Blessed, Not Stressed
When we talk about spirituality, there’s often an idea that it’s associated with sanguinity and optimism. We use words like gratitude, blessed, good vibes, and joy.
And it’s true that connection with God does provide positive experiences and fuels our sense of contentedness and serenity.
However, the temptation is to trivialize our Divine connectedness by limiting our spiritual experience to glaring positivity.
While speaking to a group of women, I saw a sweet trio of older ladies wearing matching shirts that read, “You’re too blessed to be stressed.”
I’ve seen this phrase on bumper stickers, journals, wall plaques and well-meaning Facebook statuses.
While it highlights the gratitude and opportunity for contentedness, it implies that stress and blessing cannot coexist. It paints a picture of the mutual exclusivity of pain and peace as if they are opposites—difficulty or joy, loss or life, blessing or stress.
Anyone who’s lived a decade or longer knows that this can’t be true. Being spiritually connected doesn’t mean we experience blessing or pain. When we only see our circumstances in a forced positive light, we either have to explain away difficulty or pretend things are better than they are.
Why do we think a connection with God means we don’t have to feel depression or anxiety or pain? Why do we feel as if a connection with the Divine means things shouldn’t hurt or bother us?
Often, we are so uncomfortable with suffering that we’ll do anything to make it better, even repressing our real feelings and questions. Positive thinking and reframing our perspectives can be helpful—but the truth that our pain won’t kill us doesn’t mean we aren’t hurting today.
Maybe we minimize our pain because we are deeply uncomfortable with the dark, difficult places.
And it’s natural to be uncomfortable. Suffering is awful.
But we can’t avoid pain. We are surrounded by difficulties: loss, dead-ends, repeated heartache, sadness. And deep pain happens to those of us in recovery. Suffering knows no boundaries. It doesn’t care how long we’ve been sober or how often we meditate, journal or pray.
For most of us, our journey in life and recovery is not a story of easy faith. It takes serious guts to be free and learn to live authentically. The trying journey from addiction to healing isn’t characterized by a “blessed not stressed” bumper sticker.
The freedom lies in the fact that difficulty and peace are simultaneously possible. One doesn’t deny the other. Instead, a connection with God means that somehow blessing and stress can cohabitate. Somehow, we can still experience peace when the bottom falls out.
My cousin Allyson was a young mom of three boys. Allyson also had a terrible form of ovarian cancer that took her life.
In the time before her death, her faith had to shift with the abrasive realities of life. She had both a brave trust in God and a strong sense of how awful life can be. She didn’t feel the need to conflate the ideas of pain and peace. She didn’t have to defend how she was both connected to God and dying.
It’s only in the acknowledgment of the difficulty that we are truly open to the reality of the Divine and loving Presence. The real, life-giving truths about the nearness and compassion of God often come out of experiencing God through the storm, not when life is perfect.
Spiritual connection is not an avenue to avoid pain; it’s the means through which we’re carried through it. It’s the hand that holds us when everything in us breaks down, when we feel crushed or our hearts seem shredded beyond repair.
We don’t have to minimize our pain. We don’t have to filter our circumstances and relationships through unrealistic optimism. But we can learn to be held by Love as our hearts are filled with sadness and hope. There will be pain and joy. And the miraculous truth is that in the darkness and in the light, God is near.
-Chris Gibson, MDiv