All growing up, my family said a blessing at the dinner table each night. “God is great, God is good, and we thank him for our food…” it began. I can recite it in my sleep, and have memories of thousands of dinners holding hands with my parents and sister, saying the words. But after a while, saying the words became a rote task – one we did as habit, without thinking at all about what we were saying. Now, when my boys and I eat dinner at my parents’ house, with my parents and my three teenaged sisters, my boys hold hands and stare blankly at the rest of us while we speed through the blessing.
My oldest has some concept of a higher power, but my husband is an athiest, and the idea of saying a blessing to thank a god for our food is foreign at our house. It’s not that I’ve rejected the idea of a blessing at the beginning of the meal. Quite the opposite, actually. I am so accustomed to sitting down at a table and saying the God is great blessing before I can eat that as an adult with my own little family, it doesn’t feel like dinner is really beginning without the ritual. I want my children to appreciate the food we have on the table, and the wonderful things we have to be thankful for, but I have struggled to find a non-religious blessing to begin the meal with.
So we began using dinner time to talk about the things that went well for us during the day and the things we’re thankful for. This month, in particular, we have focused on going around the table and each saying something we are thankful for. The five-year-old is thankful that his daddy lets him play with a flashlight. The two-year-old is thankful for his spiderman underwear. And every night since the boys were old enough to talk, we’ve gone around the table and asked each other, “What was the best part of your day?” They know they won’t be excused from the table until they’ve told theirs and listened – really listened – to everyone else’s, and it forces them to be present for five minutes every night while they think about the things that have gone well during the day and celebrate our days as well. Even on the bad days, the ones that seem like they are a dark hole of crappiness, we each have to think of one thing that was good, one thing we are glad happened.
It’s not a prayer, and I still haven’t found that perfect blessing to start our meals with, but at least our dinners include a ritual of gratitude that we actively, cognitively participate in as a family. It will give my boys something to remember fondly when they’re adults, and that is blessing enough for now.