You cannot own your triumphs
Until you own your failures
You cannot own your triumphs
Until you own your failures
This proved to be an excellent couple of weeks for me to study the notion of counting one’s blessings. This period has been full of many little rises and falls to my mood, as small things have continually come along both to aggravate and delight me. What I have learned from all this is just how fickle my sense of gratitude can be. When times turn even slightly up I praise God, when times turn even slightly down I have no interest in Him.
Feeling both sides of the coin, I have been able to consider why it is difficult to count my blessings at times. For me it is due to a sense of wounded pride, an indignation at sweeping away the hurt and saying all is well. But I have further discovered that that is not what counting one’s blessings is about at all. It is about dispelling a momentary fiction with the reality of truth.
Indeed, though at times it is difficult to lean into grateful retrospection, during these past two weeks I have felt markedly improved each time that I managed to do so. So let’s take a look at what it really means to count one’s blessings, and why it matters.
When it rains it pours. Though our lives are usually mixed with elements that are both good and bad, we usually grab onto just one of those elements and shade all the rest by it. If we are struck most by something in our lives that is good, then we perceive every wrong thing as slight and forgettable. If we are struck most by something that is bad, then we perceive every good thing as hollow. We tally up only one side or the other at a time. Either I have seven things that make me feel so blessed right now, or else I have nine things that are leaving me down in the dumps.
One practice of meditation is to separate the different parts of one’s self and see each as being in its own unique state. Thus I might be feeling physically exhausted and emotionally depressed, but spiritually cared for. Absent this more granular awareness I might simply say that overall I feel “bad-ish,” which is not the greater truth.
It is understandable for us to live with a fickle mood, it is the common nature of us all. But if we are ever to live as dependable, steady beings, then we need to accept the fact that how we feel in the moment is probably not the truest expression of things as they really are.
James 1:8- A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.
3 Nephi 13:24- No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.
It is true that the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, but in my experience He tends to do one of those more than the other. So many of the truly important blessings in life are the ones that are with us forever. Our very existence, for example, is a gift from God, and one that we are assured will continue forever. It may change its state through the grave and the resurrection, but still we remain an ongoing identity. This is a permanent thing, one that is left unaffected by whether I am having a “good day” today or a “bad one.”
Love is another eternal gift. Both the love that God ever holds to us, and the love that He means to help us cultivate in ourselves. Existence is already a wonderful blessing, but all the more so when it can be paired with eternal love. Even if the woes of the moment temporarily darken us from being able to perceive the love of God, yet it is sill there even so. It is only a matter of breaking through the mold before we can perceive that eternal stream once more.
And when we are learn how to never be darkened and always perceive that eternal love, then we also discover the gift of eternal happiness. For living in the love of God is always an experience of joy. It takes time, even a long time, even so long that we may not find it until the next life; but eventually we can find out this great secret of how to forever live, love, and be happy.
Jeremiah 31:3- The Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
John 3:16-For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
In the end, there must be one permanent reality. On the one hand it could be that there forever remains a mixture of happiness and sorrow, the same as we perceive now, one side never fully overthrowing the other. On the other hand, it could be that one of these sides will eventually prevail over the other, either plunging the world into constant misery, or else reclaiming it to a state of constant joy. We have had it proclaimed to us that this mixed reality is only a transitory state, and that after it does come a totality: a sweeping victory for goodness and joy.
Those that believe this to be true are inherently optimistic, and hold to those undercurrents of eternal good: life, love, and joy. To hold this sort of optimism is not to blindly ignore the pain of today. It does not require us to turn a deaf ear to the hurts happening around us. It does not preclude us from mourning our temporary losses. It is only to recognize that after this time of very real sadness, there still comes an eternity of even realer joy.
I think where most of us go astray with counting our blessings is when we start listing out the transitory, worldly goods that we enjoy: a new car, a roof over heads, and not having lost one’s job. These are good things, we should be grateful for them, but the deeper, abiding peace will only come when we start counting the infinite goods as well.
Isaiah 54:10- For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee.
Matthew 24:35- Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.
Psalm 102:26-27- They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed: But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end.
And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.
But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.
These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.
But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and began to sink
In the world ye shall have tribulation
Storms exist, they really do. Sometimes we make up pretend afflictions in our own heads, but even if we had the best of attitudes we still would have more than enough real troubles. Overcoming the world, therefore, is not simply a case of mind over matter.
Jesus, himself, attested that in this world we would have tribulation. It is unavoidable, because each of us is necessarily tied to a body that is subject to the world.
And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus
And so we do not deny the presence of life’s storm, we only deny them power to control us. They might be able to affect the body, but we decide whether they gain access to the soul.
The storm was already raging when Peter stepped out into the water, but he overcame it by asserting that there was a higher power than it. Then he faltered and began to regard the storm more than his Savior. It was only then that the storm was able to claim him.
But be of good cheer; I have overcome the world
The problem with “mind over matter” is that it still tries to put the storm-defying power in us. I can clench my fists and grit my teeth and tell myself that I don’t feel the storm, but it won’t work. I’ll only exhaust myself and still be swept away. Have I overcome the world? No, only Christ has. Peter was not being sustained not by his mastery of the storm, only by Christ’s.
So forget about “mind over matter,” the correct mantra for overcoming our trials is “Christ over matter.”