Saturday, November 21, 2015

Mixed Blessings

This is the time of year that we give some attention to offering thanks for the blessings in our lives. Some folks thank the stars, some thank the fates, and some thank themselves. I’m numbered among those who thank God, which frankly complicates things a bit.

Think about it. If I think my life is controlled by the stars, when life falls apart I can figure that once the heavens realign I’ll be ok and I can move on. If I think that whatever happens to me is due to fate, when something bad happens, I can chalk it up to the randomness of life and move on. If I give credit to myself for whatever happens, then I can blame myself when something goes wrong and move on.

It’s different when I have to take God into account. Now, if I just believed in a God who is the Prime Mover or the First Cause—in the words of the late Andrae Crouch, a “God who didn’t care, who lives away up there”—things wouldn’t be so complicated. I could just think about such a God like other folks think about fate or luck.

But I believe in a personal God. I believe in a God who has chosen to interact with us in the here and now of our lives. I believe in a God who knows every hair on my head (which, regrettably, isn’t as great a challenge as it once was). I believe in a God who loves me. I believe in a God who entered this world in Jesus Christ to live and die as one of us. I believe in a God who is with me every moment of every day. I believe in a God who cares about what happens to me, who hurts when I hurt, and who grieves when I grieve.

Yet I can’t believe in a God who doesn’t allow bad things to happen to me and to everybody else. So far as I can tell, there is no such God. I guess there is a sense in which I have come to accept that there is in fact randomness, or at least unpredictability, to life. Things happen that make no sense. To try to make sense of them is to risk going insane. Sometimes, asking “Why?” just doesn’t get us anywhere.

I used to spend a lot of mental, emotional, and spiritual energy wondering why my mother died when I was sixteen and my father when I was twenty. After all, I reasoned, they were good people, and I wasn’t a particularly bad fellow. So why did this happen to them? Why did it happen to us? Why did my mother suffer with cancer for the last seven years of her life? Why did my father suffer a massive heart attack while working at Thomaston Mills?

I find no comfort in the thought that there is always someone worse off than me. Yes, many children are orphaned at a much younger age than I was. Yes, I’d rather have had good parents for a short time than sorry ones for a long time. The truth is, no matter how I tried to reason it all out, none of it made any sense to me. It still doesn’t.

Life is filled with mixed blessings. That’s because every blessing has two sides. On one side is what we have. On the other side is what we can lose. I think that happiness comes from (1) choosing to be grateful both for what we have and for what we had that we’ve lost and (2) choosing to be grateful for what we have, knowing that we might lose it, but not fearing that possibility.

Life is a mixed blessing. The prayer of thanksgiving that I find myself praying often these days is, “Thank you, God, for all of it.” I try really hard to mean that prayer when I pray it. “Thank you, God, for all of it. Thank you for the gains and the losses, for the joys and the sorrows, for the highs and lows, and for the successes and failures.”

After all, that’s life.

And life is what I’m grateful to God for . . .

(First appeared in Ruffin's Renderings in the Thomaston Times on November 20, 2015)

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