The other day I ran across a Precious Moments/Norman Rockwell style meme of a little boy — looked like some child in the 1950s — with his hands folded and head bowed, saying grace in a government school lunchroom.
In the background, snickering children laughed and pointed.
The saying was forgettable, which is why I don’t remember it exactly, but went along the predictable lines of,
“I will stand up for the Lord regardless of what people around me think.”
Now actually, this concept is not a bad one at all, especially when one considers standing up for the Lord in light of befriending the awkward person who is embarrassing to be around, or forgiving someone’s thoughtless comment about how we look that day, or not making a judgment about the food the person ahead of us in line — obviously on public assistance — is buying, or giving $20 to one who asks for it without worrying if we’ll ever get paid back, or refusing to add our opinion about So and So’s family situation to the office water cooler or back-of-the-church coffee chat fest.
These are tangible, unromantic, far-from-glamorous ways of honoring our Lord by imitating Him in His own actions. They take five seconds to do, and generally do not engender any sense of pride or puffiness in our soul that cause us to say to ourselves,
“As for me and my house, I will serve the Lord!”
Saying grace in public places, however, is a dicey situation, and rare is the person who can do it without thinking to himself,
“Everybody’s watching me. I’m going to pretend that they’re not, because I’m so absorbed in relating to my dear, Sweet Jesus,”
“I feel awkward, but if I’m afraid to show thanks to God in public, then I’m ashamed of Him,”
“I am a living testament to my Lord, and people around me will be inspired by my actions! (If they’re not, then they’re wretched sinners who do not have His Spirit).”
All of these thoughts, which are extremely understandable, are evidence that something is not quite right in our actions, and it’s highly likely that saying “Thank You” is not the foremost motivation behind our public prayer.
But why should this matter? some ask, insisting that the outward action witnesses to those around us, bearing rich, rich fruit.
But does it?
When it comes to living our Christianity and loving our Lord, the motivation behind our actions matters, a lot. This is one reason why Jesus says in Matthew 7:21,
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father in heaven.”
With apologies for Scripture jumping, the immediate thought that comes to my mind when I see someone in a restaurant with head bowed and eyes closed, or, if they’re in a group, clasping hands with heads bowed and eyes closed, is,
“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6)
It is eminently possible to pray in public without anyone around us being aware, and indeed, the more we talk to God throughout the day — asking Him for insight, clapping the hands of our heart with joy over the beauty of a sunset, admitting that we’re impatient and inclined to be snappy, observing the actions of a toddler and remembering Christ’s words about children — the more normal it becomes. How easy, then, to look with our eyes into His and say,
“Thank you for this meal. I’m hungry, and it smells delicious. You take such good care of me.” Even if we had to briefly close our eyes, we could do so without drawing attention to ourselves and, more importantly, would genuinely fulfill what we say is our intention, thanking God.
If we’re concerned about showing God’s love and grace to those around us (and this is a great thing to be concerned about), maybe we could do so by treating the wait staff as social equals, leaving a good tip (consider leaving something as well for the people in back who did the cooking and wash the dishes), listening — truly listening — to the people in our group, smiling kindly to the woman with the crying child, and not grumbling about the guy in back who laughs too loud and sounds like a donkey.
Of course, none of these actions will overtly alert those around us to our status as Christian, but that’s probably a good thing. While showing off our piety is a poor way of drawing others to the unconditional love of our Father in heaven, living that unconditional love is a much more attractive — and effective — way of getting the message across.
Social media buttons for sharing this article are at the bottom. If the words in this essay resonated with you, please consider sharing. (That sounds really self-serving, doesn’t it? I ask, however, because in my search for truth, real truth, I found few people talking about the stuff we’re not supposed to talk about.)
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