An elderly couple sit in a restaurant with a third person at their table. This person appears to be their adult daughter, but she is disabled, needing a wheelchair to sit with them. Her head is flopped over on her left shoulder and she appears to have a squished torso and a hunched back. Her arms are extremely skinny and do not move. The elderly man, gray and balding, sits next to her and feeds her. She asks for something from her plate and he stops eating his own food to give her some of hers. Carefully, he positions the fork into her tilted mouth so that she can close her mouth around it and chew. Sometimes, it falls off of the fork before entering her mouth and spills down onto the napkin tucked into her shirt.
This is me with my parents every day – visible to the public when we go out to eat. For years, when I was no longer able to feed myself, I didn’t want to eat in public. We didn’t go to restaurants. At social gatherings, I always made sure that I ate before I left so that I wouldn’t have to partake of any food at the party. I didn’t want to gross people out with my messy feeding. And, mostly, I was embarrassed. I hated drawing even more attention to my crippled, crumpled self.
Being fed at home, in private, was an ordeal for me, too. It’s the one dependency that took me the longest to accept. The ability to put one’s food in one’s own mouth is just so natural, so simple, so essential. And for me, now, so gone.
It took about a decade, but I slowly got used to this way of life. Like with so many of the little abilities that I lose over the years, there is much mourning and weeping, but, then, acceptance. Although this is no “little” ability to lose, it is but one part of my overall dependency on others for survival. I can’t move, bathe, toilet, dress, scratch an itch, brush my teeth – or even sleep without cardiac arrest – unless somebody helps me or does it for me.
I am dependent. I am extremely vulnerable.
What does this have to do with praying before eating? Everything! Like I wrote in my last reflection, prayer known as “grace” is only authentic when it comes from true acknowledgment of dependence and a sincere outflowing of gratitude.
Do you pray before eating in a restaurant? If not, why not?
You know, I can’t remember ever seeing someone pray before eating in a restaurant. My family simply never did. I don’t know why. But, this began to change for us once we started going out to eat with my little nephews. We were trying to teach them the importance of prayer, including prayer before meals. And, even though we felt self-conscious about it at first, we knew that prayer is important everywhere – even in public. Maybe especially in public.
For some reason, it was easier with the little boys. But, when it was just me and my parents again… well…
I pictured it:
People in the restaurant would see us, two aging parents with their disabled adult child, and stare (it’s the head tilted hunchback thing). And me and my handicapped way of doing things would draw even more stares. But… If I was willing to bear this for the sake of my little ones… If I truly didn’t want to let one meal go by without giving thanks and if I understood the importance of the ritual of prayer….
I re-pictured it:
People would see us happy in each other’s company, the elderly couple and their adult disabled daughter, smiling, laughing, the father tucking in their daughter’s bib, preparing to feed her. They would see what looks like an ordeal and a sorrowful hardship being taken in stride – neither undermining nor diminishing joy. The other people in the restaurant might wonder how we could be so happy. But, then, they would see what happened when our food was set before us…
We would stop and pray – giving thanks.
This was what I wanted people to see. I wanted people to know that true joy doesn’t come from physical strength or independent grace. True joy comes from being grateful.
So, my parents and I made the decision to always pray before eating in restaurants.
But, I didn’t want to pray that singsong prayer, which my older sister had introduced into the family when she was three. “God is great, God is good…”
We turned, instead, to the Catholic classic:
Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts, which we are about to receive through Thy bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
This is, then, not only gratitude and communion, but also evangelization.
I also pray in my house when I am the only one eating and the only one who sees me is God – and the person feeding me, of course. I’ve been trying different prayers for these occasions, like the one inspired by my father’s prayer one day:
God Most High, may this food sustain my body as Your Eternal Word sustains my immortal soul – through Christ our Lord. Amen
Perishable food sustains the existence of our perishable bodies, which have life because of our souls – our souls that eternal God sustains eternally. But, perhaps this prayer might suggest to some people that the body and soul are two separate things. They are not. Body and soul are one… so….
Heavy sigh. Words.
As if there are any words, in any human language, that could truly say what the human heart longs to tell God…
Many Christians pray spontaneous words before eating, even taking turns. We do that sometimes at Christmas with my father’s family. But, I do get so stuck on the words.
I know it’s the praying that matters – the outward sign of the inner reality of humble gratitude, the body’s reflection of the heart’s disposition. Words are vital, but being is essential.
Let us give thanks to God who blesses us – in every matter, no matter what.
What do you pray before eating? Please, share your prayers below – I love exploring and learning!
(This reflection is a companion follow-up piece to A Prayer before Eating.)
© 2016 Christina Chase
Explore further with this interesting article in Our Sunday Visitor, click HERE.
photo source: LifeofPix.com