I’ve barely taken a sip of my coffee when Dad throws out the assignment. We’re all crammed around tables at the bakery, the kids, spouses, girlfriends and grandkids that showed up. It’s been an effort and a half to just get out the door and all I want to do is to enjoy what can be salvaged of this lukewarm brew.
“Prepare one blessing for each person, to share tonight.”
Yeah, I’ll be honest, I’m not too excited at the idea. I can feel the frustration immediately rise, the annoyance at how much time this is going to take. Time I don’t have. At least not for this.
Because who wants to spend time trying to come up with blessings for other people when you’re frantically grasping at blessings for yourself?
By the time the kids are in bed and the dishes have been done, we’re settling in the living room and I’m hoping we might just forget what was thrown out over half eaten muffins. Maybe we’ll opt to play a game or watch a movie or find some other distraction from the work of speaking blessings.
I know, I know, its blessings. Don’t we all want more blessing, more abundance, more fullness and goodness and cup runneth over style of living?
Yet I’m grumbling over having to create specific prayers and petitions for each person. This tailoring and thinking through holy gifts for the coming year seems unnatural, uncomfortable. Can’t I just brave the day after Christmas sales to wrap up something that no one will remember six months from now?
Dad drags out his computer to take notes and I know there’s no escaping this. I’m hoping no one else prepared, until I see my brothers start pulling out slips of paper.
We start with the youngest and it’s a good hour for us to get through 12 people of blessing sharing, of giving and receiving. And yeah, it’s work. Work to listen to the heart and speak with sincerity and honesty and maybe a bit of vulnerability. Work to receive the blessings being offered like a too expensive gift that you really don’t deserve. It’s work to not be flippant or generic, but to really look into the eyes of that person and speak your gift.
This giving and receiving of blessings, it’s uncomfortable at first because we’re not used to it. We’re not used to speaking future goodness over someone, to so pointedly calling out the good we already see and affirming that with a plea for more.
We’re not used to the language of blessing, and like people groping along in the dark, it takes some time to find our way.
What is a blessing?
When Rebekah left her family to go marry that only child Isaac, the Old Book says they blessed her, saying, “May you increase to thousands upon thousands, may your offspring possess the gates of their enemies.” And later on, that husband speaks blessing over his son of abundance in business and power and influence.
I like the sound of that, because who doesn’t want more? In a culture that is constantly looking to get the bigger, the better, the latest, where more always means you’ve made it, then this kind of blessing feels good.
And yeah, God can and does give more…more children, more influence, more money, more tools for the trade and more open doors for the way.
But, pardon the pun, I think there’s more to blessings than just asking for more of the comfortable, the socially admirable. See, I’ve been painstakingly working at memorizing the Sermon on the Mount this year and the blessings there don’t exactly match up with this prosperity-equals-holiness gospel that gets trumpeted in the West.
When that Carpenter stood up and preached to the crowds, he talked about blessings to those who are hated, persecuted, who mourn and find themselves pushed to the fringes. Yeah, a real pick-me up sermon there.
And Job, that poster child for suffering, he says that those of us facing correction, facing discipline from the hand of God, well, we’re the blessed ones. This from the man who lost everything before he saw it all come back.
So the hard but holy truth here is that maybe the greatest blessings are not what can be wrapped or measured in numbers. Maybe the blessing to speak over one another is the slow, painful, heaving work of becoming more like Jesus. Of finding our delight in the Giver of the gifts. And learning that in the leaning and depending and surrendering, we’re not losing, but gaining.
That’s the blessing I speak over one brother, but really, it’s for everyone. That this will be a year of becoming more radiant, more like heaven and less like earth.
“May you grow in holiness this year, even if it comes at the cost of happiness.”
Yeah, we want the best for each other, for those graduate applications to get accepted, for debt to be erased and relationships to work out. But don’t we know, don’t we need there to be more to this life than everything being easy? Don’t we ache for adventure and hope we could have what it takes when the storm comes our way?
What we’ve walked though, I know it’s not hardly a drop of hard compared to what some people call normal. But the glimpses of holiness, the refining, the Jesus I’ve encountered, yeah, that’s available to everyone and it’s a gift I would plead for others to get.
Even if it comes at the cost of happiness.
Honestly, the world doesn’t need more happy people, more successful people, more comfortable people wandering around with a cotton-candy center. It needs people who know whose they are and for whom they are. People who have been hammered by the storms, who have been refined by the fires, who have sat in the dark night waiting for the dawn to bring relief.
It’s the blessing I want more than padded bank accounts, well-behaved kids or a picture-perfect home. It’s the blessing I’m praying over my kids, for my friends, my spouse and myself.
That this year will be less about to-do lists, resolutions and unmet expectations, and more about getting the right perspective, of becoming less so that I can be shaped into more, of running the right race after the right prize.
This time I was dreading, this thing of speaking blessings that made me groan? It turns out to be the best hour of the whole holiday season.