It wasn’t too long ago that I was mortified to pray in a restaurant (or any other public setting).
One day a couple of years ago, Bryan and I met a Christian friend for lunch. We went to my favorite restaurant, and when the food arrived, I could hardly wait to sink my teeth into my chicken enchiladas. As I gleefully placed the first morsel of enchilada goodness in my mouth, our friend asked if he could say grace.
Mortified that I looked like a fake Christian for not even pausing to consider saying grace. Mortified that I already had food in my mouth. (Do you stop chewing while someone is praying or chew and swallow as fast as possible?!) Mortified that everyone in the restaurant was going to watch us.
I can distinctly remember two other I-already-have-food-in-my-mouth-and-my-lunch-companion-wants-to-say-grace events, because I was equally embarrassed. Perhaps because I had experienced those moments, or perhaps because I rarely saw other people praying in restaurants, I was always a bit skeptical of public tableside grace.
If most Christians don’t do it, I reasoned, the ones who are doing it must be going out of their way to do so. They’re making a statement. They’re hoping someone will ask them about God. They’re hoping to look better than everyone else. Or so I thought.
Now, just a couple of years later, my family prays together before every meal, wherever it is – a restaurant, a kid’s princess birthday party, the (secular) pre-school’s Thanksgiving buffet. If we’re going to eat, we’re going to pray. And I’m not the slightest bit embarrassed.
So what changed?
It’s very simple: we pray before every meal at home now. If we say thanks before every meal at home, why would we NOT say thanks before meals anywhere else?
In the nine years Bryan and I were married before we had kids, we didn’t pray before meals. So, to be honest, I can totally understand in retrospect why praying in a restaurant was so foreign to us. Having not established a heart-felt habit of saying thanks at home, it would have been just plain weird to suddenly do so at a restaurant. When I was casting a skeptical eye on others praying publicly, I had no reference point for how praying publicly could simply be a natural extension of praying at home – because we weren’t praying at home.
But, as of a couple of years ago, we have been saying thanks before every meal every day with the kids. I remember the first few times we took our kids to a restaurant after we started praying at home. They stopped us from eating because we hadn’t prayed yet. Bryan and I looked at each other sheepishly, realizing that things had changed: eating without expressing our gratitude was now the foreign concept. The setting didn’t matter. The kids had it right: if it’s important to give thanks at home, what rationale would there be for making it less important anywhere else?
We’re not making a statement, we’re not trying to witness to others, and we’re not trying to be more pious, round-the-clock Christians than anyone else. We’re simply doing what we feel is important at all times: giving thanks to the One who gave us all.
What do you think about praying in restaurants? Do you do it? Why or why not?