In my home growing up, Thanksgiving was the one event of the year where we prayed together. We didn’t go to church and never had spiritual conversations. But each year when we gathered around the Thanksgiving table, my father led our family in a prayer of gratitude. It never occurred to me to ask why.
Since becoming a Christian at the age of 15, I’ve “said grace” over meals, either privately or publicly, three times every day. Over 39 years, that comes to 42,705 such prayers. This week, for the first time, I asked myself why.
I’ve discovered that thanksgiving is a common and important theme in the Bible. The Jewish people were instructed to give thanks for their meals (Deuteronomy 8:10). When he fed the 5,000, “Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted” (John 6:11). On his voyage to Rome, Paul did the same (Acts 27:35). Such gratitude “consecrates” the food we receive (1 Timothy 4:4-5). In so doing, we “eat to the Lord” if we give thanks to him first (Romans 14:6).
For these reasons, the apologist Aristides (ca. A.D. 123) stated of Christians that “over their food and over their drink they render God thanks.” Tertullian (died A.D. 225) testified that believers “do not recline at a banquet before prayer be first tasted—and in like manner prayer puts an end to the feast.” In monastic orders, each dish was blessed before it was set on the table.
I’ve become convinced that “saying grace” is an important spiritual discipline. Each time we pause over a meal to pray, we are turned from our possessions to our Provider. In a self-sufficient culture, we are reminded of the Source of all we have and are. In a hectic, time-compressed day, we take a few moments to “be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). When our gratitude comes from hearts rather than habit, we give thanks for the blessing of giving thanks.
Writer Anne Lamott: “Someone at our holiday tables always ends up saying grace. I think we’re in it for the pause, the quiet thanks for love and for our blessings, before the shoveling begins. For a minute, our stations are tuned to a broader, richer radius. We’re acknowledging that this food didn’t just magically appear: Someone grew it, ground it, bought it, baked it; wow. ”We say thank you for the miracle that we have stuck together all these years, in spite of it all; that we have each other’s backs, and hilarious companionship. We say thank you for the plentiful and outrageous food . . . We pray to be mindful of the needs of others. We savor these moments out of time, when we are conscious of love’s presence, of Someone’s great abiding generosity to our dear and motley family, these holy moments of gratitude. And that is grace.”
It is grace indeed. May you and yours have a grateful, grace-filled Thanksgiving.