Once upon a more naive time, I believed that blessings were the good things that happened to us and that to feel anything less than entirely enthusiastic about them at all times was a failing of sort. What right did I have - did anyone have - to complain about a blessing? How ungrateful that would be!
Life, in its usual messy way, has not proven to be so straightforward.
So many of the greatest blessings in our lives are also the sources of deepest pain. Marriage, children, callings, wisdom, all blessings that bring both joy and sorrow.
For those of us raised in certain Christian cultures, however, happiness is the only acceptable emotional response to any of it. From the time we could be left in Sunday School, the same two themes were repeated over and over: Be happy because you know Jesus, and be good because God is watching. "I'm inright outright upright downright happy all the time," we would sing enthusiastically. Some messages sink down deep and cling tightly to our hearts even as we try to cast them off. What, after all, does the beautiful Gospel story have to do with being happy or good? It is so much more than that.
When we're raised under the belief that only happiness is acceptable, though, these moments of pain can become deep struggles. I'm not happy! I'm not being grateful enough! How wrong of me! I have to do something about this! Try harder, be better, pray more!
As I've struggled through a pregnancy that has taken its toll in ways that neither of my other pregnancies have, I have at last found peace in acknowledging pain in the midst of our blessings. This life within, this child, is a blessing, wholly and completely, without reservation. But there is pain in it too, much of it quite literally. There has been exhaustion beyond anything I have ever experienced. My level-headed self has been humbled by the uncharacteristic emotional upheaval I have struggled with. I have faced deep fears in seeking chiropractic care as a last-ditch effort to relief unbearable sciatic pain. I have been discouraged by smaller things that, when added together, feel far bigger.
But it is still a blessing. Oh, it is, and I know it's true even as I face those darker and more challenging emotions. Feelings come and go, but truth simply is. Acknowledging the pain in the blessing does not negate the blessing.
There is, as always, such comfort to be found in Scripture. The Psalms are filled with laments that resolve into praises, the same pattern throughout so many of them: "God, this is so hard! Yet still I will praise You." The Bible contains innumerable examples of godly individuals who freely expressed their challenging emotions - anger, sadness, doubt, fear, loneliness, and more. Jesus Himself weeps in sadness, overturns tables in anger, and sweats blood in agony. Where do we get this idea that happiness is the only acceptable emotion of a godly person? Why is our every less-than-cheerful thought blamed on our sin or lack of faith or ingratitude? What makes us believe that our pain and challenges should be hidden or denied?
Maybe we simply use the word "blessing" too casually, referring merely to the good and easy and light things in our lives. Or perhaps, rather, we don't use it freely enough, for even our trials and weaknesses are blessings (James 1:2-4, 2 Corinthians 12:9). There is often pain in our blessings, and yet blessings they remain. It is only when we embrace the freedom to acknowledge pain, difficulties, and challenges without guilt or self-condemnation that our eyes are opened to far more blessings than we could otherwise hope to see.
This is hard, God, yet still I will praise you.