#blessed. We have all seen it on socials, coffee cups, and tie dye sweaters. It’s hard to determine what anyone actually means by calling themselves blessed. Harder still when our marriages turn sour. Still, it is an axiom of a branch of psychology called Positive Psychology that to focus on what is good can and does improve how you feel and live.
There is no one who has more reason to focus on what is good than those in Christ. In the Beatitudes, Jesus says that we are blessed because we are given many overwhelmingly good gifts. But he also acknowledges that we face hard things, like difficult marriages. We will look at these blessings that Jesus declares over us with an eye toward applying them to how we interact with our spouses.
Theology of Suffering
When Jesus declares someone blessed, he is not speaking about this life. The beatitudes are prophetic, other-worldly, spiritual declarations meant to subvert the experience of hardship. Throughout the beatitudes, Jesus picks out groups of people experiencing suffering – poor, mourning, hungry, persecuted, as well as those who exhibit qualities not usually associated with success – merciful, pure, peacemakers. When considered outside the context of the beatitudes, these experiences are, at best, devalued or, at worst, terrible. Jesus declares blessing INTO these hardships. Not after, or as a result of, but into. Indeed, there is no actual relationship between the suffering and the blessing except the objective truth of both of them. Like holding rotten cheese in one hand and a bar of gold in the other, both realities are independently true. But that is the helpfulness of it! When we suffer hardship, we have a tendency to focus solely on the hardship. The cheese makes our hand feel slimy. It’s stink fills the whole room. While the cheese fills our senses, we lose sight of the gold. Jesus points out the huge gold bar we are holding. I have lived in some dingy places. Some of them were ugly and smelled bad in spite of all our efforts. But they were cheap. It was discouraging to pull up to the eyesore, much less walk in and smell the odor. So I had to make a practice of comparing what we were paying in rent to those around us. The money we were saving made an objectively bad living situation more bearable.
So the first thing the beatitudes do is it helps us with our theology of suffering. All of the groups of people Jesus indicates suffer. Jesus does not say that they don’t, he says they suffer, AND they are blessed. The situation sucks, AND God promises to comfort, fill, satisfy. He promises blessing. Seeing the both/and of the suffering and blessing and allowing both to be true allows us to be honest with our experience. We don’t have to feel happy about suffering. We can mourn, and know that God is our comfort.
What does any of this have to do with marriage? Peter says: Dear friends, don’t be surprised when the fiery ordeal comes among you to test you, as if something unusual were happening to you (1 Peter 4.12). We don’t usually think of marriage as a place of suffering. This is certainly not what Disney taught us. But two broken and sinful people trying to live together will create suffering. Then we often lose sight of the blessings of the Lord and even of marriage in the middle of the marital conflict. This person who publicly declared their undying love for us seems to be against our very happiness or against reason itself. The slime and the stink of the cheese seems to trump the presence of the gold. Jesus draws our attention to the gold.
The Nature of Blessing
There are a few things to notice about the blessings Jesus talks about.
- They are real. We are not convincing ourselves of what is not real, we are seeing reality as it truly is.
- They are gifts from God. The Lord himself grants us benefits associated with our citizenship in heaven. These are spiritual gifts.
- They are abundant. The difficulty when finite sinners receive infinite spiritual blessing is that we do not, and even cannot appreciate what is given to us. Most of us have no idea what life would be like if we were billionaires. But what we can understand is that a billion is a lot more than what we have now, and that to own a billion dollars would make some things better – indeed it would probably make everything much better if we weren’t sinful. The gifts that Jesus promises are, in many senses, beyond our ability to appreciate, but we can see them as utterly and overwhelmingly good. I can’t resist a Weight of Glory quote: “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
- They are yours. In Christ, you possess these blessings. They are yours. They are yours because they belong to Christ and you belong to him. No moth or rust can destroy your treasures. No thief can take them from you.
Our goal with these blessings is to grow in how much we value them, and the peace that we experience because of them. So that when we feel attacked by our spouse, we have a sense of the security we have in Christ. In other words, we want to grow in our faith in God and the blessings he has and will given us.
What is faith?
Hebrews 11.1 says: Now faith is the conviction of what is hoped for, the assurance of what is not seen. Part of faith in marital conflict means broadening our perspective to include the presence of the blessing. Not necessarily to shift our perspective away from the conflict (suffering), but to broaden our view so that we can see more than just the conflict.
Here are some ideas for how to do that:
- Meditate on the blessings of Christ. Make a habit of seeing yourself as blessed by God. So that when conflict comes and you feel attacked, you already have a foundation of God’s blessings which cannot be taken from you. What could your spouse be attacking that God will not readily give you? Your self-esteem? God blesses you with honor and glory. Your financial future? God blesses with eternal provision. Etc.
- Even as you are in conflict, be sure to point out the good things about the other person, or your life together. We wouldn’t be having conflict if there wasn’t something negative happening. But the negative thing is not the only thing in that situation. There is blessing. Even if you can’t see anything good about your spouse or your situation, there is plenty of good to focus on in Christ. Name it to each other. Speak true words of encouragement even as you have a conflict.
- Take a time out from conflict to be thankful. You can do that by yourself, but you can also do it with your spouse. How drastically the mood of a conversation could change if either or both of you took 45 seconds to thank God for the blessings he has given you.