Thursday, March 19, 2015

How does God define "blessed"?

Of all the phrases in the Book of Mormon, I think that this phrase has to be the most reiterated: "If you keep the commandments, you will be blessed." As the Book of Mormon chronicles the need for repentance and obedience to God's law, using the examples of multiple individual lives, I would argue that one of the book's key messages is establishing the clear link between righteous living and enjoying a blessed life.

But what does being "blessed" mean? As a teenager reading the Book of Mormon, I assumed that if I lived the way I was supposed to, I would be "blessed." In my mind, that included multiple things: enjoying college success, physical health, academic opportunities abroad, a mission in Asia, a career of some kind, and a life on the East Coast. The most important blessing to me, however, was an eternal marriage and family.

A decade later, many of the blessings I wanted came true. I did three semester abroads, a mission in Hong Kong, and created a life for myself in DC and Boston. I have a promising career at Harvard Business School, enjoyed multiple trips abroad, no health complications to speak of, and myriad blessings that are too numerous to name here. Yet, marriage and family have yet to be fulfilled. It never crossed my mind as a teenager that I would celebrate my 28th birthday as an unmarried woman.

With this gap between my expectations and reality, I have contemplated what God means when he says "blessed." While I have been extremely fortunate to receive much of what I expected from God for some reason, I am beginning to realize that life has few guarantees. Marriage, whether it happens sooner to me than later, is not a guarantee of righteous living. The only blessing that I can really expect from God as a result of my obedience is the companionship of the Spirit. That is the only defined blessing that is mentioned in our baptismal covenants and the Sacrament prayer each week. It is a momentous blessing, but too often. we subconsciously attach multiple other blessings that we expect to receive as a result of our righteous behavior.  

That's when the problem arises. We live our lives in such a way to receive those required "blessings", only to become frustrated and confused when our expectations remain unmet. I am increasingly convinced that "blessed" means that God will give us things that we stand in need of, though we do not know what exactly those blessings may turn out to be.

It is also interesting to me how the Savior uses the word "blessed" when introducing the Beatitudes to his disciples. When teaching Gospel Doctrine several weeks ago, I was struck by how many of the blessings that Christ pronounces as a result of righteous behavior can only be enjoyed in the next life, namely, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." Indeed, God's definition of "blessed" seems to span the eternities, not this mortal life only.

Nowadays, when I read the Book of Mormon and see the oft-reiterated phrase, "if ye keep the commandments, ye shall be blessed," I simply replace "blessed" with "seeing God again one day." That's all I really know, after all.

Photo by Kevin Dooley