1 When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, *
then were we like those who dream.
2 Then was our mouth filled with laughter, *
and our tongue with shouts of joy.
3 Then they said among the nations, *
“The LORD has done great things for them.”
4 The LORD has done great things for us, *
and we are glad indeed.
5 Restore our fortunes, O LORD, *
like the watercourses of the Negev.
6 Those who sowed with tears *
will reap with songs of joy.
7 Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, *
will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.
This is the time of year when the advertisements on television and on the internet turn to telling viewers how much the company is thankful for us, the consumer. It’s the Thanksgiving season after all, and they probably should be thanking the people who line their purses with cash. Usually, their thankfulness takes the form of a discount on their products, so that we recognize that they are 75% as thankful for us during the holiday sale season as they are during the regularly priced season.
This is also the time of the year that social media posts, blog entries, and sermons tend toward encouraging us to give thanks for our blessings, both for what we have, and what we have experienced. Often, these posts and sermons want us to reflect upon our lives and to count our blessings, one by one.
It’s always easier for me to count my blessings when things are going well for me. And a whole lot harder for me to count those same blessings when life takes a turn for the worse.
Years ago, one of the pastors I knew used to talk about the phrase “under these circumstances” and then ridicule it, asking people, “What are you doing under the circumstances in the first place?” This whole mini-conversation was intended to bring up the idea that good Christians were always supposed to be people who overcome, who transcend the current physical plane with the joy of God’s love in every situation. Dying of cancer? Merely a circumstance to be transcended with joy. Just lost your mother or father? Praise be to the Creator that they are with God now; no need at all to weep or mourn, because you should be living in the joy of their resurrection.
It was a denial of our emotions, a dismissal of our pain, intended to show people that a faith in God would transcend this mortal life and help us to always see the good and the beautiful; to always seek the counting of blessings.
It was sick.
It was bullshit.
Even Jesus wept.
For me, these past few months in particular feel like the culmination of several bad years, all strung together with bailing wire and duct tape. It’s the final cherry on top of a string of events that have caused me to weep, to mourn, to fume in anger and cower in fear. I certainly have not been transcending – at least not every day. Some days – some weeks – I grumble, I grouse and I grump.
Given my attitude, I count my blessings in the only way I know how, to thank God that I am blessed with being grumpy, because it reminds me that I am alive, that I feel. I thank God that I have the blessing of being able to mourn, the ability to feel anger, because it means I am still passionate enough to protest the injustices in this world. I thank God for the blessings of occupying a life that falls short of living within my calling, and takes on the mere shadow of the life I know I am to experience, because each moment of a shadow life translates into a life of more completeness when it comes to the light. I thank God for the blessing of being unhappy, because I know that eventually the joy shall return, and each moment of unhappiness is a seed of joy planted in the darkness of night.
Today’s Psalm shows us the joyful and triumphant return of the Israelites to their own land, after exile in Babylon. They have been restored, they have been brought back to fully engaging and living out their glory as the chosen children of God. But they spent years, decades, living in the uncertainty of not knowing whether they would ever see the joy of their own homeland again.
I’m sure they grumbled. I’m sure they sat on the banks of the river and wept, as they remembered.
And that was okay.
Sometimes it’s perfectly acceptable to sit in the stew, to sit in the pain, to sit in the anger, because even these things are a blessing. Or perhaps, when we realize that these experiences eventually will be a blessing.
Mike is a jack of all trades, master of none. He’s a data analyst, programmer, and loves to cook. If he doesn’t have his face buried in a book or is staring blankly at a computer screen, you can find him on a motorcycle, enjoying the ride.
Mike holds a Masters of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary.