Blessings, gratitude, and exposed privilege

I want all substance and no filler in my church small groups. It’s just awkward when it’s your first time visiting, you know absolutely no one, and the question on the projector screen reads, “When was a time you thought God had forgotten about you, and how did he come through for you in the end?”

I can’t answer that, I realized. I’m still in that moment.

Josh broke the ice first by talking about his job search. I remember that period well: in that eight-month stretch of unemployment, during which we were long-distance, I wondered if I might have to move back to Ohio, where the cost of living is cheaper and we could stay with our parents until we figured things out.

Others nodded in understanding, while I considered talking about my own job struggles. How I wish I could be a better-selling author. Except that wouldn’t be genuine at all, because I know a writing career requires hard work, strategy, and talent. I don’t resent God for not making it all happen before my next rent payment is due.

Some of the other shared stories were familiar: health struggles, yearning for relationships, coping with losses. The common thread was God coming through somehow with a cure; a spouse; a sign from heaven that things were okay. Keep calm, faith on, and God will come through. I used to share stories like those as living proof that God is real, he is still active, and he cares. I’d like to still believe that. Only…

Can I really complain about my job not paying enough when I’ve never had to worry where my next meal is coming from? I’ve been provided for my whole life; first by my parents, and now by my husband, who did end up finding a good job, and we were able to stay in Colorado. But what about the thousands of people living below the poverty line in America alone? How many of them have prayed for an ounce of prosperity? How many of their children still go to bed hungry despite those prayers?

And I really didn’t want to get started on the medical miracle bandwagon. That’s a new one that’s still quite raw, and I may never let it go. It’s truly incredible when someone’s illness just disappears, despite a doctor’s well-calculated prognosis. I still believe miracles can happen. But I can’t shake the unrest I feel when someone praises God for healing someone of the same disease that killed my father. It makes me want to snarl, what’s so damn special about your relative that God cured him over mine?

There is gratitude, and then there is arrogance. The line drawn between the two is sometimes hard to see. I’m certainly not opposed to giving thanks to God for blessings, but it’s important to understand that sometimes the way we phrase that gratitude reeks of privilege. God healed your loved one, yes. But in all likelihood, he did so via doctors and advanced medical care. If your sick relative lived on the other side of the world, the outcome may have been very different.

I never thought I’d struggle with how to express gratitude for my blessings and privileges, but I do. I’m too keenly aware of how gratitude can be a stumbling block for someone else who isn’t blessed in the same way. The last thing I’d want to do is put out an air that says I’m more special, more favored, more holy, and that is why I’ve been given this thing – a job, a cure, a spouse – and you’re none of those things, so you’re out in the cold.

But I don’t ever want to stop giving thanks. I want to believe in a God who allows good things to happen because he himself is good, regardless of how sincere one’s faith might be.

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About Beth Caplin

Just an author, blogger, and editor working hard so my cats can have a better life.
This entry was posted in Theology and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Blessings, gratitude, and exposed privilege

  1. thespia says:

    Is there a conclusion we can come to? Is it still in the works?

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  2. I agree that it is easy to be grateful for all of the positive blessings in my life. I had to learn, as jsherwin2013 commented above, how to be grateful for the negative. From recently going through one of the most traumatic experiences in my life, it brought me back to the core of my soul. I was never more grateful, and it was right after my world was shattered. To appreciate each meal, the beauty of nature that i looked at for years but never really saw… I wouldn’t have had those moments without the negative experience. We all have the ability to take something positive from the negative, realizing that is the beginning. Best wishes, Alissa

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  3. jsherwin2013 says:

    Beth: after years of meditation and the practice of living in the moment, or mindfulness, I’ve accepted that we are here on earth for experience. Whether the experience is negative (losing someone we love–I’ve lost both my parents and my beautiful 21-year-old niece) or positive ( marrying a kind, caring spouse–I’ve done that or finding a good-paying job), it is how we handle the experience that helps us grow as souls. Gratitude for the negative is as important as gratitude for the positive, maybe even more important, for growth.

    The concept of being grateful for the negative is so difficult to accept. I remember feeling intense anger when my spiritual mentor first introduced it to me. “What?” I sputtered. “Be grateful for that!” I could hardly speak. She asked me to just sit with the idea and to think about the negative events in my life and what came out of them. As I did, I realized that some of the worst events had led to changes in my life that had altered my life path and the way I thought about myself for the better. I don’t want to go into specifics here, but I may do that in a blog post. I hope I’ve given you something to think about. Blessings, Jennie

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  4. Pingback: Blessings, gratitude, and exposed privilege | Christians Anonymous

  5. Each of us are unique. No other human sees through your eyes or hears or smells or thinks like you. It’s a concept that is difficult to comprehend. God created this unique soul that is you and the short time of life is only one of the miracles in God’s palate. None of us can explain why or how some of us have a more difficult life than others, it’s just too deep of a concept for mere mortals. Perhaps at some other time in the existence of this unique soul it will be understood.

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