I read a HuffPost Good News article this morning, written by Scott Dannemiller, who is a writer, blogger, worship leader and former missionary with the Presbyterian Church, according to his byline. I love the title: The One Thing Christians Should Stop Saying.
It’s a topic I’ve wrestled with for a long time; Blessing vs Burden
What do those of us who identify ourselves as Christ followers consider blessing and what do we see as burden? In the world and society I live in, material abundance, prosperity, and self-satisfaction are promoted as “blessing.” When the situations and circumstances of life consist of smooth sailing, happy relationships, financial security, satisfying vocation, and material wealth, even the non-religious may refer to themselves as “blessed.” Conversely, poverty, loss, and lack of upward mobility are stigmatized and judged negatively. Those who experience the painful, disappointing, unjust experiences of generational or situational poverty, addiction, loss of loved ones, homelessness, illness, broken relationships, and the like are considered to be burdened. The “chronically burdened” are frequently written off as “burdens on society.” Do those of us who call ourselves Christians think, act, and live with this understanding of blessing and burden?
I think, in many cases, the answer is a resounding, “YES!” As a matter of fact, if it hadn’t already been obvious from many of my posts in the past, it is pretty evident that this is how I have viewed and reacted to many of the things I’ve experienced in my life.
God’s economy reverses those two things: what we often think of as blessing bears a burden of stewardship and “charity,” while the things we’ve been taught to consider “why me, woe is me” events and circumstances as burdens, are actually things which CAN open us up to truly be blessed.
I especially related to the following:
“Second, and more importantly, calling myself blessed because of material good fortune is just plain wrong. For starters, it can be offensive to the hundreds of millions of Christians in the world who live on less than $10 per day. You read that right. Hundreds of millions who receive a single-digit dollar “blessing” per day.
During our year in Guatemala, Gabby and I witnessed first-hand the damage done by the theology of prosperity, where faithful people scraping by to feed their families were simply told they must not be faithful enough. If they were, God would pull them out of their nightmare. Just try harder, and God will show favor.”
I grew up, and continue to live, in the American brand of poverty. I experience Bipolar II Disorder and PTSD, which went unidentified and misdiagnosed for over two decades. These things led to actions and choices that were destructive to self and others. Broken relationships, chaos, and instability have been the consistent things in my life.
I was “saved” when I was eight years old. I have had an on again, off again relationship with God, through many different congregations and denominations over the past 37 years. Countless times I’ve gotten the message that my pain, my depression, my toxic relationships, my physical health, and my poverty were the result of my lack of faith in and relationship with God. I was repeatedly told to study and memorize scripture more, pray more, serve more, trust God more, etc. This was an oversimplification based on skewed understanding and beliefs.
I would cycle into unrecognized hypomanic highs and “catch on fire.” God’s was with me and in me in nearly tangible ways. I was “on track” and “in tune” with Him. Then the bipolar pendulum would swing me into depression. Emotional, intellectual, and spiritual static, interference, and disconnection ensued. The panic and anxiety from the PTSD I was unaware of was continually broadcasting a background signal. It would be low and subliminal, then something would happen and, before I knew it, my own personal Emergency Broadcast Alert was in full effect. My roller coaster brain took me on a wild and scary ride, sweeping innocent and not so innocent bystanders along.
Over and over again, the people of faith who were in ministry and had chosen a life of “service” and who I looked to for leadership, mentorship, guidance, and nurture talked about vacations, promotions, personal and professional rewards, recognition for achievements, new cars, new houses, savings, weddings, happily bonded familial relationships, and so on,as blessings, or manifestations of God’s favor.Conversely, their times of difficulty, pain, and loss were hidden, downplayed, and sometimes treated as if they were a consequence of losing faith and walking away from God.
When your life is overflowing with the latter and the former has a negligible presence, the message received and internalized is often, “I’m not blessed, I’m cursed, and it’s because of my lack of effort, lack of faith, and just, plain lack as a person/” This perception and viewpoint pulls the blinds, shuts the curtains, and locks the door against seeing, being open to, and receiving the blessings which can be experienced. This sounds a lot like I’m still putting the onus of being blessed on the receiver. I’m not, really. Those metaphors only go so far before they break down. What I am really trying to say is this: anything can be a blessing or burden, depending on how it is perceived and understood.
I know I have spent a significant part of my life, including 2014, viewing the challenges, difficulties, and hardships in my life as burdens. I’ve had a strong tendency to devolve into “victimized” thinking and reacting. I absolutely need to practice reframing my thinking and reversing the polarity of my perceptions.
Thoughts? What are things you have thought of as burdens which may have turned out to be “blessings in disguise?” Are there any “blessings” you received which created “burdens” for you or others?