What Does It Mean to be Blessed?
In January we considered the issue of being “blessed” in terms of being affirmed by God to serve in Kingdom-building*. We haven’t spent much time, however, analyzing what it means to be blessed in the midst of struggle and hardship; how can we be blessed when it feels like we are being cursed? This is another central theological issue for all people in all times, one every human must resolve somehow.
“Where is God for you in this?” - a question every spiritual director you ever meet will likely ask you. The first time it is profound, the tenth time it is annoying, and every time beyond that even more so. It gets more annoying each time because you continue to realize how rarely you ever ask yourself that question, and how slowly you learn to. At the same time, I have found that if I practice asking myself this question regularly, my ability to answer it becomes easier andquicker. Simply asking the question affirms a belief that God actually IS in all this somewhere, and it is my responsibility to discern where.
This begs a tough question: Are we called to affirm that we are blessed by God in all circumstances? Certainly Paul of Tarsus would say yes, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thes. 5:16-18) When things are going well, this ideal feels like a reasonable ask; it is easy to forget God in the good times. When we are brought low, unsatisfied, disciplined, or pressed down (by others or by circumstances) it can seem almost like a masochistic ask. Is Paul demanding a “thank You God, may I have another?”
When confronted with questions about suffering, I remind myself what God means to me, what the teachings of my Lord and Savior are. God is known through love, through deep compassion (co-suffering) and abiding relationship. God does not desire our suffering any more than God desires our isolation from one another or Creation. In the midst of hardships, we are called to keep our eyes on God, on the Good and the beautiful, that which is right and true, in order to prevent us from being weighed down by the struggle. It is difficult, sometimes all but impossible, and yet this attention to God’s presence and desire for God’s vision mean the difference between coming out jaded and coming out determined.
At the end of the day, mere existence is a miracle too wonderful for words. Just take a moment to contemplate the stars, the leaves, the ocean, or the rain on your skin. Yes, there is suffering and loss in life, yes there is betrayal and domination. These things can block out the Goodness of God, shot through all of Creation, if we cannot hold them together with that Goodness. The moon does not have to be larger than the sun to eclipse it, it just has to fill our field of vision, standing between us and the nourishing warmth we depend on.
Being blessed is not contextual, it is not relative to your current feelings and possessions and circumstances. It has nothing to do with “how things are going”. Being blessed is your core identity;
it is an essential component of being beloved. The struggle we face is to affirm our blessedness in the midst of messiness, to affirm the presence and abiding love of God through the struggle. And so we struggle on, together.
*I recognize that terms like “Kingdom” and “Lord” may not feel accessible to many; I find them to be helpful
shorthand for central concepts I teach at Admiral, especially in contrasting human and divine authority.