Recently, I heard the following advice from a scientist explaining digestion:
- Before eating, pause and take a few moments to be thankful. This allows your brain time to signal your parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for stimulating digestive juices. You'll digest your food better.
You've not likely viewed mealtime grace as a digestive aid. But considering social trends, it's worth noting that at mealtime, everyone scrambles to the table, gulping down their food. Minds never leave whatever occupied them — computer, job, worries, etc. The brain keeps operating the sympathetic nervous system, which actually shuts down digestion and keeps stress responses running. If there is a mealtime grace, it might be mindless and rushed.
Relaxed time allows everyone to see and smell the food, which sends important visual and sensory signals to the brain. Furthermore, we should chew slowly, allowing digestive enzymes to break down the food and prepare it for the next stage in digestion.
So far, I'm using science to suggest that mindful preparation for eating is a moral responsibility. It's for everyone's physical and emotional wellbeing. I'm quoting an atheistic thinker to underscore both the sacredness of shared mealtimes and also the wisdom of God's ordering for our lives — as applied to eating habits.
The Bible also gives us some counsel applicable to the way that we eat.
1 Timothy 4:4 – For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving. (NIV)
1 Corinthians 11:33b – When you come together to eat, wait for each other. (NIV)
In other words, at your communal meals, don't pig out and ignore the food needs of others, as if they're less deserving of Christ's forgiveness through His death.
Colossians 3:15 – Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts. … And be thankful. (NIV)
1 Timothy 6:17b – Put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. (NIV)
Deuteronomy 12:7b – You and your families shall eat and shall rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the Lord your God has blessed you. (NIV)
Now, I'll offer a suggestion that's supported both scientifically and biblically: Instead of one person saying grace, share the responsibility. Proceed around the table, asking each person to complete this sentence: "Today I am thankful for ________". This makes everyone pause and think. Toddlers will catch on quickly and enjoy a chance to speak. Infants will benefit, because a calm, happy ambiance aids their digestion, too.
Lastly, mealtimes provide a visual aid for spiritual blessings to be enjoyed continuously:
Psalm 34:8a – Taste and see that the Lord is good. (NIV)
John 6:35a – I am the bread of life. (NIV)
Luke 22:20b – This cup is the new covenant in my blood. (NIV)
You may enjoy this thoughtful mealtime grace, by Edward Hays:
Prayer: Lord God and Giver of all good gifts, we are grateful, as we pause before this meal, for all the blessings of life that You give to us. Daily, we are fed with good things, nourished by friendship and care, feasted with forgiveness and understanding. And so, mindful of Your continuous care, we pause to be grateful for the blessings of this table. May Your presence be the extra taste to this meal which we eat in the name of Your Son, Jesus. Amen.
Listen to this devotional
Listen while you read: "All For Jesus" (Lyrics)