Blessed?

“And what about you—tell me about your children?” This standard getting-to-know-you line fell flat on its face yesterday as I chatted with a woman sitting next to me at the lunch table. All around us women were enjoying the venue of a pastor’s wives conference to talk about their joys and struggles in family and ministry, but this vivacious woman, ministering in conflict-hardened Belfast, had no children to speak of. Her face fell as she spoke frankly about the deep grief of infertility, about how she has mourned the loss of being the fruitful woman she was created to be. And yet despite this gaping hole in her life, this woman considers herself blessed.

Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him. … Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate.
Psalm 127:3-5

Listening to her painful musings on living between the curse and the kingdom took me back to a season in my own life when the grim realities of life left me cynical and questioning towards the glorious promises of Scripture. I had always cherished the Psalms that spoke of the blessings that God pours out on those who love Him: long life, success in their work, good reputation, lots of kids, established home, and all that.

Blessed are all who fear the LORD, who walk in his ways. You will eat the fruit of your labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours. Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your sons will be like olive shoots around your table. Thus is the man blessed who fears the LORD.
Psalm 128:1-4

These happy descriptions fit perfectly with my own picture of what it looked like to be blessed by God. But the further I got into life, the more of a mockery that ideal became. When I looked around me at those who were wholeheartedly pursuing the kingdom of God, so many of their lives were full of anything but safety, security, and prosperity. Their children died of cancer, their husbands lost their jobs, their wives miscarried, their finances diminished, their health declined, their ministries failed. How could I reconcile the picture I witnessed before me with the picture described for me in the Psalms?

Our suffering now is part of our glory then.

I finally reached the point where I stopped reading the Psalms. It hurt too much to read about that fruitful woman, flourishing and happy as she placed yet another infant into the delighted arms of a proud father. My motivation in following God was not all the perks that came with the deal—I loved Him for His own sake—and yet His promises had taught me to expect more. His Word raised my hopes; my experience dashed them. As I wrestled with God over this, I began to suspect that my picture of “blessing” was missing something.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:3-10
But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.
1 Peter 3:14

I began to search the New Testament for the way it described blessing, but each time I encountered the word it was paired with descriptions of suffering and difficulty. How could failure and frustration, tears and infertility count as blessing? Wasn’t it supposed to be the other way around? And yet Jesus’ teaching was clear. In His coming kingdom, those who have it hard in this life are first in line for the good things of the life to come. And this doesn’t just mean those who have chosen to give things up for God. It covers those who have suffered under poverty, injustice, or any source of sorrow that is “not the way it is supposed to be.” In one of God’s predictably grand reversals, those who endure the effects of the curse now will be proportionately blessed then.

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
Romans 8:18, 22-23

Does that dry the tears of those who mourn or lessen the pain of those who struggle? Not at all. But it does give hope for what will come in the future and new significance to what we are experiencing now. In a way, our suffering now is part of our glory then. It is a critical part of the birthing process that all of creation is groaning under. We cry out, waiting for our bodies to be redeemed from this wretched curse, assured that they eventually will be, but struggling through the messy process nonetheless.

As I wrapped up my conversation with the woman at the lunch table, we shared in a moment of joyful celebration over the coming kingdom of God and the specific joys that it will bring us. We affirmed to each other how our earthly struggles have heightened our motivation to labor for the coming of that kingdom. And we parted ways, all the more certain of the truth that we are blessed.

“Sing, O barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband,” says the LORD. …
This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and this is their vindication from me,” declares the LORD.
Isaiah 54:1, 17

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10 thoughts on “Blessed?”

  1. Hi Tiff. So thankful for the wisdom that has been poured out on you, and love that we’ve learned so much together. This week I started reading a book that made me think of you; “Finding God,” by Larry Crabb. I think you’d like it.

    1. Thanks for the recommendation, Ellen. I agree: it has been a special joy surviving the trenches of life and discovering the beauty of our God together. May He give us many more years of the same!

  2. I see it this way: God has afflicted many with “handicapps” that are seen–blindness, deafness, misformed/missing body parts, etc. Throughout Scripture and today these people have chosen to praise The Lord and live as “normal” a life as possible, dwelling on what they DO have. The inability to have children is unseen and often misunderstood, but still a physical affliction that women should not be ashamed of.

    1. Wise words, Dolly. I grieve for those who suffer under this invisible affliction. I also rejoice with those who have been given the grace to praise God in the face of it all. In a way, I think the praises of those who suffer count extra in His books. They come at a higher price!

  3. Hello Tiffany,

    I’ve been following your blog for only a short while, maybe a month or two. And though I’ve never commented before, this post motivated me to write to you, if only to express gratitude. I’ve enjoyed reading your interpretation of Scripture and the lessons they’ve taught you.

    I often forget my place in life and while on a journey of rediscovery, your blog has been helpful in giving me focus. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    Sarah

    1. Hi Sarah,

      Thanks for encouraging me with this. I identify with that whole “journey of rediscovery,” and I imagine it comes with a fair amount of struggle. Being “remade” usually comes after being taken apart! May our Lord continue to focus your thoughts around Him and may He tell you the story of who you are in His grand narrative.

  4. Tiffayny,
    Not sure if this is a blog only for women:) and I honestly haven’t read your other posts, but it’s late here in the states, and I can’t sleep. I’m in one of those seasons right now where I’m questioning. Wondering similar to what you mentioned in the psalms, why if I’m clinging to Him, seeking Him, having faith that He will move, there’s silence. It’s difficult ot be in those periods of times in our lives, and I appreciate the perspective you brought to the post. My family and I went through an extremely difficult period about two years ago, and all it made me think of was heaven! How I wanted to be there; how rights would be made wrong; how injustice would be no more. How quickly we sometimes forget the lessons we learned during trials. Thanks again.

    1. Hi Steve! I’m so sorry to hear about that dark period, and the pain that went with it. I delight to hear how it refined your faith and intensified your longing for God’s presence. And yes, just because we survive one cycle like that doesn’t mean we don’t face it again! I wish it were so simple that we could just “learn lessons” and then graduate! Actually, I think that God does graduate us, but often to the next level of suffering and accompanying blessing. May He sustain you through this one, and may He speak deeply satisfying answers to your current questions.

      By the way, this blog is not at all just for women (it just happens to be written by one). 🙂 A few months ago I wrote on “When God is Silent.” That may connect with where you are now, too. So good to connect with you again after all these years!

    2. Hi Steve. You might appreciate Simone Weil’s Gravity and Grace. Weil was a mystic and she was well-acquainted with suffering and silence from God. One way to describe her writing is in between poetry and propositions. Some of her snippets need to be taken with a lot of salt; some I cannot make fit into any sensible understanding of God whatsoever. However, others seem right on. For example, she mentions the important of not filling “voids” in our hearts with ourselves; they need to be kept open so that “supernatural bread” can materialize there. We are so tempted to use our imaginations to fill those voids; this protects us from suffering, but it also ‘protects’ us from growth.

      Remember that some of the darkness we experience is merely us understanding the world as it is, instead of as it’s presented. Some of our great thinkers have killed themselves after staring too long into the void; they had no hope of supernatural bread; some probably specifically rejected it, as they rejected Jesus. Our help comes from God; they were looking to man. Sometimes, though, God’s one day being like a thousand years gets a bit old. 😦

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