A version of this post was originally posted on St. Mark’s Lutheran Church by The Narrows blog, Feb 2015.
We’re often told to “Count our Blessings” in one way or another. Last winter, I heard it for the hundredth time in the holiday classic, White Christmas, as Bing Crosby sang about soothing a restless mind to sleep. Maybe your grandparents or parents, like mine, used the phrase as a not-too-gentle reminder not to be over dramatic about the little irritations in life, and not to discount the real suffering of others.
Recently, it’s almost difficult to avoid a culture of gratitude in the mainstream. Bible studies, health experts and psychologists, Oprah, bloggers, and several of your own friends suddenly seem to be talking about “intentional gratitude” —really taking the time to recognize and find peace and joy in the blessings in our lives.
Intentionally counting our blessings like Bing and Grandma suggested might take the form of a daily gratitude journal, or quiet thanks in prayer each night, or even a committed, albeit resigned acknowledgement that, “well, at least these are the few things going right when everything else today seems awful.”
It’s a good movement and it’s important to take stock of the good things in life, the gifts and opportunities God has brought us. But I think there may be a piece of advice missing—an important piece of appreciating how God provides for us.
Count your blessings, yes. But what then? Do we keep counting those same blessings, over and over, polishing the same good thoughts, our shiny treasures? What about the blessings that start to lose their shine over time? The blessings that start to get harder and harder to fit into our lives? Do we cling to them as the good things we know them to be, and bend our lives to make them keep fitting? No one wants to let go of a good thing, an acknowledged blessing. But sometimes… I think you have to.
Now I’m not saying that we have a finite capacity to receive blessings. But I do think that God gives many kinds of blessings, and we need to recognize their variety… some blessings are for today, like the neighbor who finds your runaway dog, or the inexplicable surge of energy and concentration to drive safely home late at night when you’re dead tired. Some blessings are for a lifetime, like the patience and strength of our families and the communities we nurture around us, a best friend who always remembers an important day, year after year. And maybe some blessings are just for as long as we need them, and then we need to let them go.
For the last two years, I’ve been blessed to be the publications coordinator at St. Mark’s. And I don’t mean “#blessed” in a flip or trite way. I think anyone who gets to volunteer or work within their chosen worship community—or any organization they love and believe in—knows how fulfilling it is. To use your talents and experience to benefit people you care about and to support their good works is a genuine blessing. I’ve been desperately wanting and searching for the right opportunity to do exactly that since college. And with the position at St. Mark’s, I was doubly blessed, because two years ago, I was struggling to get enough hours at my dayjob, our family needed a little extra work, and I had a very flexible schedule that allowed me to frequently work from my home office or the office at St. Mark’s.
I absolutely loved my time on staff. I loved gaining new knowledge of our many ministries and getting to know people I don’t normally see at my usual worship service. I loved sharing office space with the rest of the staff, and getting a chance to witness how deep their concern and intimate knowledge of each congregant runs. And I was so grateful for the chance to actively thank, praise, and serve God with the gifts He gave me.
But, God delivers new blessings every day, and some of them are game changers. For my family, it was two big changes for the better. I was assigned to a new long-term client at my dayjob that gave me more hours of reliable work. And we’re now expecting our second child—a long desired and prayed for blessing! We don’t know yet how the rest of this year will shake out, in terms of my returning to work or spending more time at home with two (two!) daughters, but we do know my time and energy will have to be refocused again and again.So the blessing of working at my church had to be let go. It was one of my best, shiniest treasures for the last couple of years, and I had a really hard time making the decision. I held on. And then I held on longer, even when it stressed me and my family out and kept me up far too many late nights after a full day of work at the dayjob. I squeezed things around for months to make it fit… until even I could finally see it was getting tarnished, becoming more of a pebble in my shoe than a beautiful treasure.
Fortunately, the real blessing of working in your own worship community is that your bosses and colleagues are truly interested and invested in your dreams and the ways God is working in your life. I wish I had recognized and counted on that blessing earlier. Predictably, the pastors and church staff were incredibly patient and supportive in helping me to make a good decision for my family and plan a good transition. And, as it happens, I get to pass the blessing on to my best friend. It wasn’t at all planned—as blessings frequently work, it all just “fell perfectly into place”— and I don’t know how long this blessing is meant for her. But I do know God has many many more in store for all of us.
And finally, now that I’ve counted it over and over again, I’m finding peace in letting go of a blessing that deeply enriched my life when I needed it. I’m finding joy in the open space left to receive new treasures, to count and shine them up whenever I need a reminder of their worth… and to pass them on when it’s time.