All of us have our share of suffering and Christians are not exempted from them. We don’t welcome it but we seldom have much control. Father Henri Nouwen says:
“It is an on going temptation to think of our lives as living under a curse. The loss of a friend, an illness, an accident, a natural disaster, a war, or any failure can make us quickly think that we are no good and are being punished. This temptation to think of our lives as full of curses is even greater when all the media present us day after day with stories about human misery.
Jesus came to bless us, not to curse us. But we must choose to receive that blessing and hand it on to others. Blessings and curses are always placed in front of us. We are to choose. God says, ‘Choose the blessings!’” (Bread for the Journey, Sept 8)
“To bless means to say good things. We have to bless one another constantly. Parents need to bless their children, children their parents, husbands their wives, wives their husbands, friends their friends. In our society, so full of curses, we must fill each place we enter with our blessings. We forget so quickly that we are God’s beloved children and allow the many curses of our world to darken our hearts. Therefore, we have to be reminded of our belovedness and remind others of theirs. Whether the blessing is given in words or with gestures, in a solemn or an informal way, our lives need to be blessed lives.” (Bread for the Journey, Sept 7)
We bless ourselves:
· when we give thanks with a grateful heart.
· when we listen to the quiet, inner voice that says good things about ourselves.
· when we affirm ourselves and know that we have given the best of ourselves in whatever we have worked on.
· when we shut out the loud, busy outer voice that says we are being punished.
We bless others:
· when we speak good things about them and to them.
· when we show by our gestures that their presence is a joy to us.
· when we reveal to them their gifts, their goodness and their talents.
1. Our reactions immediately after an unpleasant event happens
When we lose our job, when we have an abusive boss, when a car accident happens, when we are robbed, when we are seriously ill, when we have cancer, the immediate question “Why?” emerges. “Why me?” “Why now?” “Why here?” “What have I done wrong?” “Why am I being punished?” It is so difficult to live without an answer to this “Why?” But, if we are too focused and obsessed with finding the answers to these questions of the causes of these events, we are more likely to end up being angry and bitter. Bitterness will turn us away from God and thus we curse ourselves.
In order to help me see my suffering and pain in a new light, I have to change my focus. Now that the unpleasant event has happened, what should my response be? By concentrating on my response, I am more likely to end up turning to God, trusting Him and blessing myself. How is this done? Mother Teresa advised, “Just accept whatever He gives and give whatever He takes with a big smile.” (The Wisdom of Mother Teresa, 42) Who can do that? I can’t do it. It is impossible for me to accept with a smile this suffering and adversity. Whenever I say anything is impossible, I have inadvertently put a curse on myself! I have shut out all possibilities. But I may be able to accept it with a smile, if I truly believe that “God loves me” (John 15:9 TEV) and that “I am precious to Him” (Isaiah 43:4 TEV). How? This requires a change in mindset and heart-set because if I am precious to God, then it stands to reason that He cares for me and knows my suffering and hardships and that He has permitted, allowed, sent or given them to me. Furthermore, I will surely be able to smile if I turn to God and wholeheartedly believe that with God’s help all things are possible as, “This is impossible with human beings, but for God everything is possible” (Matthew 19:26 TEV). When I embrace this truth, I bless myself. Therefore, I must trust that God has allowed the suffering to be a means of discipline through which faith, love, patience and grace may be cultivated in my life. God will not allow my suffering and pain to be wasted and to be of no value to me. God will see me through my suffering and will carry me through it all but I have to keep reminding myself that, ”I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me.” (Philippians 4:13 TEV) And “God has given us a spirit of power and of love and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7 TEV). This belief, this constant repetition will help me to face my suffering and hardships in a new perspective. What I need to do is to turn to God, do my best under the circumstances and trust Him to turn it round for my good. God promises to take “all things” including suffering, abuses, evil things, and turn them round for good as “in all things God works for good with those who love Him”(Romans 8:28 TEV).
But what is for our good? This is for the individual to pray and with God’s help to discover. He needs to constantly search for himself answers to the questions: “What is the seed of equivalent good in my suffering?” “What is the seed of equivalent benefit in my adversity?” Some good traits which we may develop can be more patience, more consideration, less arrogance and less resentment.
Remember, all God requires of us is to come to Him in prayer and trust Him completely. Trust Him to turn our lives around. He will not fail us because we can trust God “who always keeps His promise.” (1 Peter 4:19 TEV) We do our part and give of our best and He will do His part. When we turn to God, God will work WITH us to turn the suffering and pain round for our good. The circumstances, the pain, the suffering, the hardship or the adversity may still be there and may not change much BUT our response and internal attitude towards them will certainly change. Yes, we can take God at His Word that He will help us, comfort us, strengthen us and support us through our pain and suffering. Then, suffering can become a turning point from which we take our greatest leap forward in our faith in God. When we trust God, God gives us the hope and courage to look suffering in the face and to go through it confidently with a renewed spirit and heart. Our suffering will, hopefully, turn us round to come in closer touch with the presence of God in our lives. The great secret in life is that suffering can become a source of new hope and new life. We will then learn to accept it with a smile. This is indeed a blessing.
2. Our memory of events long after they happened
How we recount these unpleasant experiences is also vitally important. When we constantly recount them:
· with blaming God,
· with blaming others,
· with cursing our fate,
· with anger,
· with fear,
· with regret,
· with the feeling of being victimised,
then we put these events under the curse. When we feel we are being punished, the feeling of being cursed comes easily. We will hear an inner voice calling us “bad,” “rotten,” “worthless,” “useless,” “doomed to sickness and death.” We darken our hearts and live our lives with bitterness and resentment. So, we unconsciously curse ourselves.
But blessing is nothing more than recounting positively these events:
· with what God has helped us to endure or overcome,
· with what patience our family and friends have stood by us,
· with what we have learnt out of the events, and
· with hope, courage and love.
Then we put these experiences under the blessing and we consciously bless ourselves.
Henri Nouwen says, “In Latin, to bless is benedicere. The word ‘benediction’ that is used in many churches means literally: speaking (dictio) well (bene) or saying good things of someone. That speaks to me. I need to hear good things said of me, and I know how much you have the same need. Nowadays, we often say: ‘We have to affirm each other.’ Without affirmations, it is hard to live well. To give someone a blessing is the most significant affirmation we can offer. It is more than a word of praise or appreciation; it is more than pointing out someone’s talents or good deeds; it is more than putting someone in the light. To give a blessing is to affirm, to say ‘yes’ to a person’s Belovedness. And more than that: to give a blessing creates the reality of which it speaks. There is a lot of mutual admiration in this world, just as there is a lot of mutual condemnation. A blessing goes beyond the distinction between admiration or condemnation, between virtues or vices, between good deeds or evil deeds. A blessing touches the original goodness of the other and calls forth his or her Belovedness.” (Life of the Beloved, 56)
Physical, mental or emotional pain lived under the blessing is experienced in ways radically different from physical, mental or emotional pain lived under the curse. Even a small burden, perceived as a sign of our worthlessness, can lead us to deep depression. But, great and heavy burdens become light and easy when they are lived in the light of the blessing. What seems intolerable becomes a challenge. What seems a reason for despair becomes a source of hope. What seems punishment becomes a gentle pruning from God. What seems rejection becomes a way to a deeper communion with God. And so the great task becomes that of allowing the blessing to touch us in our brokenness. Then our brokenness will gradually come to be seen as an opening towards the full acceptance of ourselves as the Beloved children of God. This explains why true joy can be experienced in the midst of great suffering. It is the joy of being disciplined, purified and pruned. Just as athletes who experience great pain as they run the race can, at the same time, taste the joy of knowing that they are coming closer to their goal, so also can the Beloved experience suffering as a way to deeper communion with God. Here joy and sorrow are no longer each other’s opposites, but have become the two sides of the same desire to grow to the fullness of the Beloved. For this blessed attitude to take root, we have to have deep faith that God loves us unconditionally and that we are the beloved children of God, very precious to Him.
God sent Jesus to bless us, “God. . . sent Him to bless you” (Acts 3:26 NJB) and Jesus himself has blessed us with every spiritual blessing, “our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all the spiritual blessings” (Ephesians 1:3 NJB). Jesus shows us by His Words and Deeds how to live a blessed life, “Blessed are those who do His commandments” (Revelation 22:14 NKJV). Jesus creates a whole new blessed environment for us to dwell in and, ”how happy are those who hear the word of God and obey it!"(Luke 11:28 TEV) We have to choose to stay in that place with Him and to hand His blessings on to others to make our blessings grow and multiply.
Remember, no one is brought to life through curses, blaming, gossips, accusations and punishment. But every one is brought to life through blessings, encouragement, affirmations, praises, rewards and forgiveness.