I John 3:18

All original content copyright Jessica Nicole Schafer, 2007-2016.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Blessings?

I’ve been thinking so much about the holidays this year. For many reasons. One of the most obvious being that the holidays are always tough when they’re celebrated without our loved ones.
Another reason I’ve been thinking about Thanksgiving is because of our culture. I’ve been raised (as I’m sure most of you have been, also) to see blessings from God as good paying jobs, owning big homes, having three or four vehicles, having 3.5 children, and being healthy. I have been raised with the idea that if those things are NOT happening, then “blessings” from Him are NOT happening.
Think about that for a minute.

As I piddled around online during the past week, almost everybody was thanking God for their blessings…..and everytime, it was for the things listed above. And rightly so, these things ARE blessings. But what about when God does NOT give these things?
What about when life is not filled with happy days? What about lives that are filled with sorrow? What about lives that are filled with people hating you? What happens when things “fall apart”? By fall apart, I mean when we do NOT have a good paying job, do NOT own a nice, big home, do NOT own several vehicles, have no family, and our health is failing? What about loneliness? What about death? What about despair? What about those things??

We shouldn’t be surprised. As a wise man has reminded me time and time again….”If we claim to be followers of Christ, we shouldn’t be surprised when His story is lived out in our lives.” (One guess as to the wise man I’m referring to.) And His story is NOT filled with money, material things, children, etc. It is quite the opposite. It is filled with persecution, poverty, and towards the end He is put to death by the very ones who said they knew Him. (Thankfully, that is not how the story ends.)

We simply cannot see ONLY these things as blessings from God. Because eventually, that thinking falls apart. It falls apart when God stops being a magic genie who gives you everything you want. It falls apart when jobs are lots. It falls apart when women have miscarriages. It falls apart when a family loses their home because they were laid off and can’t pay their mortgage anymore. It falls apart when a spouse is loving and faithful only to find that they were cheated on by their mate. It falls apart when someone you love is diagnosed with cancer, and you have to sit back and watch that cancer take it’s toll on someone you love dearly. It falls apart when you step out of this country!!!!! Because Christians living TODAY in many other countries do not have the things that most American Christians see as “blessings”. They don’t. There’s no way around that. And yet, I’d be quite sure to say that those Christians living there, who have no running water, who have no home, let alone a vehicle….who watch their children die sometimes, due to hunger……they still somehow consider themselves blessed SIMPLY BECAUSE they know God.

What is a blessing? Who defines it? Does our culture? Do we? You? Me?

I was talking to a dear friend the other day. I was telling her my frustrations as of late, and I LOVED having her listen. She is a wise woman. She said something that Darryl had actually said to me before. I was telling her how I’m tired of hearing “things will be okay”….and nothing happening. She said, “When people say those things, it’s never to comfort you, they say it to comfort themselves”. I think she and Darryl are so right on this one. Often-with good intentions- we tell people in their distress, “It will be okay……It will work out……..Things will work out…..I’ll pray for you”…..etc. We’ve all said those things at one point. And of course, there is something to be said for encouraging one another. But I’m wondering if sometimes people say these things in the midst of tragedy because the tragedy itself is too hard to face…….speaking these words to someone who is going through living hell brings comfort to the one speaking because it’s just too hard to figure out.
Because if someone we love is unjustly suffering, then where is God? If someone we love is living in poverty, why isn’t God doing something? If someone we love is facing a terminal illness, why isn’t God healing them? If someone we love is doing everything they can and NOTHING good is happening, WHERE IS GOD???? This same friend told me that MANY times through the past year, when her family has been going through a terminal illness, financial troubles because of it, heartache, sorrow, etc…..she has been asked by Christians, “Well, what are you learning through this?”. WHAT THE HECK!?!?!?!? And yes, as most of you have guessed, the times she’s been asked this, it’s been from a very condescending point of view.

I believe sometimes tragedy happens not to teach the one who’s hurting a lesson, but to teach the Church, as a whole, a lesson. Asking my friend that question would be like asking a toddler who has the flu, “Well, what have you learned from this experience?”. DUH…….That having the flu sucks, and I don’t want to have it!!!!!

(A little side story: Last year when Darryl's sister was dealing with a VERY tragic experience, Darryl said something that has stuck with me. The first time we got to see her, his parents were there, beside her in the hospital bed. She was laying there, unable to move anything at all. There were so many unanswered questions. There was so much hurt, anger, worry, grief, fear, sorrow. When asked "where is Jesus in all this?"....Darryl answered, "He's there, lying in the bed." I will never forget that.
By the way, his sister is doing MUCH better. She has a family that bent over backwards helping her. That is encouraging. )

I do not have the answers, of course. But I do know two things, following Him will not always be rainbows and sunshine. And ignoring the reality of sorrow, grief, and suffering in our lives, or those we know, will never turn out good.

As we sit here in America this year. As we spend Thanksgiving thanking God for our jobs, money, homes, families, health. And then as we go and spend hundreds-some people thousands- on Christmas presents that will probably be obsolete in a year or two…..I wonder if we’ve got it “right”. I wonder if it is pleasing to Him for us to thank Him when we have all we want, and shake our fists at Him when we don’t. I wonder if He is pleased when we sit idly by while those we know suffer. I wonder if He is pleased when we contribute to this beast that we’ve created when it comes to consumerism and Christmas.

I wonder. I don’t have answers…..these are things I’m trying to get a handle on, myself.

I spent last week thanking God for grief, as you probably read in my last post. Yes, I thanked Him for what I have. But one of the most sobering things I had to do this year, because I had NO CHOICE, was to thank Him for what I don’t have. Because I have been reminded that I need Him. Even in my lack of many things…..still I need only Him. Whether He gives me all those things my heart desires….I need Him. We need Him. Even when He is choosing not to “bless” us according to what the church in America thinks. We still need Him.

I guess what I’m trying to convey can be summed up in the following words, words that turn our thinking upside down…..words that my loving husband often reminds me of. As you experience the holidays, I hope you remember these life-changing words:

“And turning His gaze toward His disciples, He began to say, ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets. But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full. Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.’” Luke 6:20-25

5 comments:

Christy said...

Hi Jes! Thanks for commenting on my blog. I agree with your post, our church is actually reading through a great book right now called Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts, by Jerry Bridges. It's very biblically based and really helpful in thinking about how we handle "bad" things and catastrophe as Christians.

Andrea said...

First off, let me say that the comment made to your friend is just another example of pure ignorance. And, I agree that there are a great many people who use trite comments like you mentioned to make themselves feel better. Sometimes when we don't know how to make someone well again we resort to just using typical responses-I have been guilty of it. But my sweet and dear friend, I also have to say that it is wrong to believe that when someone says "I will pray for you" or "it will be ok" that they are doing it for selfish motives or uncaringly. When I say those things to someone I know is hurting I am not being trite, but instead I am trying to convey to the best of my human ability, my complete trust in the Lord. We can not always understand why we are suffering trials, especially when we believe we are giving our all to our Lord but we do have to still believe that at some point it will all be ok because of what Romans 8:28 tells us."And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." When I tell someone "it wil be ok" I do not mean to demean their pain or sufffering but to prayerfully encourage them to feel strenghth in trusting that the Lord has a plan for good in ALL things, even our suffering. So I say with ALL of the love my heart can hold, it will be ok because-
"For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
Nor, height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 8:38-39
And yes, thank you for reminding people that it isn't what we have in this life that we need to remember to be thankful for. This year more than ANY other has taught me that.

jesnicole said...

Andrea;
Of course you mean it!! I know your heart. :)
I'm just tired of the times that people use those words as an excuse to do nothing, and ignore another person's pain. That is what my friend has been experiencing for a very long time. I think I'm just weary of so many Christians NOT wanting to hurt with others. It is TOO HARD to do, so many of them just back off and don't do a thing.....meanwhile, those already experiencing tragedy have even more sorrow than they should, because the Church is not carrying those burdens alongside them.

I do think things eventually will be "ok". However, sometimes, for some people's lives.....that "ok" will never come on this side of heaven. It will happen in the end. That's the very hard pill to swallow for a lot of us.

I get your point, girl, and I agree with you. :) Thanks for the comment! Love you and miss you!

jesnicole said...

P.S. Andrea,

"..the Lord has a plan for good in ALL things, even our suffering."

Andrea, that is exactly what I've been trying to get across with my latest posts more than anything. Thanks for saying that! Hug yourself for me.

liz said...

Sometimes there are no right words to say. (((Hugs))) I can see the Lord strenghtening you through this trial.