Our Homefront columnist offers advice on giving grace simply. One tip: Talk normal
When I was a kid, we only said grace on Sundays. My father did the solemn task. We were mostly thanking God, it seemed to me, for extremely dry roast beef.
With our own three kids, we wanted to pray every night and offer them the opportunity to lead. The prayers ranged from the ridiculously detailed—thanking God for the salt, pepper, mustard, butter, chairs and napkins—to as short as possible: “Thanks! Amen!”
As amusing or chaotic as our prayer time could be, we wanted to teach our children to say thank you to the one we believe provides everything we have in our lives. Willard Metzger, author of "Thanking God With Integrity: Table Graces and Scripture for a World of Need,"
describes grace as “a simple discipline that creates that sense of pause and that can be shared as a whole family unit.” (Editor’s note: "Thanking God With Integrity" is published by World Vision Canada
Metzger’s book offers 57 simple, beautiful prayers divided into three themes: hunger, emergency relief and care for the environment. “It’s very appropriate to recognize part of the thankfulness is also to have a commitment to use the strength of the food to serve God and to serve others,” says Metzger.
Family prayer time around a meal is a precious opportunity to thank, to ask, to receive and to connect.
If saying grace is new to you, or if you just need to shake things up a bit around the table, here’s a simple prayer primer.
Create a routine. “If we approach it as a discipline, that just reinforces that we live for God and that we want our lives to be an expression of thankfulness and gratitude,” says Metzger. “It’s good modelling for children.” Say grace with every meal you share as a family, and your kids will learn that saying thanks is just what we do.
Pray like you talk. If you say thee and thou, then by all means, use them in your prayers. Otherwise, Diane Brown, pastor for early childhood at Centre Street Church in Calgary, says to keep in mind that “Prayer is talking to a friend. Sometimes we try to be too eloquent in our prayers; just open up your heart like you are speaking to your best friend.”
Include your sponsored child. Saying grace may be the only time we pray together as a family (I confess!). It’s an ideal moment to ask God to protect your sponsored child and thank God that you have the ability to offer this kind of care to a hurting world. Your child is reminded of his or her special friend across the world, the importance of the needs of others and your child’s personal power to make a difference.
Use written prayers. If you consider praying out loud a form of public speaking and it terrifies you, use a book like Metzger’s and read the prayers out loud. “When people are taking turns picking one to read, I think that’s wonderful,” says Metzger. He encourages families to try writing their own prayers together and creating their own family prayer book.
Let kids lead. “Let the kids pray as often as possible at the table,” says Brown. Warm them up by prefacing prayer with a short discussion about what they are thankful for that day.
You don’t need to scare anyone. I don’t recall grace being a pleasant experience when I grew up. It was serious business. If you snorted milk out your nose, you might as well flee the table to your room. It’s actually okay to be happy when you say grace. If your kids are young, Brown says to do things like “Have them sing to the tune of Thumbkins. I did it with my kids when they were little. Now they are in their 20s and they still want to sing it sometimes.” Google “camp graces” and a whole new world of prayer and raucous singing will open up for you and your family. And the prayer police will not send you to jail if your eyes aren’t closed or your hands aren’t clasped together. “If you want to look up to heaven, look up to heaven,” says Brown.
Our family holds hands—occasionally squeezing, pinching and twisting of course—around the table. We remember we are together. We remember we are thankful.
This article appears in the Winter 2014/2015 issue of Childview.