He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully, He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation. This is the generation of them that seek him, that seek thy face, O Jacob.
Psalm 24: 4-6
As a minister, I talk about blessings all the time. I sign almost every one of my correspondences with “Blessings” at the end. So what does this idea of blessings really mean? In its widest understanding this word has a variety of meanings in the Bible. In The Catholic Encyclopedia it explains that blessings have taken in a sense that which is synonymous with praise; and so the Psalmist wrote, “I will bless the Lord at all times, His praise shall be always in my mouth” (Ps. xxxiii, 1). It is used to express a wish or desire that all good fortune, especially of a spiritual kind, may go with the person or thing, as when David says: “Blessed art thou, and it shall be well with thee” (Ps. cxxvii, 2). It is used to describe when a person or thing is changed from an ordinary use to some sacred purpose; “Christ took bread and blessed, and broke” (Matthew 26:26). Finally it designates a gift; so Naaman addresses Eliseus: “I beseech thee therefore take a blessing of thy servant” (2 Kings 6:15).
Clearly blessings can be understood in many different ways. Overall I am struck by the way in which blessings are associated with good things. Blessings mean praise, or to wish someone well, or to receive a gift or to make an object holy. So when the word blessings comes to mind, we have many happy associations with it. What do blessings mean in your life? Most recently I have been blessed by the birth of my baby girl. My husband and I feel like we have received a divine gift. Her life is so precious to us, and it makes our lives better. We feel unworthy of such joy and goodness, and we are so grateful to God that we are able to have this beautiful little one in our lives. We had hoped and prayed that we would be able to have a baby, and so we cannot express how grateful we are to have our Amalee. I could go on and on about all of her wonderful qualities, the way her face lights up when she smiles, the softness of her skin or how sweet it is to have her nestled against you when she naps. I could also go on and on about the ways that we have been challenged by this blessing.
Blessings are not without their challenges. I venture to say that every good thing has a shadow side. In one breath we may sing praise about someone or something, and in the next breath we can think of reasons to curse about it. As I said earlier, I love my daughter and she is a blessing, but taking care of her is also a huge challenge. Life is so much more full with her in it, but there are also many things I miss about life without children. Blessings are not simple, and appreciating the complexity of blessings helps us to see more clearly how we are blessed. In Psalm 24 it talks about receiving the blessing of the Lord. I know a number of people who complain that they don’t think that God likes them. They go so far as to complain that they do not see how God has blessed them and feel no reason to bless or praise God. If we are looking at blessings as only the good things that happen or the good people that are part of our lives, then we may miss the true blessings around us. Blessings come in many forms. Receiving God’s blessing may not mean getting what we want. We are not blessed because we have exactly what we wished we would have. We are blessed by life in all its struggles and rewards.
In the book The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, he writes beautifully about the complexity of lessings that I am trying to capture. His book says, Then a woman said, “Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow.” And he answered: Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears. And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven? And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives? When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight. Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.” But I say unto you, they are inseparable. Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed. Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.”
Your blessings and your challenges are inseparable. The very thing you struggle with most may be a blessing. It is often hard to take this view, especially when the pain we face is sharp and deep. Time brings perspective. When we look back on our lives, we see how everything is woven together. We recognize how we grew from our challenges, how relationships were strengthened, faith tested grew from the doubts. If we can keep this view in mind, then it might help us to make it through the difficult times and to find reason to be grateful, even when it seems that nothing is going our way. The Bible exhorts us to give thanks in all circumstances. How do we do that? We look for the blessings of light, even when we feel surrounded by the darkness. We open ourselves to the idea that all life is a gift.
What are the blessings in your life that you may have missed? What are the things you might be
compelled to praise God for if you look at them another way? You may be in a place of bitterness where you cannot see the blessings around you. That is understandable. When my daughter has absolutely exhausted me and I have lost all patience, I cannot see her as a blessing. When I feel that way, I try to honor the fact that that is where I am instead of berating myself for feeling that way. In time, and with more sleep, I continue to invite myself back to the positive. I encourage you to do the same when you find yourself stuck in negativity. I believe that eventually you will see how all that seems ordinary around you is sacred. All of your moments have the spark of divine mystery hidden among them. You are blessed. Even when you feel cursed, you are blessed. Let us each and every day thank God for all that life has offered us.