Walking into the room, I saw a 3-year-old with a cast on his leg sitting in his hospital bed surrounded by plush Hulk, Captain America and Spider-Man toys. Sitting next to the bed was a weary-looking mom, who welcomed me into their space.
After engaging with the little boy about his favorite superheroes, I turned to his mom and inquired about how she was holding up having a child in the hospital.
The boy’s mom shared how tough it was to be away from her other children and the stress of working from a hospital room. Then she looked at me and said, “I mean, I have a good perspective, though. I’ve seen some of the other kids and families around this place. Knowing how sick some of those children are reminds me that I’m really blessed.”
Is that the purpose of the critically ill among us? A reminder of how blessed the rest of us are?
As I listened to this mom’s all-too-common rhetoric, my mind flashed back to where I had been just a few hours ago, beneath this same roof. Standing at the bedside as the doctor pronounced the time of death, I held a sobbing mother in my arms and still could hear the wails of the child’s dad beating in my soul. I walked those parents out of the hospital, holding a stuffed bear in place of their child, and then I accompanied their baby down to the morgue.
“I walked those parents out of the hospital, holding a stuffed bear in place of their child, and then I accompanied their baby down to the morgue.”
Listening to the 3-year-old battling Hulk and Spider-Man, a different battle was happening inside me. If this little boy and his mom were blessed, then what did that make the baby in the morgue and her grieving parents? Cursed?
Much of how we define the word “blessed” is based on how we compare ourselves and our circumstances to those of other people. Following this line of thinking, couldn’t the mom who was in the office that day whose child was at school and not hospitalized with a broken leg also compare circumstances and proclaim herself as “blessed” compared to those who have children in the hospital? Would that then change the status of the mom I was with right now from blessed to cursed?
“When the system is based on comparison, won’t someone always be ‘more blessed’ and ‘less blessed’ than another?”
When the system is based on comparison, won’t someone always be “more blessed” and “less blessed” than another? How does the woman who is longing for a child but can’t have one receive the pregnancy announcements she sees posted on social media followed by #blessed? Just the thought makes me want to weep.
When we use the word “blessed” to describe our good fortune, it would be helpful to think about how others might receive this sentiment.
I believe this mom whose son had a broken leg only had good intentions when she shared her feelings of being blessed. She entered into the hospital with one perspective, and her perspective shifted while she was within its walls. That isn’t a bad thing.
The tricky part is the language, because our language does indeed matter. She was sharing with me her gratitude that her son wasn’t critically ill. I joined her in that gratitude. My concern with her use of the word “blessed” was how it might be interpreted by the family I had just walked out of the hospital with empty arms. Does God love one family more than another? It feels good when you are on the blessed side of things, but oh the pain when you are not.
“It feels good when you are on the blessed side of things, but oh the pain when you are not.”
The question is: Why do we do it? Why do we so quickly jump to the word “blessed” as we describe our lives? Some might be thinking of the term as it relates to God, but I believe many find the word synonymous with “thankful.”
Our culture is a gold medalist at jumping to the sunny side of things in the midst of pain, and our over-utilization of “blessed” is no exception. When we do this, we may think we are cheering someone up — “Look how great you have it compared to others. You should feel blessed!” — or maybe it is our own situation we are trying to silver-line.
Regardless, when we do this, we rob ourselves and others of deepening our sense of empathy by staying in our discomfort and using those feelings of sadness, grief and loss to connect with others who are in pain.
“Blessed” isn’t a bad word. It is a beautiful word and deserves redemption in its usage. The blessing is in the gifts of God that are offered to all people, regardless of their health, physical and mental abilities, socio-economic status, size of their home, or the ability of their womb to carry a baby.
When I was with that family before the doctor pronounced the time of death of their child, they asked me to pray. I asked how they wanted me to pray, and they couldn’t give voice to their need. I entwined my hands with theirs and prayed, “God, in the midst of this pain and grief, may these parents know they are never alone. You are right here with them — loving them and weeping with them, just as you love their child. May they know they are never alone because you are right here with them — loving them and caring for them — every step of the way.”
When the mother of the son with the broken leg asked me to pray for her son, I prayed the same thing.
In our pain, we are not alone.
In the midst of where you are this holiday season — a new diagnosis, divorce, grieving a miscarriage, celebrating a new career, financial stress, an estranged child, death of one you deeply loved, joy in your friendships, loss of hope — God is with you, grieving with you, celebrating with you, loving you.
Blessed, indeed. Each and every one of us.
Christy S. Edwards is a board-certified pediatric hospital chaplain who lives in Liberty, Mo., with her husband, Jason, and their three children. Learn more about her and her workshops on empathy skills at her website.
Other articles in this series:
‘We’re so blessed!’ | Opinion by Mark Wingfield
Blessing is not about good fortune; it is akin to God’s love | Opinion by Ann Bell Worley
Original blessing, the #blessed hashtag, and what it really means to be blessed | Opinion by Andrew Daugherty
When being a ‘blessing’ comes with some baggage | Opinion by Amber Cantorna
Seeing mortality as a blessing | Opinion by Cynthia Astle
Blessed by life’s diversions | Opinion by Jeff Hampton
Blessing is naming what is true | Opinion by Erin Robinson Hall
The blessing of provocation | Opinion by Molly T. Marshall
Blessed to be a blessing, globally | Opinion by Erich Bridges
When you count your blessings, what do you count? | Opinion by Barry Howard
Blessings of the pandemic | Opinion by Phawnda Moore