Why I don’t say “I’m so blessed.”

The other day, a woman lashed out at me for announcing my latest pregnancy online. This particular woman’s stock in trade is lashing out; and since I’m pretty sure I don’t (as she accused me of doing) parade my perfect children around like perfect trophies to prove that I’m a perfect Catholic mom, I didn’t give her anger much thought. Just another angry person on the internet.

Later, out of curiosity, I read more of her comments. And then my heart broke.

It was a lot of what I expected: You Catholic moms think you’re so great! You think I’m bitter, but I’m not! Who cares what you do with your stupid perfect lives! You think you’re happy, but you’re not!

You think that just because I don’t have any kids, God doesn’t love me!

Oh.

It was as transparent as a child who howls and screams that he is not tired, not tired at all. Only no one was going to come to this woman, pick her up, soothe her, and put her to bed. No one was going to say, “It’s all right, sweet one. I hear what you’re saying. Let me help you and give you what you need, so you will feel better.” She thinks that God doesn’t love her, because He didn’t give her any children.

It’s not true.  God loves you. But I don’t know how, just like I don’t know how or why or how much He loves me. He makes rain fall on the wicked and the just, and woe to the just who think that they deserve the rain.

This is not easy. When we love somebody and want to show them our love, we give them things – do nice things for them – make them feel our love in the way we know best. If I spent four months hunting for the perfect present for my husband, and he acted like it just randomly fell out of the sky because he’s a lucky fellow, I would be annoyed. No! I would think. I gave you that on purpose, to prove that I love you! This is personal!

And it is personal when God gives us good things.  But it’s not proof of His love, exactly. It’s not that simple. Yes, everything that is good comes from God, and He deserves our thanks and praise for the things He give us. But the problem comes when we look at His gifts and draw conclusions about ourselves.

This is why I rarely say, “God has blessed us” when I mean, “We have good things” — whether it’s things like the sunny little house where we live, or a car that keeps running one more year, or a happy weekend, or a living, breathing baby (or ten). I say, instead, “We’re so lucky.”

I mean that the good things that come to us are only the hem of the mystery of God’s goodness. They are only a rumblings in the outskirts of the real workings of the economy of grace. It is a very good thing to be grateful and to praise God for the things we receive. It is a monstrously bad thing to conclude that we got them as a reward for good behavior. And all too often, at least in the 21st century of the United States, that is how we use the word “blessing.”

Witness the blaspheming Osteens telling us,

To experience [God’s] immeasurable favor, you must rid yourself of that small-minded thinking and start expecting God’s blessings, start anticipating promotion and supernatural increase. You must conceive it in your heart before you can receive it. In other words, you must make increase in your own thinking, then God will bring those things to pass.

Tit for heavenly tat, in other words. Well, Jesus wasn’t small minded. Jesus’ Father loved Him, and look at Him. Look at Him:

PIC Grunewald cruxifix

 

 

This is why I do not say that I am blessed, even though I know that this is the word that is technically, theologically sound. I think it means something different to modern ears. I am afraid that it says something so loathsome that I don’t want to risk it.

If my happiness is a sign that God has blessed me, what does that equation say to people who aren’t experiencing “promotion and supernatural increase”? To the people whose house is washed away, whose husband is shot down, whose womb is barren? It says what my reader said, without knowing she was saying it:

God does not love me.

So I don’t say that I am blessed. Instead, I say that I am lucky to have all that I have, because it is closer to something that I cannot express:  in my best hours, my witless bafflement in the face of God’s mercy to me and my family. I am lucky, not because my good fortune has no meaning or no purpose or no design, but because I do not know why it happens. It happens because God loves me in this way at this time, when I am just and when I am unjust. I do not know why.

Why do I have, and why does she not have? I don’t know. It is easy for me to see that God loves me, because I am simple: I see that He has given me many things, and to my childish soul, that spells love. When I pray for other people, I often ask that He will bless them in obvious ways, that He will make it as clear as possible that they are loved. I suppose this shows some arrogance, telling God how to do His job. But really it’s fear.  I am afraid to learn more about the other kind of love.

7 thoughts on “Why I don’t say “I’m so blessed.””

  1. Not having had children in near 18 years of marriage has been challenging, confusing, frustrating, depressing and downright discouraging. I wanted kids from day one, and have been counting the days ever since (literally, I think about it every day). The closest thing to the feeling is that God gave me a child/fatherhood shaped hole that can’t be filled – like knowing your vocation and never attaining it. Not saying I’m theologically correct, just being honest. Trying to find my mission as a husband without children has not provided any consolation, and I can’t enumerate every spiritual, saintly prayer to every patron saint, every meaningful homily, every insight I’ve received along the way. I can, however, attest to a supernatural grace that, beyond any logic I could muster, soothed me at my most desperate moments, and the most strenuous on my marriage. It’s carried me for the last few years, occasionally interrupted by brief moments of despair.
    There was a point when coming to weekend Mass was difficult, with the building so full of young families, some of them large while I was pushing middle age with nothing to show (not the whole picture, just one aspect). Even harder seeing my closest friends, all of them married after me, have multiple children. My parents’ friends are grandparents, and they don’t bring that up too often, but they don’t have to. Resentment towards everyone of these, and God has seeped in on those moments of despair, and I’ve not been able to think myself out of those. It’s been God’s love, mercy, favor that has sustained me. I have no hack, no formula, no trick for my self nor for making God do what I want.
    Thanks be to God for all our lives, and our crosses. If you’re a man in this journey, for whatever reason, natural or otherwise, know that I have prayed for you.

  2. This is somewhat off topic but as a mom who is dealing with the painful situation of a very much wanted, loved and cared for daughter who has decided to hang out in prodigal land, I certainly don’t feel all that blessed right now. Who knows why things happen the way they do. Maybe God spared the childless couple of the much worse pain of rejection by your own child. I guess I could say my prayer life has grown and I don’t judge other parents like I used to. So I have been “blessed” with growth in my faith. Beauty from ashes and what not.

  3. I will always say blessed because it is theologically correct. Being blessed mean s you have things you don’t deserve. I’m not lucky I’m a sinner saved by God’s grace. Saying you are blessed is a way to glorify God. If it hurts others feelings then it needs to be explained to them gently. Tell them you don’t deserve what you got & you have no idea why God would bless you and that even when something bad does happen you will still say you are blessed. That’s a powerful testimony to others. God can reward us but we don’t know if that’s the reason.

  4. I prefer the word ‘blessed’ as distinct from the randomness that the word ‘luck’ conveys. Probably we talk past each other in our meaning of words in a similar manner to those who claim to be atheist and when I ask them to explain I end up muttering “well I’m with you on that, I wouldn’t believe in the God you reject either”.

  5. I think you’re right, “blessed” means something very different to modern ears. Probably because of constant misuse by Christians like the Osteens. I did read one Catholic blogger* who made a big deal that “children are a REWARD from God.” In spite of the fact that he was a father of many, and obviously, preening. The question is, a reward for what? Tell me, so I too can be worthy of “the supreme gift” and “the crown of marriage.” But what could I say. Scripture does call children a reward.

    In fact in the Bible, the only permanently childless wife was Michel, who was punished by God for pointing out to David he looked like an idiot dancing around.

    Perhaps we just don’t have the theological chops in the Church these days to develop our teaching around this. I think the “preferential option of the poor” was one reaction that helps, although it’s quite limited to the economic sense of poverty. I’d love it if we could have a counter to the Theology of the Body, which celebrates the blessing of bodies that are sleek, strong and healthy. A Theology of the Sick and Disabled Body perhaps. Until then all the childless wives must be satisfied with their bare heads, their second rate blessings, and their shame.

    *uh oh. Did I just do a too-vague, yet somehow-also-not-vague-enough reference to another writer? nah. It’s a GUY writer so nobody will come at me with a pitchfork 😜

  6. Yes yes yes! This is something that I’ve started saying much to the horror of my Bible Belt Mississippi friends. I have been extremely fortunate to be born into my family, to have never really wanted for much in my life. I’m hesitant to use the word “blessed” because I feel that word when referred to material blessings is an instant line drawn in the sand between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” That kind of comparison makes me extremely uncomfortable. So many friends I know in far more modest living arrangements or fewer to no children have a breathtakingly beautiful relationship with God. One that I am envious of.
    I also know of how the Lord can give and take away. I can say now (albeit through gritted teeth) that my brother’s sudden death 9 years ago has been something of a blessing. I wish it were any other way, but our family changed after he died. We (my siblings and I) became kinder and more merciful towards each other and my parents. It’s a blessing to have a brother in heaven who prays with us and for us.
    I think I shock people when I refer to the death of a beloved family member as a blessing just as badly as when I do not refer to my beautiful home as a blessing but rather something I am very lucky and fortunate to have.

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