POSTED ON JANUARY 5, 2011:
A Blessing None of Us Want
Thankfully it Shows Up When Most Needed
Here's to hoping that 2011 will begin better than 2010 ended. The last two weeks of the year were surprisingly difficult. By nature of my job and relationships with others, I found myself close to a number of tragic situations during the Holidays. As I observed different levels of suffering, I couldn't help but think about what it means to be blessed.
For the most part, everything in my world was great. My immediate family stayed healthy. We had lots of interaction with the most beloved members of our extended family and with many of our closest friends. There were multiple opportunities to serve needy individuals and families right up until Christmas and we received numerous cards denoting donations to valuable charities on our behalf. Our Christmas Eve was worshipful and Santa delivered in a major way on Christmas morning.
Unfortunately, many others with whom I associated did not experience such conventionality. A dear friend of mine endured a terribly painful rejection from loved ones. Another friend had valuables stolen, which was followed by the hassles of identity theft. And for some, it was even worse.
Several people I know had a family member in the hospital on Christmas. As I write this column nearly a week later, some are still there. Many experienced their first Christmas without a loved one who had passed away at some point during the year. On more than one Christmas card that I received, it was obvious that those in the picture were hurting because someone special was missing.
Others saw the life of a close relative come to an end on or around Christmas. In each case, the family had to make the difficult decision about what to do with the presents that had been purchased and wrapped for the recently departed.
Each story was painful to observe. And yet, each story bore the marks of an intangible influence. The best way I can describe it is "divine accompaniment." These people were blessed in a different way than me. Those who were most deeply affected would probably choose to trade this unique kind of blessedness for a reversal of circumstances. When tragedy and heartbreak occur, we justifiably ask the question, "Why?"; even when we know there is no good answer. God's reasons to prevent some calamities and allow others are mysterious at best. Nevertheless, the situations that I witnessed in the last two weeks were an encouraging reminder that God, by His nature, comes to the side of those who suffer. This is true even when He is given the greater share of the blame.
In Matthew 5:4, Jesus included the suffering among those who are blessed. He said, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." (TNIV) He also uses the word blessed to describe the poor, lonely, humble, pious, merciful, peaceful, and oppressed.
Some define the word blessed as "happy." Others use the term "fortunate." I prefer the word favored. To be blessed is to be given a special level of attention. This condition is initiated by God Himself. Sometimes He is most present when it feels like He is most absent.
For those who suffer, God's presence is like buoyancy. In the darkest times, God's involvement helps us keep our heads above the water. The deep that surrounds us seems to go on forever, and at times drowning seems to be inevitable. And we stand, nonetheless. We are held up by an inexplicable hope; a hope that I can only classify as supernatural.
When God shows up in the midst of distress, despair begins to fade away like darkness at dawn. In such times, his arrival is unexpected and often appears unlikely. But for those who are paying attention, and at times for those who are not, His involvement is undeniable.
For reasons beyond my comprehension, God continued to show up in the painful circumstances that enveloped many people's Christmas season. His presence did not make everything better. In a ways that only God could accomplish, His presence made everything meaningful.
Eric Costanzo is Minister of Community Ministries and Teaching Pastor at First Baptist Church in downtown Tulsa.
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