…ima-say-it-anyhow. Consider that your warning.
I think praying before meals is overrated, even to be avoided. It’s not that I want to get down to business faster that I’m not grateful. In fact, quite the opposite. I think that because we are so focused on wanting to eat and get on with our lives, we rush through the act of prayer.
Prayer should not be forced, required, or rushed. You wouldn’t rush a conversation with your minister, or the president, or your best friend, would you, just because dinner was waiting? Prayer should not be “routine”, in the sense of fulfilling an item on a to-do list. Prayer should not be a pedantic, petty task we do to please some winged deity holding a harp and sitting on a cloud.
Prayer should be an act of quiet meditation. In the context of thanksgiving, prayer should be exactly that. Prayer should be like having a conversation with God, if a mortal man could do so. Prayer should be reverent.
Perhaps I’m falling prey to falsely bifurcative thinking (and at least to the trap of hyperbolic effect), but I would like to posit that it would be better not to pray before meals than to pray as a meaningless ritual. Certainly, for some people the ritual aspect bears personal meaning, or, better yet, spiritual meaning (just as I find taking Communion every week valuable, while many people I know feel that once a month is better, lest the significance of the sacraments be “watered down”). For these people, all the better to pray. But for me, a trite prayer before consuming food is devolving into nothing more than a pattern, like parting my hair on the same side or microwaving my oatmeal for exactly 93 seconds (no, not 1:33–that requires pushing more buttons) every day. Why bother? Does God care about or hear those prayers? He hears everything, but do our shallow pre-meal orisons please or glorify Him? In a sense, isn’t it saying, “Yeah, God, thanks for the food and You’re pretty cool and all, but really I just want to eat before my food gets cool”?
I’m all for a prayer-filled life. Some of the most devout, loving people I know are true “prayer warriors”. I have had wonderful experiences in prayer. I have even heard profoundly moving pre-meal prayers. But, at least for me, praying before meals seems to be in vain. I like having my cake and eating it too: praying and meaning it, too.