I listened to a sermon awhile ago about Hannah in 1 Samuel 1. Speaking of the agony with which she longed for a child, the pastor referenced Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5),
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted…
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God…
He spoke of this idea of “blessed are they,” noting the contradictory idea of being “blessed” with suffering. He explained that the blessing of suffering is the way that it drives us to seek God’s face – to long for heaven – to seek the kind of comfort and satisfaction that only comes from knowing Him deeply.
Ever since then, I’ve been contemplating this idea of blessing. I think of how often we thank God for our many blessings – a wonderful family, a warm, comfortable home, food on the table… We (the Dahls) most certainly have much to be thankful for, just as we (Americans) who live in abundance compared to the rest of the world. But as I “count our blessings,” I keep thinking of this quote from C.S. Lewis:
Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
It feels wrong and ungrateful to declare that these tangible gifts are not blessings. We are overwhelmed with gratitude. I wonder, however, if we are just far too easily pleased.
Take marriage, for example. My husband is an absolute blessing to me. I love him deeply and cherish him as a gift from the Lord. He is wonderful. But marriage has also revealed the deep longings of my soul that he cannot fill. Marriage has forced me to confront the idolatry in my heart that seeks ultimate satisfaction in my husband and has driven me to bring that emptiness before Jesus for satisfaction. My gratitude for marriage deepens when I face this reality. A happy marriage is something to thank God for, yes, but one that causes me find true intimacy and hope in Christ? If I believe that knowing Christ is infinite joy, than the lack of complete, soul fulfillment in marriage is really the blessing.
Then there are children. “Children are a blessing from the Lord,” a Psalm says. And they are. They bring joy and delight to most days. But I’m finding in Motherhood that having children is a constant reminder of my inadequacy. My selfishness, impatience, and lack of joy are prominently on display. If I don’t seek God daily (moment by moment) for the strength to parent, my husband will come home to house full of tears, messes, and three girls still in their pajamas. (A pretty normal day at this point.) Parenthood reveals my complete helplessness and drives me to seek the face of God constantly. Perhaps in many ways, that is the blessing of children.
One more example: success. I was running a business that many would deem successful, and I would say it was by the grace of God that he allowed that success. He provided for Hadley and I during a season where I look back and wonder how in the world we would have otherwise made it. I am incredibly grateful for that. But then he asked me to give it up. Believe me when I say that is still not easy to do. But it is where the blessing has been waiting. In asking me to give up my dreams, it has paved the way for new dreams to form in my heart – dreams of knowing Christ and training little hearts to know Christ as well.
In some ways, it can feel kind of depressing, in an Ecclesiastes, “It’s all meaningless” kind of way. But to revisit oft-quoted C.S. Lewis:
If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.
I don’t think the point of what God is teaching me is that I should only seek suffering and sacrifice, and not enjoy his tangible blessings. It does allow me to welcome the hardship associated even with blessings in that it drives me to draw closer to Christ. But I also think he’s calling me not to merely enjoy his gifts for their face value. I can enjoy them for the restless anticipation they stir. As Mark Buchanan closes his book, The Rest of God:
Take anything you delight in here on earth: Your children. Your craftwork. Your hot tub. The dewed green of a fairway on a July morning. The sweet corn from your garden, butter-drenched.
Enjoy them all. Find rest in them.
But imagine how much more awaits you.