A family story:
One day, when my son was 10 years old, we were returning home from a shopping trip. We pulled up at a stoplight behind a car similar to one belonging to friends of ours. When I noticed the Jesus fish above the bumper, it confirmed it as theirs. (They have a more conservative take on Christianity than I do.)
“Yep, that’s them, all right,” I said to my son. “They have a Jesus fish.”
He considered this for a moment. He said, “When I went to his [the son of the family] birthday party, they said grace before we had cake.”
“Really?” I said. This struck me as surprising and funny, so I laughed. Then I realized I shouldn’t pass judgment on the religious practices of my son’s friends, so I said, “I shouldn’t laugh. That’s not funny.”
I couldn’t help smiling to myself. I sat there thinking about it and smiling. After a few minutes, I looked over at my son, who was also stifling a laugh and peeking out of the corner of his eye at me. We both cracked up.
My son said, “When he [the father] finished saying grace he said, ‘Amen,’ and most of the kids at the party were just like, ‘Huh?'”
“Did you say ‘Amen’?”
He gave me a scornful look, like I had asked him if he liked chocolate. “Yes,” he said. “I know how to say grace.”
“Maybe someday you’ll thank me for all your spiritual instruction.”
“Yes,” he said. “But I won’t say grace at my kids’ birthday parties.”
I grew up in a family that said grace every day, so the practice feels comfortable and familiar to me. My husband, my children and I don’t say grace every day, but we do at Sunday dinner, on holidays and at other times when it just feels right. Sometimes we have friends over who have a strong faith tradition, so they join in with no problem. Other friends don’t feel so comfortable with faith, so we make sure to phrase it as “Let’s take some time for gratitude.” I don’t address the grace to anything or anyone in particular. Even then, I can tell it makes them squirm.
An expression of gratitude shouldn’t be so laden with uncomfortable expectations and limitations. Grace should be just that: grace-full.
Everyone, no matter what they believe, benefits from taking time for gratitude. So, let’s peel off some of the layers that don’t need to be there. Take time for gratitude. Address your thanks to God, or the universe, or the farmer, or the cook—whatever makes you comfortable.
And at a birthday party, maybe a might shout of
“THANKS FOR THE CAKE!” would work best.