A few days ago, I was eating lunch at work. I was more or less finishing up, when a man approached a table a few feet away. With a haphazard flick of his wrist, he tossed a styrofoam plate holding a lone microwavable burrito to the tabletop. The burrito came to a stop and appeared as inert as the plate it sat on. He pulled out a chair and collapsed into it as if the sheer lameness of his lunch had defeated him. For a moment, he looked down at the colorless meal before him, and seemed to deride its very existence. Then he did something I did not expect.
He said a prayer.
This was evidenced by his head tilting at a downward angle ever-so-slightly so that the casual observer might actually think his lunch was so boring it put him to sleep. His eyes shut halfway, his lips moved as if he were talking, and he made the sign of the cross. The moment he was done he attacked the burrito with a fork and proceeded to eat as humans do.
And I was oddly moved. I smiled, but I felt melancholy… I felt like I had witnessed something significant, without knowing why.
My mom and dad are Christians. So, when I was a kid, we used to pray before every meal. Bow our heads, close our eyes, on special occasions we might hold hands. Even when I was in school, I’d still parrot the same little prayer, “Dear Jesus, we thank you for this food, it’s in your name, Amen.” Of course, because I was just a wee lad, it became a habit more than a meaningful ritual. It was like a mealtime mini-game to figure out the fastest way to pray while still sounding sincere. It was just this thing I did.
And then, one fateful day somewhere in Junior High… I didn’t do it. I don’t remember if I just forgot, or if it was a concious decision, but I didn’t say a prayer and I didn’t choke to death on my rectangle pizza. From that moment on, the whole notion of saying a prayer before a meal began to slip away. The Christian kids thought you were a rebel, the normal kids thought you were normal. It was win/win.
I’ve never really bothered to think about it to any real degree since then. Even in Bible college the above rule still applied. By not making a show of the fact that I was praying over my food, I was living dangerously. The bad boy on campus. I was James Dean leaning on a soft-serve ice cream dispenser instead of a motorcycle. In my head I either ignored thinking about it too much or justified it all away. Honestly, it got to the point where I’d roll my eyes when I’d see someone taking time to tell God “Thanks”. Clearly, they were just square.
And I think that’s kind of why the guy at work stopped me in my tracks. He was an adult. He had no parents telling him to do it, no institution encouraging him to say a prayer. His meal was certainly nothing to write home about, let alone God. And yet… That’s exactly what he did. It wasn’t a super-spiritual moment. It was just a guy, eating by himself, telling God “Thanks.”
I guess when I really look at myself, I realize I’ve not told God “thanks” nearly enough. Maybe it just takes a little bit of age to start seeing the things you used to take for granted are actually gifts, but God is so good that if we look hard enough, we might just find him inside a microwavable burrito.