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Q: Growing up, I got in the habit of always saying grace before every meal. However, now that I’m older and most of my friends are not Catholic or really religious at all, it’s become awkward to say a prayer before meals when around them. When I pray to myself I can always sense them looking at me, and it feels weird. Should I ask them to pray with me? Should I just stop praying in public?
—Fall from grace
A: Like you, I grew up in a household that said grace before meals. For us, this included (much to my mortification) lunches that we ate at restaurants and dinners when we had company. That awkwardness that you speak of: Boy, did I feel it! I can remember asking my parents that if they were going to insist on praying in the Waffle House, could they at least time their petitions so that a waiter didn’t show up between “Bless us, O Lord,” and “From thy bounty”?
One place where we didn’t pray before meals, however, was when we were guests of friends or family members. In their homes, we followed their norms, whether that meant praying in the way they prayed or not praying at all. And whether it was the Waffle House incidence that I spoke of above or a different one, there came a time when my family transitioned from saying our usual mealtime blessing to a simple “Thank you God for this food and for our time together,” when out to eat.
I don’t think that there is a “right” answer to your question, but as the way my parents approached mealtime blessings has guided my family’s current practice in a manner that feels right, maybe it can provide direction for you as well. When we invite people into our home, we invite them to share in our tradition. Who knows? It could touch their hearts or impact their faith in some unforeseeable way. When we gather in mixed groups of people in public spaces, we pray in a way that allows us to express our gratitude to God but doesn’t—because humility is important, too!—draw attention to ourselves: a bowed head and a simple, silent thanks. And when we visit others, we are gracious guests, open to learning from our friends in whatever way they teach us. This may very well not be through prayer.