“Bleh!” on “Blessed”

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“Oh my goodness, we were so blessed to avoid that car accident.”
“God blessed us with a new baby!”
“We are so thankful to God for blessing us with a better job.”
“May God continue to bless America!”
“Your family is incredibly blessed.”

Years ago, the word blessed didn’t bug me. In fact, I would use it freely, too.

Now, when I hear it, my first response is Bleh! Ugh! I cannot stand that word! And I find that anything that follows is going to be hard for me to hear.

Through many years of navigating an unraveling faith and finding my way forward, Blessed has definitely become a trigger word, something that causes a bit of an allergic reaction.

Do you know that feeling, too?

Words that used to make so much sense, that used to flow freely from your lips and feel so right, but now cause you to cringe, shut down, and put your hackles up?

In journeying with many people on the other side of church-and-faith-as-they-once-knew it, these trigger words are different for everyone. What bugs the heck out of one person can be comforting to another.

For me, “blessed by God” doesn’t work anymore when so many friends suffer, when certain people have access to medical care and millions others are at risk of contracting a virus and dying, when there’s endless desperation, poverty, and pain in the world, when one person desperately longs for a child and another who isn’t trying for one gets pregnant, when one family does all the “right” things and ends up with a child addicted to opiods and another is called “blessed” because things weren’t quite so messy. The list goes on and on.

However, what’s tricky is that at the same I also dearly love The Beatitudes (in Matthew 5:3-10). It is one of my favorite portions of scripture and words that I draw on regularly. There are a lot of blessed’s in there!

In that context, I see it differently. It’s not saying “God is blessing you and not another.” Rather I see it as living is better when we… Also, a translation for this form of blessed—makários—is “happy” and I do think we are happier when we live by the values and practices Jesus speaks of in the Beatitudes, even when they are extremely hard to do.

For the most part, blessed is used in the contexts I started with—God blesses some people and bestows goodness upon certain situations.

When I started theologically examining this word, it fell apart for me. How blessed has been most commonly used implies that certain kinds of “faithful” people get something and others don’t. Also, it is usually always based on a privileged, middle-class version of what is perceived as good, right, godly, socially valued.

For example, God blessing America is a big hot theological mess because it tangles us up with a spirit of nationalism and white supremacy, something that I’m pretty sure Jesus wasn’t advocating for.

So what do I do with the reality that I hear the word blessed all the time? I try to honor that for the most part people using it aren’t really processing my litany of implications and are just used to saying it. My work is not to school them on why I can’t stand the word.

My work is to notice what’s going on inside of me and consider ways that I can change my language to better reflect what feels like greater theological integrity.

I have tried to change blessed to grateful. I am grateful for so many things. I can’t attribute everything to God-making-them-happen because I have deconstructed the image of God being a master puppeteer, but I can say with honesty and integrity that I am grateful for many beautiful things in my life. Making that switch from calling myself blessed to feeling grateful has been really helpful for me as I want to honor the good in a way that doesn’t feel icky.

You might love the word blessed, and I truly want to honor that. We all have our different trigger words; trust me, I have a much longer list than just this one!

What I’d most like to acknowledge for all of us today is that trigger words aren’t bad.

They’re not a sign that we’re off or ungodly or unspiritual or rebellious.

Rather, I think they’re a sign that we’re transforming, wrestling, considering, growing, healing.

Our work is to listen to what they are stirring up in us and find ways to navigate them when they are tossed around and we start breaking out in hives.

I might be bleh on blessed but I am ever-grateful for so many people in my life who are more honest about their spiritual journey and acknowledge why certain words are so hard for them.

What words make you cringe these days?

 

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Kathy Escobar
Kathy Escobar co-pastors The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver. A trained spiritual director, speaker, and advocate, she also blogs regularly about life and faith at kathyescobar.com and is the author of Faith Shift and Down We Go—Living out the Wild Ways of Jesus. A mom of 5 young adults and teens, she is married to Jose and lives in Arvada, Colorado.
Kathy Escobar

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