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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,


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 eighteen 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 that 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,


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.

Several years ago, we visited Polly’s Fundamentalist Christian parents. (Both of them have died over the past three years.) Polly’s dad was a retired Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor. Mom was 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 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?” 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.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

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  1. Avatar

    Every time we go out to eat with my Inlaws they have to embarrassingly pray aloud over whatever overpriced entree we are about to receive. I absolutely hate this because in my opinion it’s not really done because they’re thankful but rather to put on a show for those nearby. I just feel that it’s really just them saying “Look at us! Look how religious and morally superior we are compared to all of you ungrateful heathens.” Apparently in all of their self-righteous religiosity they never encountered Matthew 6. You know the one:

    “ But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.”

    I guess it’s just another instance of people “cherry picking” their so called “word of God” for the parts they find most palatable. For my part, I wish they’d just let me enjoy my country fried steak in peace…and quiet.

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    When fundy, we had lots of weird ideas about the need to be a ‘good witness.’ Like not shopping, mowing the lawn or hanging out laundry to line dry on the sabbath day…we just knew this ‘witness’ would impress our neighbours and god might prompt them to come to ask us how to get saved too. So one of these was when eating in a restaurant – or even sitting at a picnic table in the park with our own food – one of the party gave thanks, ostentatiously sometimes to impress the heathen around us….we’d have felt so guilty if we’d eaten before doing that.
    Student friend, newly-converted at college, from a non-church background was invited to Sunday lunch by a strict Brethren couple and began to eat as soon as her plate of hot food was put in front of her. The patriarch tapped the table and said he’d now ‘give thanks.’ He said, ‘Lord bless this food we are about to eat and that which our dear sister has already eaten….’ It became a family joke for years if someone stole a nibble from the served food before the prayer!

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    Jodi waterman

    Please don’t take this any other way accept truly wanting to know what changed 22+ years knowing God now not what happen I my self I’m Christian I think? I personally not quite positive what I believe may be you could offend some insite thank you

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    I remember both the childhood prayers you mentioned. My family, fortunately, were not big on public prayer. At home, we only prayed over formal dinners (Thanksgiving, Easter), never at barbecues, picnics, or everyday meals. My parents never prayed when guests were present, unless the guests wanted to pray. In public, no prayers except at church dinners and breakfasts.
    It’s kinda mean of your mom saying God would choke you for not praying before a meal. But then, my dad threatened to throw me off of a highway bridge more than once. Parents. Who knows what goes through their minds.

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    I had a little embroidered version of that hideous prayer on my wall for the longest time when I was a kid. Ugh.

    and hmm, this god seems to like choking people, if the creationists are right. it managed to put the trachea beside the esophagus, guaranteeing that thousands of humans will choke to death every year.

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    MJ Lisbeth

    I’m not sure that praying before meals was as prevalent among Catholics as it was among people in other churches when I was growing up. I know we didn’t in my family—except on Thanksgiving, and I think that was more of a cultural than a religious gesture.

    Our bid Sunday meal usually commenced not long after Mass. Maybe we didn’t need to pray at the table: We did it in the pews and, on reflection, much of our religious practice was about “checking boxes.” Confession on Friday afternoon: check. Mass on Sunday: check. Mass on holy days of obligation: check. “Giving up something” for Lent. Check. Not eating meat on Friday: check.

    On the other hand, in my college campus Christian fellowship and Evangelical church, prayers were de rigueur. If we were in small groups, each person said an audible prayer; in larger groups (like a prayer breakfast or other church function), one person (usually a man) would say the prayer, everyone else would bow their heads and at the end of the prayer, say “Amen.”

    • Avatar

      So many unpleasant memories around this practice. I felt compelled as a younger person to utter a silent prayer when eating alone and if I forgot I would give a retroactive prayer during the meal. A cross between a compulsion and a superstition. I remember hating to be asked to say grace by my parents and the older I got the more I hated it. As a young adult, even though I was still a believer I resented being placed in this position. I sat in fear when we were entertaining others that I would be asked to give the blessing. When eating in public I would feel embarrassed when my family prayed before the meal and of course this resulted in guilt for being “ashamed” of my faith. As my parents got older they got more extreme in their religiosity and incorporated holding hands while saying grace. How I hated that especially when they were entertaining guests. The last thing I wanted to do was hold the hands af strangers while someone gave a long winded prayer. What a relief when I gave up religion and all of it’s baggage and could just eat my meal

      • Avatar
        Karuna Gal

        Dave, I felt uncomfortable about saying grace, too. I never wanted to be called on to say it (as was anyone else in my family) and I was uncomfortable hearing it. One time I was at an Episcopal church potluck where the priest hastily threw out a grace because everybody had already started eating a few minutes before, and he’d been distracted. I relished that.
        I found an article that makes a case for a secular grace:
        I also hated that “sign of peace” handshake crap and would always walk out before it happened and come back after it was over. None of that cheap and empty showmanship for me. 👎

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    Yulya Sevelova

    I wasn’t raised in a Christian or other religious environment, so we never did this among ourselves. But later, after my born- again experience, and invited to church, I was told that since Jesus gave thanks before eating, we were to do this as well. One of the reasons for this is blessing the food made it safe to eat,being ‘ sanctified.’. It could be spoiled, or even poisoned, but you could still eat it, because God blessed it. You were eating food not knowing the source, maybe. One of my first ‘ lessons.’. It became an ingrained habit, since getting food poisoning a few times was quite an ordeal,lol !

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    Neil Rickert

    My mother was Church of England (in Australia), and did not seem to practice this prayer before meals (or “saying grace” as the practice was called). So I never did get into the habit of doing this.

    At one time, maybe I was around 6 years old so the memory is dim, my brother and I were sent to spend a few days with another family. This family did practice saying grace. The boy (about my age) told us that his favorite version was:

    Two, four, six, eight
    bog in don’t wait.

    His mother did not approve. But it does illustrate that the family indoctrination doesn’t always work.

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    My parents were raised in religious homes. My mom’s mom (who died decades before I was born) was actually a preacher. My mother was kind and accepted everyone she met, although she didn’t go to church. My dad’s family were religious Church of Christ (non-instrumental) members and he also left the church.

    My parents were actually alarmed by me getting into religion, but I was drawn to it. Of course, in the end religion didn’t help as much as maturity over the decades. Anyway, on my side of the family with siblings and families I have non-church goers, atheists, and liberal Catholics. On Bob’s side, he has a Universalist minister SIL and sister (SIL and sister are married). His brother isn’t atheist but is more of a none. And when family get together, we are all pretty accepting. Now, my oldest son is conservative but not really religious, although I’m not sure how that works.

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    I always despised having to say a prayer of thanks before every meal. That was the first practice I jettisoned when out of family sight. And interestingly, after my grandparents were gone, the rest of the family stopped doing it except for big family get-togethers like Christmas.

    My Catholic mother-in-law and father-in-law would ask for it at Thanksgiving or Christmas sometimes, but not always. We were able to get around the request by saying, “Let’s each mention something we’re thankful for today” without all the God part or having to wait while the food grew cold.

    I believe I have mentioned before that I loved that Jimmy Stewart scene while my grandma thought it was blasphemous. I’m pretty sure I was always destined to eventually become an apostate.😄

    You know how little kids are required to recite things they don’t necessarily understand? Here’s one of mine:

    “Goddess great, Goddess good, lettuce thankim for our food. Amen”

  11. Avatar
    Ben Berwick

    If we’re going to ‘pray’ over our food, wouldn’t it make more sense to pray to the various workers who’ve picked, prepared, cooked, and transported it, so we can then pop to a supermarket and buy it? You know, honour all those who did all of the work?

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    I still smile at the young woman at the seminary at SMU who loved her church youth camp. In front of all the professors and students at the seminary weekly community lunch she said, “Rub a dub dub, Thanks for the grub, Go God!”

  13. Avatar

    In the American Horror Story series, there is one season where Satan’s son is a child being raised to be the antichrist. The original script had the Kathy Bates character uttering a Satanic prayer, but she is a cancer survivor and was a bit superstitious about tempting fate even acting out the prayer, so instead when the young antichrist is about to eat she prods him by saying “what do we say before we eat”.

    As for me I agree with Ben. Rather than thanking the almighty for the food, it’s best we appreciate the cascade of hard work that goes into every bite. While is might seem like magic, it isn’t. This appreciation should also extend to not wasting food.

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    Yulya Sevelova

    I was thinking about where the very idea that God would bother to ” choke ” someone who didn’t pray over their food, WITH the food they’re eating, and I must admit that it’s a statement that I never heard in church events,much less people I knew. It made me wonder why a person would have such a fear. I take it that the local IFB church came up with this fake threat somehow.

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Bruce Gerencser