It seems natural to wonder, “am I cursed or am I blessed?” But the answer to that question often depends on context. Walking through my neighborhood with my sister who lives in the suburbs, I suddenly see the trash on the streets, the rough characters standing at the corner and the chipped paint in my house. But when my friend from East Oakland comes to visit, I feel a tinge of privilege about living in a neighborhood with coffee shops, a bookstore and great restaurants. I feel poor when I compare myself with a friend who works in Silicon Valley start ups and rich when I think about my nephew’s school debt, all the people I know who are upside down on their mortgages or how hard the mother of the child we sponsor in El Salvador has to work just to make a dollar to buy food each day.
I’m fascinated by how the lens through which we see the world and ourselves effects our sense of well-being and nobility. I recently met up with a friend who struggles with a profound sense of failure. He’s fifty years old, has never been married, rents a room in a shared apartment and works as an underpaid public attorney doing mediation work with at-risk children and families. The messages he gets from friends and the general culture is that he needs to try harder, get married, buy property and find an area of law practice that makes more money. The truth is: he is passionate about the work he does, is happily single, financially content and deeply fulfilled in his physical disciplines and prayer life. I told him, “If you measure yourself by the values of a monk or saint instead of the American dream, you would be considered rockstar.”
Sometimes I play a game where I compare my life and blessings with the lives of others. He’s rich but would I wish his struggles with depression on anyone? She is such a talented writer, but would I want her lonely life and complicated relationships?
This year was probably the most productive and effective year of my entire life thus far. I had a book published that was well-received, I traveled to 34 cities to share its message and people were eager to listen to my ideas and stories. Our family is doing well. I feel lucky to be able to do what I love. But then I talk with another author who sold triple the books I did and got double the speaking opportunities, and I think, “Wow. Now she’s well off.” But then she mentions another author we both know who regularly sells five hundred thousand books a year!– which makes us both wonder, “Are we really in the game at all?”
Lets just say that making comparisons is probably not the best way to discern whether you are blessed. Maybe it would be better to look at every aspect of our lives for signs of the Maker’s blessing. How is my health? Do I enjoy a few satisfying relationships? Are there small things I relish like a cup of coffee, music I love or a walk in the park? Most of us can find something to be grateful for and feel blessed about.
I hesitate to say it, but, maybe some of our discontent and the reason we are tempted to ask, “Am I blessed or cursed?” is based on the assumption that we should always feel happy and fulfilled. Being alive, inescapably, involves suffering. We live in a world or brokenness which we ache to see restored by the kingdom of love. We are all too aware of a brokenness inside that no amount of money, affection, leisure or even devotion can magically cure. Rather than seeking escape, we can learn to be aware of the Creator’s loving presence with us, in both the blessings and pain of our days.