We chatted, reflecting on our day of traveling through the city, seeing first hand the poverty present. We discussed how this experience made us feel? One of us said, “It makes me count my blessings and be thankful for all that I have.” In that moment, another member of our group quite abruptly and angrily interrupted his reflection with, “How can you say that? You are not blessed, those things you have at home were not given to you as gifts. They were taken from these people.” At first, I didn’t understand what she meant. I didn’t see why I shouldn’t be grateful for the stability, security, and health I had at home and I definitely didn’t see how I had taken them from the poor. Her initial approach ultimately may have done more harm than good for the discussion, but it still made me think.
What does it mean to be blessed? Priests give blessings. Parents give their blessing to marrying couples. Are we given these blessings we’re counting? If so, who gave them and why were they given to me rather than to others? Was I being rewarded for something? Were they being punished for something? Were they less Christian than me? Did I have more faith than them? There is no way that could be true. I had encountered individuals in poverty with faiths more devout and more loving than I could even imagine, and I couldn’t believe in a God that would randomly choose some people to suffer while permitting others to prosper.
Maybe those who have more were given more for a reason, part of God’s almighty plan? Does that make my job saving those who are poor or less fortunate? Wouldn’t that devolve their role into sufferers waiting to be saved by me? Why was I chosen to do the saving rather than the being saved? To me, a loving God wouldn’t simply relegate humans to the saviors and the saved because, the Lord knows, we all need saving sometimes. I couldn’t believe in a God whose blueprint included the suffering of more than half the world just so I could save them.
What if this loving God had no part in the distribution of wealth in our world and we were just replacing the word “lucky” with “blessed”? Do we actually mean that we are each born into the “blessings” we have based on luck? There is no rhyme or reason to our privilege and power? But is it sheer luck that the southern hemisphere is overwhelmingly “less blessed” than the northern hemisphere? Is it luck that as a white male in the United States I have had many more opportunities and privileges than a Syrian refugee in Jordan? I couldn’t believe this was all coincidence.
Are we, all people, solely responsible for our world then? Does that mean that we have created the disparities and inequality, and it’s solely our responsibility to clean it up? Does this mean that the choices the people before me and I have made may have devastating effects for the people around me, even on an international scale? That seems true, but it’s also absolutely terrifying. I still couldn’t believe God had no role in the building of our world.
The Jesuits always said we were co-creators with God. Is that the answer to this question of being blessed? We co-create this world with God. We are not alone. Maybe, in fact, we are all blessed equally. We’re blessed with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control and it’s when we choose to walk with these in our everyday lives to support justice and the prosperity of all humans that we’re helping co-create this Kingdom of God and humans. Maybe, when we choose not to employ these tools, we create the disparities and suffering we often thank God for delivering us from. Maybe these “blessings” we count are not affirming pats on the back but rather forceful shoves in the direction of change and recognition of the injustices present in our world.
So in this Lenten season, I might choose to step away from “giving up” that extra candy bar or the TV, things other people in this world already don’t have. And maybe instead think deeply about the decisions I make everyday. Become more aware of how my privilege, power, and place in this world can be altered to better co-create with love in mind. Count my blessings not as coins in my change purse, but rather as bells ringing in a call for change.
Ryan Lavalley is an adjunct professor, co-teaching occupational justice in the occupational therapy department here at Xavier. He was ruined for life by the Xavier community during his undergraduate and graduate degrees and proudly claims that status. Also, he very much cares for the oxford comma