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!
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.