Earlier this summer, I was blessed to be able to go on a family vacation to Hawaii. It was incredible! The island was beautiful, the adventures were so fun, the time with my family was relaxing and refreshing. Real talk: it was dope.
This was what I got to look at. It was beautiful.
Here was a beautiful canyon in the middle of the island — ridiculously amazing!
And here’s my awesome family loving the island life!
A Different Kind of Blessing
A little while before that trip, I experienced a different kind of blessing. I was blessed to be rejected by a person I cared about and I was consequently blessed to feel lonely, unwanted, and inadequate. Real talk: it sucked.
Blessed vs. #Blessed
That doesn’t sound like as much of a blessing as my Hawaiian rollercoaster ride (any Lilo and Stitch fans out there?) does it? Well, let’s take a minute and reintroduce ourselves to what it means to be blessed. In the Beatitudes, “the heart of Jesus’ preaching” (CCC 1716). Here, Jesus tells us that the ones who are blessed are the ones who:
Are poor in spirit
Hunger and thirst for righteousness
Are pure in heart
Are persecuted for the sake of righteousness
Are reviled and persecuted on Christ’s account
Notice, Jesus didn’t say “blessed are the vacationers, for they shall be entertained and refreshed.” The blessedness Jesus describes is really different (and seems much less pleasant) than what our #blessed mentality often leads us to believe.
I know that I am often tempted to believe that my successes, my good fortunes, my happiest moments, my most comforting times are our greatest blessings; scrolling through an insta feed that limits being #blessed to celebrations, flowers, and tasty food doesn’t help this temptation. Certainly, God does reveal His goodness to us in those generous blessings He gives us. But I think we need to be reminded that there is much more to being #blessed than a delicious frappuccino, an honorable award, or even the most magnificent family vacation.
As Christians, we receive blessings not only when good things happen to us, but also when not so good things happen to us. This is because, as baptized people partaking in God’s grace (in other words, receiving the very life of God into our very beings), when we suffer, we are united to the Son in His suffering — we are united to Jesus in His Passion. Therefore, whenever we encounter suffering, we’re invited to share in (and complete — 1 Colossians 1:24) the suffering of Christ, that we may be made like Him — that we might be sanctified and made ready for an eternal blissful union with Our Lord.
Therefore, any kind of suffering, big or small, for the Christian, is significant. This is because, in our suffering, we are intimately united to Christ in His suffering, which means that we are intimately united to Him in His resurrection.
Blessedness doesn’t cease to exist in our times of suffering; not because we worship a God who likes to see us suffer, but because we worship a God who wants us to have true happiness, true blessedness, by dying to ourselves and finding new life in Him. We worship a God who has taken the reality of our fallen human nature and made it an occasion of grace, by which, He draws us into the new life of holiness in Him.
The invitation to beatitude, to true happiness, that Jesus gives us in His sermon on the mount “respond(s) to the natural desire for happiness” (CCC 1718) and provides us with the only road map that will lead us to attain just that. In this description of blessedness, articulated by Christ Himself, we see His face and an invitation to be made more like Him.
So, sure, I was very blessed to be able to go on an amazing family vacation earlier this summer — I encountered our good God, by seeing the wonder of his creation, receiving the love of my family members, and retreating for a short while to be refreshed and renewed to do the work He has called me to do.
I was also very blessed to, even in the tiniest of ways, to suffer a real rejection and to feel real loneliness. This was a blessing because, in this suffering, though insignificant compared to the cross, has been made significant by the suffering of Christ. And in it, I was given an opportunity to unite my small suffering to His so that I could truly follow Him “through the cross, to the resurrection, to life, to joy without end” (Fr. Cantalamessa).
For a moment, I was able to, in a very small way, join Christ in His loneliness, His rejection as he suffered the journey up Calvary and to the cross. And by joining Him in that moment, He was able to transform my little bit of pain into a place of sanctification; He permitted me to endure a small bit of suffering and, by it, He proceeded to offer me holiness and true.
A Reason for Joy
Hold up one minute though. Let’s be clear: I didn’t see this little bit of suffering as a blessing right away — it was initially really challenging for me to accept at all. There have been moments in my loneliness when I’ve tried to avoid the little bit of suffering I could endure. I’ve reached out to friends to try to keep my mind off the pain before reaching out to God, I’ve sought vain attention from the people I’m around, and my most sincere “prayers” have, at times, been reduced to my belting out angry T-Swift lyrics in my car.
When we suffer, it’s not natural to be okay with it. Of course we want to get out of it. But, our God invites us to live beyond what’s purely natural and, by grace, allows us to supernaturally embrace suffering; not because He wants us to be in pain for pain’s sake, but because He takes our broken condition and uses it as an opportunity to draw us close to Him in His own suffering.
No matter how much I try to avoid the little bit of suffering I will endure in my day to day life, I won’t experience true peace in my suffering until I recognize that by it, I am united to Christ more deeply. It’s when I do this that I’m able to allow it to be an opportunity for holiness, surrendering my comforts for the sake of my relationship with Him.
It’s rarely easy, and at least for me, this is never my instinctive reaction. But this conscious acceptance of any level of suffering as an opportunity for union with Christ is the joy of the Gospel — that by his passion and death, Christ has transformed our most unpleasant moments into opportunities to be near Him.