Years ago, my sister-in-law offered one of the most helpful slivers of counsel I’ve ever received. It went something like, “Her convictions may not be the same as your convictions, so you aren’t going to view or respond to the circumstances the same way.” The encouragement was liberating in that it stopped (or at least slowed) me from projecting my expectations on others. What I might do or say in any given situation was what I believed everyone should do or say. Remembering this advice has also helped me tremendously as politics and the pandemic have slapped our world silly.
One of my convictions developed after a season of spiritual wandering where I questioned many of my long-held beliefs. As a recovering people-pleaser, I began to realize how at least a portion of what I professed was prescribed by pastors, teachers, Bible study leaders, and friends without me even realizing it. That meant in contrast to the Holy Spirit convicting and leading me, what I espoused as my belief was sometimes derived from what others thought or said. To see that at times I was simply parroting the beliefs of influencers in my life was a rude awakening that, ultimately, thankfully, proved to be transformative.
Complicated and at times disorienting, the deconstruction and subsequent rebuilding of my faith were healthy. It led me to detach from people and what they thought in order to seek and attach to God.
Reading Scripture, praying, and earnestly desiring to know God in His fullness (and not what other people told me about Him) caused me to examine practices and traditions I had once considered central to my faith. It may sound heretical or maybe just silly, but one of those traditions I began struggling with was a mealtime blessing, particularly when I was with friends in public. More often than not, it felt like we were just checking a box, doing what we thought “good Christians” were supposed to do rather than actually praying to God or sincerely thanking Him for our food. On some level, Jesus’s words to the Pharisees resonated with me (although in a softer measure):
“Everything they do is done for people to see.… You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”
Matthew 23:5, 27-28 NIV
Too often it seemed like mealtime blessings were a performance, not prayer, and to protect my fragile faith, I could no longer pretend. While I knew that Jesus expressed gratitude before eating, there was something disingenuous about my public prayers most of the time. They felt like what Jesus was talking about when He referenced Isaiah’s prophesy in Mark 7: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (in context Mark 7:1-13 NIV).
Please hear my heart: I’m not suggesting that praying before a meal is wrong! For goodness sakes, Jesus prayed before meals! But for me, during a tender season in my faith, I needed my prayers to be tethered to Father, Son, and Spirit, not to obligation or mindless tradition (which if I wasn’t careful, could happen with a mealtime blessing).
Well . . . it turns out that God can use even my wonky convictions to point me to His love and grace.
A few weeks ago, I met a group of dear friends for dinner, sisters in the faith who always point me to Jesus. When we pray before a meal, we’re genuinely inviting God into our midst, praising Him for His provision (food, friendship, and everything in between), and asking Him to guide our conversation. I still wrestle with my complicated “blessing conviction,” but I know these girls and their hearts. We’re praying, and it has nothing to do with obligation.
After a dinner that nourished body and soul, our darling waitress dropped off our checks. As Jasmine returned with the copies for us to sign, she said, “I just have to tell y’all… I rarely see a group of women eating together and encouraging each other the way it appeared you did. It was a blessing to me to see friends praying.” Of course, we all wanted to scoop her up and take her home, especially when she added she hoped to find a few friends she could get together and pray with. We invited her to a local community Bible study we attend, and I looked her square in the eyes, slipped her my business card, and urged her to please reach out. (I’m still hoping to hear from her.)
She was encouraged because we simply prayed. Our mealtime blessing was a blessing to her.
God used a complete stranger to challenge my perspective and to remind me that I never know who’s watching. I never know how someone might be impacted by the smallest, sincere expression of my trust in Jesus — an expression that could have easily gotten lost in my own “blessing conviction” and resistance.
Like my sweet sister-in-law suggested all those years ago, we don’t all necessarily share the same convictions about exactly how we live out our faith, but we’re all daughters of the same God, privileged to bear His image to a world who is watching.
How sweet of God to transform a thorn to a rose, a prickly conviction to a blessing for others.
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