I remember the feeling. After swimming all day, my wet head sunk into the pillow at naptime and I pulled my blanket up and sighed deeply. I was three years old. I felt one single thought. I love my life. I was blessed.
Blessed. We use the word so often today. We might use it to describe anything from a new possession to a memory filled with laughter or a peaceful moment reading God’s Word with a rich cup of coffee. What does being blessed actually mean?
Is it a permanent state of being, or do I just get to be blessed in certain moments of time? Is it my Christian duty to achieve a blessed state, or to strive to be blessed? Or does God give us blessings every moment and we just need to open our eyes?
Jesus spoke about the state of being blessed in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:1-12:
- Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
- Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
- Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
- Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
- Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
- Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
- Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
- Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
What Jesus calls blessed are circumstances that no one would envy. Who wants to be described as poor in spirit, or live in grief or persecution? It was a radical act to validate being merciful and also be an active peacemaker.
My first-grade Sunday school class had a bulletin board filled with bumblebees, each naming a “Be-attitude.” Even at age six, I remember seeing the list of the Beatitudes as a weighted blanket constantly criticizing me. I knew I could never inherit the earth because when I entered the world, my mom swears I held my hands up and said, “Ta-da!” How can a born extrovert who enters a room like a cyclone ever be called meek?
I eventually learned, though, that Jesus gives us this list of blessings not to prescribe the actions we need to take, but to highlight who we are.
We are blessed when . . .
We surrender our circumstances.
The illusion that we can control our circumstances can hold our blessedness in a prison. Logically, it makes sense that our choices determine what happens to us and making better choices leads us to a better life. Jesus talks about unfair circumstances being a blessing in the Sermon on the Mount. It’s not fair to be persecuted and insulted for our faith. Who we are as followers of Jesus will provoke the world around us without question.
I surrendered my circumstances on a stormy Tuesday. Our four-year-old son, Ford, had been in the hospital for two weeks with an unknown blood disorder. My two-year-old and six-month-old sons were with Grandma, and my husband was spending the night in the hospital with Ford. All I wanted was to drive home, take a long bath, and cry for an hour. I was trying to make this hospital visit seem like a grand adventure for Ford’s spirit, but the adventure had drained me.
It also drained me of any knowledge of where I left my house keys. I sat in my garage with no way to get into my home and collapse. So I broke the door leading from the garage to the house, and my blessedness was free. I might not be able to stop the sickness that was invading my son, but I could break into my home.
In the tearful prayers that followed that evening, I listed all my complaints about my situation to the Lord. The word that came back to me was “Let it go, Aim. Quit trying to make sense of what is happening and surrender to me.” We are blessed because we are never so alone that we have to carry our circumstances with our own strength.
We need God’s presence.
When your spirit is fading, the kingdom of heaven is around the bend. When your grief is overwhelming, comfort beckons through the living God. Do you want to claim that you are blessed? You need the presence of the Holy Spirit to fuel every miniscule moment. Anything we can achieve without the presence of God is not worthy of our time. Are you a follower of Jesus? You need Him.?
I am convinced that self-sufficiency kills the work of blessedness in our lives. Each attitude that Jesus calls blessed is an exercise in calling on the name of God for help. We do not have to struggle for solutions or have all the answers. We are at the height of holiness when we need Jesus in the center of everything we say and do.
We are at the height of holiness when we need Jesus in the center of everything we say and do.
My blessed self at the age of three did not know that my small world was crashing around me. Mom had just driven from Cold Water, Michigan, to Houston, Texas, in a Mercury Capri without knowing how to drive a stick shift well. My job on the trip was to hold up a sign that said, “My mom is learning to drive a stick shift. Please go around.”
My parents’ divorce didn’t seem like anything but a road trip as my excited eyes drank in the big city. Mom had a teaching job that almost didn’t come true because it was a risk to employ a single mother who did not know how to back up her car and the U-Haul trailer attached.
Our apartment was the site of several police inquiries, and our diet consisted of 25-cent pot pies and macaroni and cheese. I remember coming in at night as my mom knelt against the bed and comforting her tearful prayers. “It’s okay, Mommy.” Within this context I never felt unsafe or insecure. My mom found a way to make every day a new adventure as we took fieldtrips to the laundromat to watch the clothes dance. I knew I was blessed.
Every Sunday I ask our congregation to hold up their hands and receive the benediction. We want to send out the people of God with a small statement so they know who they are.
It is my greatest privilege as a pastor to give blessings to my church family and know in the depths of my soul that I give as one who is blessed.
Aimee Mulder co-pastors Breakwater Church of the Nazarene in Muskegon, Michigan, with her husband, Devin.