Why I don’t say “I’m so blessed.”

Why I don’t say “I’m so blessed.” September 5, 2014

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.

 

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  • True grace is when we know we are blessed even when we don’t get what we want.

  • Anna

    Thank you for articulating why I’ve felt uncomfortable using that phrase when speaking of our children. Does it mean we weren’t blessed during the infertile years? Or that couples who never do conceive aren’t blessed, whereas we finally were due to some virtue on our part? But I feel odd attributing it to “luck” as though God isn’t the intentional author of our children’s lives. (It’s funny, I’ve learned after most of our children that someone in particular had offered up something like their own pregnancy and delivery for us to conceive. There seems to be some connection we’re allowed to have in giving life not only to our own children but to other families as well.) Anyway, now I’ll just refer people here to explain what I want to say…

    Also, just had to say, I agree with you about your commenter (though I’m pretty sure mental illness figures in too), but we also tried, really tried, from the beginning of the Faith and Family Live forums, to sympathize and offer some solidarity and consolation. But she tends to get even angrier at people who try to build her up. So for anyone more recent who thinks she’s bitter just because other commenters have always responded in anger or snark or just ignored her, that’s not really how it worked.

    • Kate Cousino

      The F&F comment boxes were some of the gentlest places on the internet. There certainly wasn’t any kindness or concern lacking, though after a while people’s patience waned in this particular case.

      • If it’s who I think it is, then I genuinely feel bad, because it was obvious from reading just a few of her comments how much pain she is in.

        Of course, if it’s someone else, I still feel bad, just in a more abstract sense!

    • Guest

      I don’t know who this commenter is but just because she’s angry and bitter doesn’t mean she’s mentally ill. A lot of married Catholics with offspring very frequently go on about how blessed they are because of their families and how they are living the “domestic church” and doing God’s work and things. They don’t realize how arrogant they come across or how their words make it sound like single, childless people are not blessed or creating their own little “domestic churches” and are doing God’s work. They act like the only way is to be married with kids. It’s not what God has told us or the faith teaches but it is pervasive in this generation of Catholic families. Maybe she’s just worn down from having to face that everywhere she tries to find Catholic life and being told she’s just got to pray, wait with patience, and “look how much time you have to volunteer at church!” as if that’s the only thing in life.

    • Liberty

      I just discovered that woman and I think you are right about the mental illness. She reminds me of a bipolar friend who writes crazy stuff that is somehow coherent while being completely random. So sad.

    • MamaK

      Something to think about too: what about an teenage girl who conceives out of wedlock. Is she blessed or not? Lucky or not? What about the parents who are dealing with one daughter, newly married and expecting her first child and another who is living contrary to everything they’ve taught her and is expecting her first child and faces life as a single mother? The parents are overjoyed about the first, but saddened about the other.

      I think we need to stop looking at conception as somehow a product of the supernatural. It is a natural function. Couples have sex, babies are made. That’s something we share with the animals. Sometimes things go wrong in nature and hence humans can have a plethora of illnesses, diseases, deformities and handicaps. Infertility is one of these things that go wrong. It’s not in it’s own special category of “curses.” God allows nature for the most part to work as he’s designed it. Occasionally he obviously intervenes. But fertility does not fall in the miraculous realm. It seems very “Old Testament” to think of curses and blessings.

      • sillyinterloper

        If the creation of new life is not miraculous, than nothing is.

  • SteveTirone

    Now you had to go and make me well up. At work yet.

    • Lydia

      Me too!
      My father and I have been looking for new jobs for months now and I’ve had to fight off thoughts of “If I would just do X then God will finally give us what He’s been holding back.” He’s still providing for my family in so many other ways, but it’s hard to understand why not in this specific way. Somewhat less hard is to stop trying to figure it out and just be patient and trust Him.
      Thank you for posting, Simcha.

  • Polly King

    This was excellent, Simcha. I have struggled with the same concept, only in reverse… I have actually said “God didn’t bless us with children” but it always hurt. It felt like admitting utter failure, that we weren’t cutting it so God took that “blessing” away. Thank you for giving me some perspective on this.

  • Monica E

    A lovely call to charity.

  • Monica E

    Before I can get to the comments on my android I have to scroll past ‘you may also like’ with a list of articles/pictures, options for sharing or printing the article, web offers (6 ads totally unrelated to the article and mimicing news), options to follow you in all different forms, ‘read more’ link to other of your articles, archives, alist of other patheos blogs (9 options) follow patheos, and an ad for the patheos book club. By the time you slog through all that you’ve forgotten what you’ve read.

  • anna lisa

    A few months ago, when my husband and I were praying together, I noticed something new that he started asking God for each time he prayed for us, and for the needs of our children. He would say something to the effect of: “God, please help us to remove those obstacles that make us unable to receive the graces you desire to give us”.
    He was petitioning on our behalf what he habitually asks God to do for him. He has told me that when he lived an agnostic life, it’s not that he didn’t believe in God, he just didn’t have the time of day to say, “here I am Lord, your servant is listening”.
    .
    *We* are the ones that clog that channel of blessings.
    .
    Before St. Paul was able to *fathom* and preach the gospel, the barrier to his vision, needed to be removed. Some people think this was a quickie event, but it wasn’t. I think there were three years in the desert involved.
    .
    I think that blessing flows copiously and continuously from God, but we cling to things and attitudes like disgruntled children obstinately raising our little umbrella to the waters of His is mercy.

    • Silvina Leonnetti

      What you said just reminded me of something from the vision of the Miracolous Medal.

      The Virgin held a golden ball in her hands, which she seemed to offer to
      God as her eyes were directed toward heaven. At the next moment,
      jeweled rings appeared on her fingers. The precious stones on the rings
      gave off a cascade of light. The light emanating from the rings was so
      bright that Catherine could no longer see the Virgin’s feet.

      The Virgin Mary lowered her eyes to Catherine, who began hearing her voice, though the Virgin’s mouth did not move:

      The
      ball which you see represents the whole world, especially France, and
      each person in particular. (At this point the rays coming forth from the
      rings began to increase in brilliance).

      These rays symbolize the
      graces I shed upon those who ask for them. The gems from which rays do
      not fall are the graces for which souls forget to ask.

      • anna lisa

        Yes.
        We need to keep asking. asking. asking. Not because God is stingy, but because it puts our heart in the right place. Otherwise we become entitled children, or even worse cynical children who don’t believe in a God who has our hairs counted. To believe in random luck, like God isn’t there intimately allowing or actively willing what happens is a step toward atheism. After the so-called “enlightenment”, some who didn’t entirely lose their faith taught that while there might be a creator, He was a “hands off” God, who simply set the world in motion like a top. It was precisely this heresy that prompted our Lady to intervene, at the apparition you describe above. Thank you for reminding us of it. Very apropos.

  • anna lisa

    True fecundity is of the spirit.
    No, our mother Mary *did not* have just ONE baby. She has billions, and she’s still at it.

  • TheConductor

    Simcha: first time long time. I want to say thank you for posting this (and congratulations on your new baby!). My own situation is that when my wife and I were younger, we were off the path of being Catholic, and for largely selfish reasons we avoided having children. Now that we are past the age where that’s likely to happen (though it’s not impossible), we have reconnected with our faith, but our penance for not wanting children is….well, that we don’t have children. Our nest is empty. I’ve received absolution about all this and more or less made my peace with it, though sometimes I get the impression that other Catholics (not you) are looking down at the two of us. Yet for all that, I feel truly blessed – blessed in the sense you mean above, in that everything in my life, the very fact that I AM alive, comes from the grace of God. Thank you for making me remember that my blessings are as real as yours or anyone else’s in the world.

    • Mike

      I think we forget that “our” kids are not really ours but God’s in that we’re not our parent’s but his first and foremost; we co operate in their incarnation but ultimately we are all adopted kids.

  • anna lisa

    “God in his providence has two ways of blessing marriages: one by giving them children; and the other, sometimes, because he loves them so much, by not giving them children. I don’t know which is the better blessing. In any event, let one accept his own.” ~Bl. Josemaria Escriva

    • tt

      And if you don’t have them, there is always a lovely woman in the parish there to lecture you on the sin of “contracepting” because the burden of infertility never occurred to her and clearly you are just a sinner. Been there, heard that. This is why we need to STOP JUDGING EACH OTHER.

      • anna lisa

        Nobody lectures anybody on the sin of contraception where I live. In fact it’s quite the contrary. I’m hardly at mass with my whole family anymore but when I have four kids with me they think we’re quaint. Anything in the five and up category elicits stares of shock and a little pity from the 30-40 year olds. They look at me with this quizzical “you can’t be serious” looks on their faces, like I must not have gotten the memo. It’s so embarrassing our eighteen -year-old can’t bear to sit with us at mass any longer. I’ve asked him to do it just for me, but I don’t push him when he insists that it makes him feel like a freak.
        I’m sorry the morality police have accosted you. I can’t stand those kinds of people either. My parents have some friends like that. Last week one of them actually reprimanded my *79 year old Mom* for wearing a shirt that dipped two fingers below her throat. –My mother is the epitome of modesty! She must think I’m a harlot. I call them the Catholic ambassadors of bad will.

        • Blobee

          Way back when, my mom & dad had 6 kids, and all my mom’s sisters had two kids each (this was the 1940’s and 1950’s) and in anger they would say to her, ‘if something happens to you, who’s going to take care of all those kids!’ They said this because their eldest sister got divorced and then died of cancer at 35 (in 1946) leaving behind her two boys, eleven and nine years old. Their father wanted nothing to do with them, and so one of my mom’s sisters raised them along with her own two sons. So the idea was, if something happened to my parents, no one was going to want to take on the burden of us kids.
          It was such an affront to my mom, so unloving, but because of it she went talked to a (male) cousin who also had 6 children, and both couples agreed if anything should happen to the other, the surviving couple would raise the kids. They actually signed a paper formalizing this agreement.
          But the upshot was that when we were grown, with only my youngest brother still living at home (at age 25), my aunt, (the one who posed the bitter question about who would raise us), was visiting my parents for a week. At the end of the week my aunt, whose sons had grown and moved away long before, and whose husband had passed away too young, said to my mom, ‘how lucky you are to have all these kids, coming and going and life just abounding around you.’ My mom just smiled. My aunt had forgotten the painful comment she had made that caused so much fear in my parents, and now wished her life was a full as my parents’ life was.

          Those who sneer at big families have a rude awakening coming when the dark loneliness of old age begins to descend on them. I feel sorry for them.

          • anna lisa

            I have been getting a sense of what you are saying, more, and more. They really are so beautiful. But I need to learn how to worry less.
            Thank you for telling me about your parents. It is a good lesson about not allowing negative thoughts and fears for the future sour the present.

          • $1028912

            On the other hand…..having a big family, or any number of kids, is never a guarantee that one’s old age won’t be spent alone, because such things aren’t ever entirely in our control.

            I used to a do a lot of volunteer work in nursing homes, and some of the saddest people I met were the ones who outlived all of their loved ones.

      • irena mangone

        Amen

  • Suzanne Andrews

    I really need to stop reading your blog in the schoolroom. It’s no good for me to dissolve into a puddle of tears in front of the kids. I completely relate to that woman, although I do have children, God has more of my children with him than I do, and I have often mused that it’s because he didn’t trust me or love me(enough, more, I don’t know what works here). Thank you.

    • anna lisa

      To suffer loss puts us in such stellar company. All God asks of us is our “fiat”.

  • I was someone who struggled to conceive and I actually preferred the word “blessed” to “lucky”.

    If someone had told me that they were “lucky” in having kids, it would’ve made me a bit sad, as though they did not fully realize the gift they were given and just considered their child something that just happened. Like if someone said, “oh, we were so ‘lucky’ and got pregnant on our first try.” Well, yay for them; why didn’t I have such luck?

    I’d much rather someone refer to their kids as “blessings”; it acknowledges their thankfulness and realization that children are not a given they were guaranteed in life. I tell people I am blessed with being able to have my two kids, because I do feel blessed and I am forever extremely grateful for them.

    Or at least, this is how I’ve always defined the word “blessed”. Everyone has been blessed with different things in life. My husband and I have not blessed with money (at least not yet? 🙂 ) – but I don’t feel like I am less loved by God because other people have far more money than me.

    So for me, personally, I don’t feel that it’s bad to use the word “blessed” as I feel it is an appropriate word, and I will continue to use it. I don’t mean to offend anyone by it, and hopefully if someone does feel offended, that they would know me well enough to know that that was not my intention.

    • Laura

      Perfectly stated. We are all blessed in different ways and all have different struggles. It is what makes us unique.

  • Eileen

    My thinking on this subject has evolved. I remember when 9/11 happened, my family had 2 amazing near misses where they were supposed to be on one of the planes or in one of the towers that day, but strange circumstances prevented it. So instead of losing a brother and a brother in law, my family was spared. In those early days, I would recount the story and people would often say something like, “God is so good!’ “Praise the Lord!” and I’d recoil thinking, “He wasn’t so good to everybody.”
    But these days I think God blesses all of us and also gives us crosses. We’re to use our blessings not only to help us bear our crosses but for advancing God’s Kingdom here on earth.

  • Tony Grgas

    “In laetitia, nulla dies sine Cruce, “In joy, no day without the Cross.” ~ St. Josemaria Escriva

  • Philothea

    Oh, Simcha, this really speaks to where I am right now. I am overwhelmed with a lot of suffering right now (labor gone bad, ruptured uterus, facing the heartbreak of possibly not getting to have any more children, very slow/painful c-section recovery, baby won’t breastfeed, sleep deprivation from insane feeding schedule where I (try to) bf, supplement and then pump, swelling that won’t go down, etc etc) to the point where I wonder if I’ve done something wrong and God is punishing me or “trying to teach me a lesson”. I do not feel “blessed” right now.

    The last line got me, especially.

    “I am afraid to learn more about the other kind of love.”

    Exactly. I am scared to accept God’s Will, to open myself up to Him in this manner, because I do not want to suffer like this anymore.

    Thank you for reminding me that the Cross is love, that God is love, and that fortune does not always mean blessings, and suffering does not mean punishment/lack of love.

    • Kate Cousino

      Lord, if this is how you treat your friends, it is no wonder you have so few!

      Sometimes, it seems as though those who suffer are especially loved. Don’t ask me to explain that, because it’s an intuition that flashed into words as I read your comment, not a fully-thought-out theological theses. But there is certainly something about suffering that sets us apart from the things of this world for these little spaces and times, that perhaps leaves just enough room for God to pour in more of the gifts He wants to give us—the ones that don’t pass away with this world.

      • Blobee

        ‘Sometimes, it seems as though those who suffer are especially loved.’
        This is a hard saying, but I see it too. Who gets slammed? Sometimes its the ones who God seems to want to drive closer to Himself, because often it’s only when things are going very, very badly do we fall on our knees in bewildered helpless anguished prayer. So sometimes I’m very afraid for those whose lives (it appears to me) are going smoothly with not too many grave problems or sorrows. Because God could be allowing them to be wandering away. That’s scary.
        I think this because there are few Saints who didn’t experience heartbreaking sorrows, sufferings or reversals. What does this say about the purpose of suffering in God’s eyes?

      • MamaK

        Mother Teresa once said to a dying woman something like your suffering means that you’ve come so close to Christ on the cross that He can kiss you. The woman asked Mother Teresa to tell Christ He could stop kissing her. It’s a hard teaching. One of the hardest probably about being Catholic.

  • Allison Grace

    I say, “Thank God for good luck.”

  • Marti B

    The numbers game is almost impossible to resist sometimes. Stupidly basic human misstep– we see the person with two fruits in their hands and our own fruit seems smaller and uglier and less delicious. It’s ridiculous– I have seven children– yet sometimes I feel a vicious little spike of envy for women who have eight or more. Why is that? It’s just another temptation; it’s another little bone-spur grinding into our contentment, telling us not to feel grateful for what we have. Sometimes I think the internet has been more harmful than helpful in this regard. Before, we may have been isolated in our parishes and neighborhoods, but now we are drowned in Pinterest boards and Facebook posts and Instagram photos. And all of them seem to have something to envy. And, funny thing, while you’re envying someone else, yet another person is envying YOU . . ..

    • Blobee

      Marti B: So, so true. I am not on Facebook, but sometimes look at family members’ pages who live far away, just to see photos of the kids and get little snippets of what is going on with them. And even though they are family members, I have felt JEALOUS because they seem to be having such a good time and living such a great life, and by comparison, I am not. So I have concluded Facebook and other internet sites, including blogs, can make it seem like everyone is having a better life than you. And I need that like a hole in the head!

  • Mr. Graves

    Thank you

  • LJ

    The word I use is “graced” … it means explicitly that I didn’t do anything to deserve it, but also that it was a deliberate choice by God to put me into this situation.

    The other thing to think of, is “vocation”. We tend to talk about discerning a vocation as having a freedom to choose a particular lifestyle. But really, your vocation is something that is prepared for you and offered to you by God– you can receive it fruitfully, or you can reject it unfruitfully, but it isn’t something you confect on your own. You can discern your vocation to parenthood by seeing the two blue stripes appear– whether you wanted that or not, it is given to you. (In fact, it’s a vocation to parenthood for that particular child, not “parenthood in general”.) Or, you can discern your vocation when you get the proof of your infertility. Likewise career setbacks, disability, and so on (you weren’t meant to be a lawyer, a professional musician, etc.; alternately, you’re the best person in the world to do X, even if you don’t like X.)

    One more thing: all vocations are tied to a particular mission to love certain specific individuals, to be a source of blessing and life to them– and those people are chosen by God, not by you. That necessarily means, you’ll be confronting (and hopefully defeating) the places in this world where God’s love and life are not found originally. St. Don Bosco had a dream, where he was pushing through a thicket of roses, and the thorns tore painfully at him. The farther he went, the more he was torn, but the more flowers and fragrance surrounded him. The bystanders all said, “How lucky Don John is! His path is forever strewn with roses! He hasn’t a worry in the world. No troubles at all!” (His vocation was working with what today we would call “gangbangers”, getting them an education and honest work.)

    • Elizabeth K.

      Beautiful, LJ. Thank you.

    • Ellen Mary

      ‘Graced’ is much better. ‘Luck’ IMO is a very poor antidote for ‘blessed’ for SO many reasons. Association with gambling, association with ‘scoring’ (‘get lucky’), and obviously, association with Leprechans (Lucky Charms) & General Mills. I am kidding about the last part. But really, I will not be switching to ‘Lucky’ today, or ever . . .

  • PGMGN

    There is a grace in not being given children as well. It is the grace of the cross. Much like having children can also be a joy and a cross.

    God bless the fruitful and the barren as if all is accepted as God’s will, He is the one who will bring forth the harvest….

    • Episteme

      The part of “carrying the cross” that I always think of in regards to those of us whose circumstances deprive us of children is when the Lord was taken down from the Cross and Joseph of Arimethea laid him in his own fresh tomb. Without children (or much other close family, by the time that our death comes), who will be the one to lay us within our tombs? And who will be the Veronicas and Simons of Cyrene to aid us as we falter on our falter journeys?

      I’ve spent my own adulthood as caretaker for first my mother of stroke-related issues leading up to her early death (at age 62) and have since spent a decade taking care alone of my father (who turns 80 in a month). That’s screwed up my college schedule, my career, where I live, and my ability to even date — much less marry and have children. The irony is that, while my health and finances have suffered from my sacrifices (the average caretaker sacrifices over $300k in lifetime earnings to take care of his or her parents, but that’s assuming that one starts about two or three decades later than I did, and thus were able to secure a base in their field first), those ministrations to both have only made me sure of the rightness of being a father (were any woman to even accept a date from chaste, overworked, underpaid, spare-time-is-church-time me). When he too finally passes, I’ll be left alone — my friends having left me when they couldn’t understand how to react to a 25 year-old’s mother dying — without a way of being that father, even to my own deteriorating father any longer (a bittersweet reversal of parenting, where each day is at *best* a slowing of the Long Death that you’re helpless to watch while tasked to somehow alleviate), so I know it well; I also know full well that I’ll be the one setting up his funeral & burial with no one to do the same for me when I end up in some diocesan elder home in a few decades…

      The question of ‘blessings’ is so subjective and frankly-horrifying to begin with: does God REALLY focus his blessings on suburban middle-class housewives while mothers in the Middle East are being hunted like prey animals? How can the burdens that I describe compare to those of a Secret Catholics in China whose churches — and worshippers — are being ‘disappeared’ as they surface to go about acts to charity to their fellow man? We can’t really answer any of that, but we need perspective. The question of children — and with it the broader question of our own surviving in our elder days and being remembered on Earth after we we’ve gone to our rewards or punishments — is a deeply-felt one among many if not most Catholics, and one that the majority (who have married and, despite the perils of having and raising kids, have had a number of children) can repeatedly seen spoken of but can’t truly feel.

      • Elizabeth K.

        Your second paragraph really hit home with me; I struggle to articulate why I’m uncomfortable with talking about blessing, as well as the “gratitude movement”. On the one hand, being aware of the multitude of ways God’s goodness is shared with us seems important–especially to complacent, middle class American women like me. It can be a hedge against self-indulgent, petty complaining. But as you point it, it also seems important to acknowledge that many of our blessings are based on luck–the good fortune to live where we do, when we do. The world is the way it is because of fallen human nature–and yet it is not worse than it is because of God’s grace.

        • PGMGN

          Good point, Elizabeth K. That said, we often forget the ‘blessings’ to be had in struggling and suffering. Very often that is why we ‘middle class women’ seek to avoid those opportunities or seek to remove them all together without understanding the best gifts of all.

          But Christ’s willingness to suffer on the Cross, despite His being capable of alleviating even the slightest pang, is what has brought us all the greatest of gifts. No doubt He gave us that example for good reason.

          • Elizabeth K.

            Yes. Fortunately, I suppose, suffering hits us all even when we try to shield ourselves. Perhaps the way we harm ourselves is that it comes as such a surprise to us if we’ve buffered ourselves too well.

          • PGMGN

            “…such a surprise to us if we’ve buffered ourselves too well.”

            Another gem, Elizabeth, and quite true in my experience. That said, in light of the fact that we are called to imitate Our Lord, Catholics should all expect suffering!

            We should welcome it, too, embracing our cross to the degree that we are able in imitation of Christ. And when met with those who cry or lament on our behalf, we should ‘try’ to respond with, “Do not weep for me,” as we are doing the will of the Father.

            God bless us all with the grace to accept that which is given and that which is not.

        • Anna

          But the thing is, all good things are from God, not random luck. Modern toilets, children, violets, chocolate, the Eucharist, penicillin, books, music… all from God, all gifts. No bad thing is from God: war, splinters, car accidents, cancer, stomach flu… But He does send grace in all those bad things, even while not sending the evils themselves.

          Jen Fulwiler’s book, Something Other Than God, was helpful to me with this since she talks a lot about how one of her major stumbling blocks with converting was God’s numerous answers to her prayers. How could she thank him for answering her prayers when there were people dying in wars on the other side of the world? Mainly the answers had to do with eternal perspective and that, while she knew the graces God was giving in her life, she had no way of knowing what God was doing in the lives of others – even though he was working in their lives just as much as in hers.

          I do think a lot of the problem Simcha is trying to avoid in avoiding the term “blessed” is because people then interpret that to mean that anything else must be “not blessed.” Which isn’t true. I mean, I am blessed to have a dishwasher, and children, and a husband who rubs my tired feet. My sister is in consecrated life and has exactly none of those things. But she’s hardly not blessed, it’s just different. The blessings are harder to see when we’re looking at extreme cases like Iraqi refugees from the outside, but the example might help to illustrate why “none of the same blessings” does not equal “not blessed.”

          • Elizabeth K.

            I completely agree that all good things come from God, including the many blessings of living in a first world country.

            What I struggle with is, I think, the “gratitude movement”, for lack of a better term, and it’s probably a personal issue. Back in the day, I started counting my blessings, but did so because I wanted more things (a specific job, a house, more money) and was influenced to think that by acknowledging the blessings I already had, God would see fit to send me more. I didn’t put it to myself that baldly, but that’s what it was. And God taught me a really funny lesson with this–after I’d made one of those Oprah-inspired letters to the universe, he granted pretty much everything on it for a while. And I hated it! And then I started to learn to go where He leads, to things less obvious than what I might choose for myself. So I guess, for me, counting blessings requires discernment. Some are obvious–children are, in my opinion, always a blessing regardless of any outside circumstances. And in a culture that often wants to say they are not, I think it’s fine to insist that they are the awesome desirable blessings sends us and not a curse or a burden. But material things seem trickier to me–is a new house a blessing if it blinds me to the poverty around me? That’s what I struggle with–for myself, because of my previous experiences.

          • Anna

            That makes sense – and just goes to show the wisdom of the Church in giving us so many diverse saints that can speak to the experience and temperament of different people. 🙂

            For me, I know intellectually that all good things are from God, but I struggle with thanking him for those things while also looking at other people who weren’t given those same things. Like my son was born with the cord wrapped around his neck four times and he’s fine, but I know two families whose children did not survive the same circumstance. So I know to thank God for that gift, but I also get stuck wondering why me and not them, even though I know Aslan was right and “we are never told someone else’s story.” And I also know that no life is perfect and that suffering in some form will happen just because life is that way (and not because God sends it), but I’m also always looking fearfully around the corner wondering what form it will take. So I have to keep reminding myself to be at peace with being thankful since all the goodness I have is from God and he isn’t a capricious tyrant who is waiting to yank the rug out from under me.

      • PGMGN

        Episteme, folks forget that the ability and opportunity to sacrifice for God is a blessing. Our Lord’s closest ‘friends’ are often asked to give up much of what the world and even good Catholics assume is acceptable expectation in life. Marriage and children being part of that.

        Just the fact that you wrote what you did is evidence of your blessing, the blessing of a heavy cross accepted. With love and fortitude. What strength of spirit! What true fidelity.

        Thank you for your post and your abiding love God …. and His will.

      • Blobee

        Episteme: Please don’t lose hope. Trust in God. Don’t despair. I myself have a similar history to your own. I understand what you are saying. I have been afraid of these same things as you mention. But trust God will lead to into an amazing future. Just as Jesus had Simon of Cyrene, and Joseph of Arimathia, God will send you people too, if you trust in Him and look for them. Stay open. Stay positive as you can. Once your father goes to God, look for your future. Pray for God to give you a future, even if it no longer includes wife and children. And maybe He will give you wife and children (there ARE widows out there, you know.) 🙂 Nothing is impossible with God.

  • MamaK

    In a similar vein, I cringe when people say “God is good” after their prayers are answered they way they asked. It seems like it promotes bad theology. Was he good when Woman A was healed of breast cancer but not when Woman B died of cancer, leaving a dozen children? It seems to smack of the protestant influence we Catholics suffer from in this country.

  • maron

    A cross can be a blessing.

  • ABST27

    Thank you for this. So much, and congratulations on the incoming baby…This reminds me of when my husband wrote about surviving the Sept. 11 terror attacks (he descended 68 floors to escape) and he write “God was with us.” He got a backlash from a few readers who said “are you saying God was not with the people who perished?” NO NO NO. God is with us, no matter what, not because we have earned the pleasure of His presence. So thank you.

    • Elizabeth K.

      Yes–and it occurs to me that many (hopefully all) felt the presence of God that day, it’s just that so many of them aren’t here to tell us about it after the fact because they are continuing to enjoy God’s presence. I’m not being flippant–I think yours husband’s words are testimony points to the likely even greater grace extended to those who died at the moment of their deaths. When Christians say we’re blessed to still be here after a near miss with death should be taken as an affirmation of the goodness of this life. I think it’s wonderful, and a huge blessing, that your husband survived.

  • Wow! I think I at least scanned through every comment, and so far, no one has missed the point and picked on you for using a “superstitious” term like “luck”. Can’t tell you how many people stopped me for calling myself lucky or saying “Good luck” to someone, because I’m giving a nod to paganism when I say that. Ler’s see if your, um, lucky streak of actually being understood by readers continues.

  • HenryBowers

    I heard that “blessed” literally refers to a “blood covenant.” So barren, faithful women just uphold a different part of the covenant. No resentment necessary.

  • I am from the Northeast and have been living in Houston for the past 6 years. Love the community here, but struggle with how people throw around the word “blessed.” You hit the nail on the head with the “theologically sound” but implied negative meaning. I, too, find myself using “luck” more than “blessed,” for that reason. When things aren’t going according to my plan, I often struggle to find God’s grace. Presently, I find myself praying “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”

  • Claire

    I really appreciate this article, particularly as someone who has struggled with miscarriage and unresolved infertility. And I empathize with the pain of the commenter in question, and commend you for picking up on her pain. I also empathize with her mental illness. That being said, people throughout the years have tried to convey empathy to her only to be accosted by her in very personal and painful ways. Her hatred has resulted in shutting down of communication for people who were hurting just as much as she is, in their own way, and could have used whatever support they were able to get from online forums (not as a substitute for face to face support, but it’s a start). Some people in particular who I continue to worry and wonder about to this day.

  • Amen! There are so many ways in which He may choose to bless us. And every blessing can be seen as a cross or a blessing–we learn through bearing our crosses and accepting the way in which He blesses us.
    http://mrsf3andfamily.wordpress.com/2014/06/07/an-overwhelming-response/

  • Beth

    Do you have suggestions on teaching children about the meaning of the word “blessed”? Do you use the beatitudes, or something else? Because I also hesitate to use it in this context, but it’s such an important word. We use it every time we pray the Hail Mary, and I’ve got to figure out some way to describe to my kids what it means before they start thinking it means they have all the STUFF they could possibly want.

  • Cathy

    Excellent reflection. I have often said my seven children were blessings. But I recognize also that my daughter’s death, my husband’s job losses, bankruptcy, and other terrible things that have happened to us have been used by God to bless us. I think the most interesting point you make is about the modern interpretation of the word “blessing.” It gave me something to think about. Thank you.

  • Mamatoafew

    Oh this is exactly how I feel and I loved reading it! I used to say ‘blessed’ but no longer do-our son is sick and I became sensitive to the word. Not in an angry way but in a way that opened my eyes to what it really means to most people.