The Blessing of Blessing

The Blessing of Blessing

Once a year the church where I am privileged to serve as a youth director holds a huge retreat weekend on the church property for high school and middle school students. It’s the most exhausting, hilarious, and meaningful thing we do all year. Imagine two overnight lock-ins and throw in a conference just for the fun of it.

But the weekend culminates in a prayer service.

At that prayer service each student comes to a kneeling altar where a candle is lit and put before them. Then, a minister prays over them.

It sounds so simple. But I find myself choking up every year. And it’s not just me. By the end the kneeling altar is soaked with tears from the students.

The truth is, the prayer we pray is nothing revolutionary. So why the visceral reaction?

It reminds me of the story of Jacob in the Hebrew Bible. Specifically, the one where he wrestles with God (Gen. 32:22-32). There, Jacob, who stole his brother’s blessing, is on the run. In fact, he’s been on the run ever since that day. But in this little story Jacob wrestles a “man” who just might be God. The result after a night of wrestling is that Jacob’s hip is destroyed and the “man” blesses him.

It’s a weird story. But then again, it’s not.

How many of us are on the run after stealing a blessing that was meant for someone else? Better put, how many of us feel like we have to steal someone else’s blessing because there isn’t enough for all of us?

We live in a time in which personality tests like the Enneagram are helping so many people to realize who they are and how they are wired specifically within the human story. So much of what is driving that, I think, is the desire to know how we are already blessed.

Yet the narrative often sold to us is one of scarcity. There’s only so much to go around whether it be praise, love, jobs, or blessing. So, we’ve got to hustle. We’ve got to become something so we can be loved and safe in a dangerous and cold world.

No one knows this better than teenagers. So much of their life is performance and competition. Not that these are bad things in general, but what happens to a child who grows up thinking that their worth is attached to how they perform? Or what job they get? Or what grade they get?

Not that adults are immune to this either. Getting fired or being let go is often one of the most traumatic experiences an adult can have because their identity is who they are at work.

“I don’t know who I am anymore,” I’ve heard on more than one occasion.

I think that’s why simple prayers of blessing are so emotional. Because our culture isn’t very encouraging. It thrives on fear, lack, and rivalry. And let’s be honest, many of us in churches wouldn’t have an identity if we didn’t have an enemy.

I wonder what God said to Jacob.

“You’ve run long enough?”

“The blessing you’ve been seeking was right here all along?”

“Nice stamina?”

Whatever was said, one thing is obvious: a blessing from God leaves a mark. It changes you.

So many of us are wrestling for blessing in all the wrong places (cue the musical stylings of Johnny Lee here). [1] And so many of us are not yet changed.

What would it mean if parents, youth leaders, children’s ministers, and whoever else wants to, took seriously the idea of blessing? Of reminding others, especially those just starting out in this life, that they are loved and capable of loving? Would that change anything?

After this year’s prayer service, one parent mused aloud, “I wonder how different we would be if we would have had that prayed over us when we were kids.”

Indeed. How different would Jacob’s life have been if he hadn’t felt the need to steal a blessing? If he somehow knew what he would come to know later, that he already had everything he needed?

With that in mind I wanted to share the prayer we prayed over our students this year. It’s designed to be both personal and universal. To encourage and to teach. But more than that, it’s meant to bless. Maybe it’s what you need to hear today. Maybe you’re on the run, seeking a blessing. Consider this the opening bell for your own personal wrestling with God. Much of this is hard to believe, but if God has his way, it’ll leave a mark that will change the way and the direction you walk. In the end, that’s all we’re doing here anyway. To quote Ram Dass, “We’re all just walking each other home.” [2] Amen. May it be so instead of what we often see—that we’re trying beat each other home, to get the blessing we already have.

_____________, you are loved.

God has made you _________________ (creative, funny, strong, loving, kind, smart, playful, intelligent, energetic, loyal, faithful, considerate, hardworking, respectful, compassionate, courageous, authentic, generous, accepting of others, determined, gentle, gracious, joyful, passionate, full of peace, sincere, beautiful, hardworking, diligent, understanding).

He is proud of you. He sees you.

Remember always that you are not your failures. You are not the worst thing you’ve ever done. Nor will you ever be. God specializes in bringing good things out of bad things. Remember that now if you need to know it now. Remember it later when the time comes when you question if anything good can happen in the worst things that happen to you.

Remember that you can do things that other people can’t because God made you unique and with love.

Remember too that there are people that can do things you can’t. Never be jealous or angry about this because God has made them just as carefully and wonderfully as you.

Remember that friends carry each other’s burdens. Remember to be courageous in sharing your struggles with your friends and strong enough to carry their burdens too.

Remember that the best things in life are the things that take the most time. Be patient. God is more active in your life than you realize. He is good. And He is making you good. He will not give up on you. He will not quit on you, even if you quit on him.

Remember these things and as you place your candle remember that the God has placed a light in you that the world needs to see.

Never doubt that.




Ministry of Reconciliation, Part 2: Greatest Challenges in Our Worship Practices

Ministry of Reconciliation, Part 2: Greatest Challenges in Our Worship Practices

I’m Going to Need You to Move Your Face

I’m Going to Need You to Move Your Face