That’s how many days I estimate our family prayed together at the dinner table when I was a kid.
Calculating that number was surprisingly easy.
I took out Friday nights because that was pizza night. Everyone was responsible for praying his or her own prayer on the way to sacking dad as he walked through the door with the warm Massey’s Pizza box under his arm.
Then I removed Saturdays and Sundays from the tally. Weekends were survival of the fittest. We ate between games, trips to the grandparents, etc. We prayed for sure, but it wasn’t routine. So no prayers counted for those days.
That left Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights. On those days we prayed before dinner every night, without fail. Except for the time when I was 14 and tried to back the car down the driveway to shoot basketball and accidentally ran over the mailbox. We didn’t pray that night. But that was it.
Usually dad prayed, but we’d all take turns.
That means that all together we prayed:
4 days a week
x 52 weeks a year
x 18 years
= 3744 days
– the day I killed the mailbox
= 3743 total times we prayed as a family before dinner.
Some Christians don’t place a high value on praying before a meal. That’s a mistake. I believe that saying grace before dinnertime ranks second only behind going to church as the most important thing parents can do to impact their children spiritually.
Here are 5 things that happen when you pray together as a family before meals:
1. Praying before meals gives parents the chance to model that God is important.
In his book Blue Like Jazz Donald Miller wrote, “Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself.” I agree. For 3,743 days I had the privilege of watching my parents close their eyes, bow their heads, and say, “Let’s pray.”
2. Praying before meals marks your meal together as a sacred pause in your family’s day.
Flip through the gospels and it becomes apparent rather quickly that sharing a meal together entailed more than the consumption of food. Stories were shared. The day was recounted. Prayer simply invites God to be a part of the conversation that follows.
3. Praying before meals prompts lively discussions about God and the Bible.
After praying I remember my sisters and I asking questions like, “How do you know God can even hear us? How do we know there is a God? If God answers prayer, what about the people who _______ (insert tragic accident that happened that day)?” No question was out of bounds.
4. Praying before meals opens the door to resolve conflict.
If I did something that day that made my sisters want to punch me in the face (usually for a really good reason), being forced to bow our heads and pray almost always ended with us raising our heads and going after each other, like seconds later. In the same way the body naturally moves to expunge a splinter, taking a moment to focus on God seemed to always take us right to what was on each other’s minds.
5. Praying before meals teaches kids to pray even when they don’t feel like it.
Growing up whenever I was mad, preoccupied, or in a hurry, the last thing I wanted to do was pray before meals. But my parents made sure we did anyway. The funny thing is my reasons for not wanting to pray when I was a kid are no different than the reasons I don’t want to pray today. Praying at each meal taught me to discipline myself and pray in spite of my feelings, not because of them.
3,743 days seems like such a long time, but they were gone in the blink of an eye.
However, the lessons I learned at the beginning of those meals stuck with me for life.
“Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself,” Miller wrote.
Now it’s your turn to model that.
Did you pray before meals as a kid? Do you now? What’s your most vivid memory about those moments?