Back in eighth grade (waaaay back), the good Sisters of Mercy did their best to teach a pack of unruly adolescents the meaning of being blessed. They had us memorize the eight beatitudes (“Blessed are the merciful…” “Blessed are the peacemakers…” “Blessed are the meek…” etc. ) and patiently explained that being blessed entails a special relationship, a sort of quid pro quo, with God, who is selective about dispensing his grace. Being blessed, they admonished, is not to be bandied or bragged about.
This was serious stuff — the stuff saints are made of. It made a deep impression on this 13-year-old.
Well, I’m willing to bet that if those nuns were around today, they’d be reaching for their rulers — or rosaries — in horror at the way the word blessed is being abused. And while I am by no means an especially religious man, I am saddened to see it going the way of other words that have all but lost their unique meanings as a result of overuse and commercialization. (Think artisanal, gourmet, organic, and luxury.)
Do you think perhaps I’m being unnecessarily prickly? Pay attention. You hear it cropping up more and more, tossed off by politicians on the stump, actors on talk shows, athletes in post-game interviews. They’ve all been blessed in some way or another, don’t you know?
But it is on Facebook, where dignity and self-restraint go to die, that you encounter some truly cringeworthy claims. For example, an old friend recently posted that she was feeling blessed to be catching the sunset at a rum bar in Florida. (“Blessed are the vacationers?”) Another acquaintance shared a photo of a bowl of German potato salad and commented that they were blessed to have found the old family recipe. I’m not kidding. And as if those weren’t silly enough, a former colleague posted that he was blessed to get a last-minute upgrade on the way to attend a business conference. I just pray it wasn’t on United.
What galls me about these and similar assertions is the arrogance of it all, the presumption that the Lord has deigned to bless you out of the billions on the planet — over something like potato salad or an upgrade!
This is not to say I don’t think the word should be used at all. The way I see it, there are plenty of reasons to feel blessed, like those exceptional moments or circumstances that you may believe to be divinely touched: a birth in the family, 10 years of sobriety, beautiful grandchildren, a disease in remission, a 50th wedding anniversary, a lifelong friendship, surviving a flood (but what does that say about those who didn’t?). That’s just to name a few. It can also describe a geographical setting (“blessed with fertile soil and a temperate climate”). After all, that’s God’s handiwork.
But, folks, it simply doesn’t do to trot out the word every time you post a Facebook photo of the annual family reunion or your bare feet plopped on a deck chair with the Caribbean waves curling between your toes. Use it too often and it ends up meaning nothing.
Yes, it feels special to be secure, loved, happy, and healthy. Nevertheless, please think twice before you employ the term blessed; use it sparingly. Perhaps the words fortunate, lucky, or grateful would describe the situation better.
As in, I feel fortunate, lucky, and grateful to write this essay and get paid for it, too.