As an import from the Northeast to the Southeast in my adolescent years, it took me some time to get used to the phrase, “Oh, bless her/his heart.” While it may sound gentle enough, it usually introduces a condescending statement about the mentioned party.
Besides the aforementioned loaded phrase, only two additional images immediately come to mind when I hear the word blessing: the blessing of the hounds which was an annual event in the equestrian town I called home for many years and the Irish blessing placards that adorned the walls of nearly every Irish Catholic family I knew growing up in New Jersey.
Yet, as I continue to study the narrative portions of the Old Testament, I cannot help but notice the prominence given to the concept of blessing. Far more was happening in the blessings given in the Old Testament than animals being blessed or gossip being introduced.
Blessings were a part of the fabric of ancient Hebrew culture and continue to be an integral part of modern Jewish culture. In a blessing, words of truth and power were conferred over loved ones, words that spoke to the core of the character of the intended recipient and came from a deep knowledge of the bestower.
The words bestowed were not rote, ritualistic words, but rather words of intimate knowledge and hope for the blessed.
As I have been studying the blessings Moses bestowed upon the twelve tribes of Israel before his immanent death in Deuteronomy 33, I found the portions of Scripture that I normally skim over like fine print on a contract coming alive.
Twelve tribes who had depended upon their leader for decades, who had experienced both miracles and deep disappointments under his leadership, who had been introduced to their God Yahweh through his mediation were on the literal brink of the Promised Land experiencing a change of baton. Moses, who had paved the way from those scary first steps into the Red Sea, would not go ahead of them any longer.
Moses gathers his scared people together and begins, tribe by tribe, to bless them, these many generations of sons and daughters he had come to love.
He doesn’t speak fluffy sentimental words over them, nor does he speak generalized, once-size-fits-all statements; rather, he speaks into the glory self of each tribe, calls out in each one what sets them apart, what he believes to be their deepest identities. These words don’t neglect or discount actions or patterns of behavior that aren’t worthy of blessing; rather, they seek to call each tribe above and beyond them.
I can see each tribe waiting anxiously to hear words of life and love and hope and warning spoken over them, like little preschool soccer players wiggling in their seats waiting for their beloved coach to honor them each individually.
As I have been studying Moses’ blessings, I have found myself hungry for a blessing, hungry for people who know me deeply and well to speak words of life and hope and meaning into my life. I have also been seeing and hearing afresh the immense need for blessing in the lives of my children.
“Mom, mom, come see this!” “Did you see my art project at school?” “Mom, can we look at my baby pictures?”
Our children may receive accolades at school or certificates for sports and activities, but these barely scratch the surface of our children’s deep need to be known and seen and spoken over. They need to know we see their glory selves, the potential they have in the Lord. They need to know that they have a value not based on their performance or giftedness, but rather in the people God has uniquely shaped them to be. We don’t need to save our words of blessing for their birthdays or our deathbeds. They need them now.
In order to bless them, we must know them deeply. In order to know them deeply, we must spend time with them. In order to spend time with them, we must slow down.
But most significantly, in order to bless them, we must sit under the blessing. We must still our hearts long enough to daily and weekly be reminded of God’s unique blessings upon us, His adult children.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world that we would be holy and blameless before Him. He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself according to the kind intention of His will to the praise of the glory of His grace which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him, we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us. Ephesians 1:3-8.
Blessing leaks out all over this passage, and we need it to seep into our hearts daily. When we are secure, not in our circumstances or our performance, but in Christ, we are truly free to bless our children in a like manner.