One of the things that makes me bristle is when people say how blessed they are. It isn’t that I don’t feel blessed – I absolutely do! My concern comes when being blessed is equated with “the good life”, and the idea that God has given you or me a good life because God prefers us over some other poor shlubs who are, somehow, undeserving. The horrible quote from St. Augustine – “There but for the grace of God go I” – is part of the problem. Being blessed is not just about being happy or prosperous – sometimes it is about quite the opposite.
When Jesus told His followers about being blessed, it was distinctly connected to struggle. Making peace, living in poverty, mourning – to name three – were not about happiness. They were about the reassurance that God is still with us in the midst of struggle. The capricious God of many people’s theology seems to pick and choose who gets good stuff and who gets bad stuff purely at random. I accept that life is not fair, but I will never accept that God is not fair.
When I think about the times I have felt most blessed, they have followed on the heals of some really bad things. My childhood prepared me to understand suffering, and to see abuse when others were unaware. My difficulties with the United Methodist process of church appointments drove me to despair, but it also led me to the United Church of Christ. The end of long relationship in college made me feel lost and rejected, but it opened the door to the greatest relationship of my life. In the midst of feeling good about things, I had to trudge through some shadowy and desperate valleys.
So I am thankful for the good, the bad, and the ugly of my life. I am keenly aware of my good and bad luck, and I am also willing to admit that hard work and persistence has often paid off – and sometimes has not. Even when I have lost, I have felt God’s presence. Even in my failures, God has encouraged me to keep going. So be thankful, because every challenge leads to choices and opportunities – God is present in the blessings that make you feel great and the blessings that seem like disasters. Life can get better – just hang in there. None of us alone. Peace.
Steve Ohnsman has been the pastor of Calvary UCC in Reading, PA since 1999. He has a BA in Religion & Philosophy from Wilmington College (OH), an MDiv from Drew Theological Seminary (NJ), a DMin in Christian Ethics from United Theological Seminary (OH), and a PhD in Leadership from Alvernia University (PA).