“Developing an attitude of thankfulness should be a core component of any disciple of Jesus Christ.”
I grew up in a home where prayer before dinner (any prayer!) only happened on Thanksgiving. And then my father would recite a blessing (same one every year) that he learned somewhere along the way growing up. We always called it “the Catholic prayer” (Bless us o Lord and these thy gifts…) but I don’t know why. His parents — at least his mother — were members of the Episcopal church. That’s where I was christened which began my faith journey influenced by many denominations. First Sunday school in my other grandmother’s United Methodist church, then the local Presbyterian church, and next the non-denominational Bible church as a teenager. The Presbyterian church is where I settled as an adult and where we raised our three sons.
Prayer was always a part of the journey. And still is. I am a fan of both the prayer written in advance but also extemporaneous praying which always seems to come more from the heart than from the head. And that’s a good thing.
I believe it’s really important for children to learn that praying should be a part of their everyday life — not just something that they do in church. I also believe that children should be taught that prayers are more than just a “to do” list for God. Thankfulness needs to be included each time we speak with God — for the big and the little things. Developing an attitude of thankfulness should be a core component of any disciple of Jesus Christ. But that doesn’t always come so naturally and so we as parents and grandparents, teachers and pastors need to help children develop this habit and spiritual practice.
There’s a wonderful little book called Peanut Butter and Jelly Prayers by Julie B. Sevig that offers “a fun way for busy families to welcome God to their mealtimes and their homes.” The book celebrates the family meal and in addition to the prayers for meals that most kids love (pizza, pancakes, and even fast food) also includes a “table talk” question that encourages conversation around the table. Because of course it’s not really about the food – – it’s about the fellowship and relationship building.
Julie writes in the introduction, “In our fast-paced society, some people quickly dismiss the family meal as a thing of the past. But architects and realtors will tell you the kitchen and dining areas remain important focuses of any home…Families who cook and eat together not only tend to eat more nutritious foods, but they have better family relationships.” She also reminds us that “What is most crucial for Christian families is inviting the presence of God at that meal…We invite God into our sacred times of eating, drinking, and conversation…In the eating of this food and in these faces (those who know us best and love us most), we see and reflect Christ—who offers himself for the sake of the world.” Candidly, Julie notes that mealtime is also the only time most families pray together.
Peanut Butter and Jelly Prayers is a magnificent resource for parents for the everyday meals as well as blessings for larger celebrations – – birthdays, back to school, vacation and when friends visit.
It even includes the old favorite of my dad’s: “Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Liz Perraud is the Executive Director of GenOn Ministries, a non-denominational Christian organization that works in partnership with local church leaders to build disciples of Jesus Christ through intergenerational relationships.