There was a time in my life when I dreamt of “making it.” I saw other people who I thought had made it. I thought I could recognize it when I saw it. I thought I could sense it when I was around it. I did know that I wanted it. I just didn’t know what it was – not really.
As a freelance artist, much of my life has been spent in pursuit of this enigmatic goal. I wanted to make good art, at the highest level, while caring for the message the art carried, the people I made the art with, and those who would ultimately experience what I made. Those are a lot of things to try to have happen at the same time. There is an impossibility in trying to control all of these things – that is making them happen – especially when working with others, and with the added complexity of the market. I tried. I quickly realized that I would not be able to do it on my own.
I looked to my faith, the idea that there is something larger than me that has the power to control all things. If any of this was to happen, I needed a blessing from God. I focused on the work (what I could do) and engaged with God on all the things I thought God should do. I fought for my blessing. I studied my craft and the market. I brought my craft to the market to earn provision. A large part of myself became formed in working hard, achievement, and the context of high exposure. I thought that that was the way I might enter the good life, and know that I was blessed.
This framing – entering into the good life happens by way of earning – is quite common. A quick look around will provide plenty of examples of folks chasing the good life by way of earning resources – financial, relational, emotional, etc. Instead of chasing needs, what if we asked a different question? Better still, what if there was a different way?
During my recovery from extreme burnout, I had to rethink my process. I asked myself about how I thought about blessing, what I was chasing, and how my formation helped or hindered my thinking.
Where I have landed is three-fold:
Blessing is less focused on provision and more about relationship.
Effort is good, while the idea of earning is quite unhelpful.
My formation can be both a help or hinderance – it is not neutral and can be transformed.
The idea that my formation can be transformed has been key. I can change. The dominant thoughts and feelings I have, my automatic response in situations, even my desires can all change. However, this transformation begins with thinking. In this case, my thinking around blessing had to shift.
In the middle of Psalm 23 we can find this fairly familiar line:
Lo, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil.
Such a statement brings up a question. Why will the writer fear no evil? Thankfully the writer answers this in the following line:
For thou art with me.
I’ve been captured by this statement. Notice the writer doesn’t say, “Because you protect me,” or “Because I am skilled at war,” or “Because I know how to escape.” They simply say, “because you are with me.”
Of course, this begs a question: What kind of person does God have to be for their presence to be enough to cast out all fear of evil, even as I walk in the valley of the shadow of death?
The corollary is equally evident: God’s presence is enough for this writer. The rest of Psalm 23 expounds on this idea. That is, that the relationship between the writer and God is the true blessing. It is from the relationship that all other things flow. Peace, provision, goodness, life, all come from the relationship first. This is positional blessing.
Positional blessing is the idea that one’s position – literally where they stand – is the first blessing, and from it flow all others. One way I’ve come to think of this is in analogy to my life and the gift of relationship I’ve had with others. There are almost sacred moments that happen when a relationship shifts from stranger to colleague, to friend, and again to family. There are a few things that make these shifts sacred: The exposure of one’s life to another, the sharing of reality (the good and the difficult), and the increase of intimacy, trust, and connection. It is a gift to know another human being in such a way. Out of such relationships come possibilities for learning, protection, and the free flowing of resources, often notably across lines that would commonly divide people.
Why would it be any different with God? While God may be described as a guide, teacher, protector, provider, and much much more, there is truth in that none of those characteristics would matter as much without the intimacy of relationship. The personal relationship amplifies all of God’s character (including God’s love). God guides you differently than God guides me. It is the same for God’s teaching, protecting, and providing. While there may be similarities for those who are growing in their relationship with God, fundamentally the relationship is personal. The blessing is personal.
In my own life, I can only really have a handful of deep, intimate, relationships. I am severely limited in that way. God, as I’ve come to know, is not. I have experienced God speak to me and through me, and to others and through others with such specificity it can only be described as miraculous. God can know everyone as deeply as I hope to know one or two people in my life. To be known so intimately and to have the opportunity to know is a gift that bears many others. If I am known personally and intimately by a personality who is love, I no longer need fulfillment in that area of my life. I no longer chase lesser blessings (finances, relationships, stature, etc.) for the purposes of proving to myself that I am loved. No, it is already taken care of. How do I know? I stand in a fundamentally different relationship to the entire world around me. My inner world has shifted from one of striving to one of relying. Additionally, if I have the opportunity to know someone with the depths and breadth of God’s character, my life and imagination may be captured in that good pursuit for the remainder of my life.
My conception of God has had to shift of course. I have had to underly my trusting of God with defenses for why God should be trustworthy. I’ve had to underly my captured imagination with a hedge against taking God for granted. Again, these are things that I have had to do. They have been God’s way of working with my peculiar personality to bring me into deeper relationship.
We each have a journey. As we ask questions and seek answers, how we think about the world around us (including conceptions of God) will often determine the answers we find. The “right” answers should be testable, and lead to goodness. As we continue to seek, we will surely find, and ultimately be transformed, not because of what we’ve earned, but because of the position we’ve been lead into.