When somebody around you sneezes, what happens? You say, “God bless you.” Well, what do you mean by that? If I ask God to bless you, I’m asking [Him] to intervene in your life in some fashion for your good. So the next time you say “bless you,” remember you’re saying you want God to intervene in that person’s life.
—Charles F. Stanley, “Passing On God’s Blessings”
Telling someone "God bless you" after he or she sneezes has, for many of us, become a nearly unconscious reflex—a need to fill the awkward silence after an abrupt and alarming sound. The ritual has lost its significance entirely for many. But for anyone paying attention to the things of God, it’s amazing to recount all the references to the divine in mundane circumstances. For instance, the term “holiday” comes from the combination of “holy” and “day,” denoting a significant day of liturgical observance. Even the word “goodbye” is short for the phrase “God be with you.”
Much like our trained reaction to a sneeze, perhaps it’s possible to train our spirit to pray with greater readiness and frequency, until praying becomes so much a part of us that it’s akin to breathing.
In one way, it’s frustrating that we’ve weakened these terms by saying them so frequently and thoughtlessly. By allowing the repetition to become an ultimately meaningless and automatic impulse, we miss out on a moment to be mindful of God in our daily routine—to connect with our loving Father and even extend His love to others as a result.
One way we can make the most of these opportunities, whether responding to a sneeze, saying goodbye, or some engaging in some other custom, is by making use of what’s called a “breath prayer”—a short, memorized portion of Scripture or brief phrase that brings the heart’s focus back to the Lord.
Christians have been using these prayers since the church’s earliest days and for good reason: They help keep us mindful of—and even engaged with—the Holy Spirit in our life. Much like our trained reaction to a sneeze, perhaps it’s possible to train our spirit to pray with greater readiness and frequency, until praying becomes so much a part of us that it’s akin to breathing.
Although habits like saying “God bless you” are now largely habitual, if we are mindful about what we’re saying, even moments like these can serve as a reminder to stop and connect—with God and the people we’re blessing.