son and his children, and my youngest son and his fiancée, who accompanied us. As we were preparing to eat the cake, my father-in-law said to my oldest son, “Are you going to pray for the cake?” We all sat there stunned, not knowing what to do. You see, desserts were never prayed over. Never made sense to me why we prayed for the pot roast, carrots, and potatoes, but never for dessert. My son quickly avoided the prayer question, and Dad decided to go ahead without out it. Crisis averted. When Polly and I left Christianity, Dad would frequently ask me or one of my oldest two sons to pray for the food. Such requests were quietly and respectfully rebuffed with a “Why don’t you pray, Dad/Papaw?” To this day, I am not sure he truly knows and understands that his daughter and son-in-law, along with their children, are not Christians — or, at the very least, not his kind of Christian. Certainly, Polly and I don’t prevent anyone from praying at our table as long as they do it silently. God hears silent prayers, does he not? Yeah, I know, not really, but from an Evangelical perspective, he does. Want to pray for your food at atheist Nana and Grandpa’s table? Bow your head and silently shoot a prayer to Jesus. That’s all that matters right? If not, it would seem, at least to me, that meal prayers — especially in public settings — are meant to be statements instead of acts of piety and devotion.

These days, I am with Jimmy Stewart when it comes to praying for our food:

Video Link

What were your praying experiences as a child? Did you pray over your food? Always or did you make exceptions? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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5 Comments

  1. ObstacleChick

    I grew up living in my grandparents’ house where we were forced to pray before every meal. Grandma wanted to pray at restaurants but Grandpa said to pray silently, and good complementarian that she was, she prayed silently. I took every opportunity not to pray if I could get away with it because I thought it was ridiculous and fell into the Jimmy Stewart camp (my grandma despised that scene, saying that the character was being prideful and disrespectful). I really despised going into friends’ homes where they held hands and prayed – that was just going overboard to me (and I dont like touching people).

    I was shocked when visiting Bob Jones university that at mealtime in the dining g hall, the entire student body assigned to that meal serving time had to remain standing behind their chairs until the last person took their tray to their spot and a designated student said the blessing. That was a major WTF for me.

    Reply
  2. Michael Mock

    Grew up holding hands and praying before every meal. (I’m honestly not sure but that the holding hands was the more important part of the ritual, but there you go…)

    The usual prayer was what I think of as typically Episcopalian, in that it was formal and difficult for a small child to parse:

    “Sanctify, we beseech they O Lord, this food to the nourishment of our bodies, and ourselves to Thy service. Amen.”

    Still, it was probably better than having to make something up on the spot (especially with my sense of humor)…

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Polly’s parents insist we hold hands when praying — not a fan. One time, my father-in-law prayed, ”Good meat, let’s eat. Amen.” 😀 These days, dementia has set in and his prayers have become longer and often incoherent. On more than one occasion, Dad has prayed for everything BUT the food. 😁

      Reply
  3. Autumn

    I first encountered Grace before meals at a YMCA camp and I, as an eight year old, found it really weird and fake feeling. My parents weren’t church goers and were actually closet atheists. I was taught that God/prayer was a really private sort of thing and those who made a show of prayer were really tacky.

    Reply
  4. Wayne Borean

    The hardest thing of going non-Theist is to stop praying at meal times. The habit has become so deeply engrained that I always get ready to do it

    Reply

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