". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Inconvenient Blessings

I'm guessing most of my readers are aware of Pat Robertson's comments on Alzheimer's disease a few weeks ago. He said that he would understand someone married to an Alzheimer's patient needing to seek out alternative companionship or even divorcing his spouse so as to marry someone else. When asked about the marital promise to remain faithful unto death, he responded by saying that Alzheimer's is a kind of death, in effect excusing the deserting or philandering spouse.

As one might expect, most of the ensuing discussion of Robertson's remarks has been negative, particularly among Christians. But it seems the condemnation of Robertson has centered on the harm done to the Alzheimer's patient and the repudiation of the promise made in marriage to remain with that person for life. I have seen little consideration of the harm that is done to the spouse who turns his or her back on the afflicted partner when frankly, that person suffers as much as or more than the one he turns his back on because through his actions he is impoverishing himself and his own heart and soul.

Several times over the past year I have had friends thank me for being a confidante to them in a time of struggle, praying for their needs or helping out in some more material way. Sometimes they have apologized for "bothering" me with their troubles. But in my experience, when the opportunity to help someone comes along and I actually take advantage of it (sinner that I am, I don't always do so), I benefit far more than the person I am supposedly helping. I pray and in so doing am brought closer to God. I offer encouraging words and the words come back in even greater measure. I offer a helping hand and am blessed by the experience. Even when the immediate situation seems messy or inconvenient or distasteful I know that God is using it for good and in the big picture of His plan I will be enriched.

I know I am not sharing anything revolutionary here (see Galatians 6). Paul says that we reap what we sow and instructs us to bear one another's burdens. But I think we can get so caught up in the sowing that we sometimes overlook the reaping. And the blessings come not just on the cosmic level, although I think that's part of it, but also on the immediate level in ways obvious and less so. The blessings are also not some sort of tit for tat--you did good so God is going to reward you--but rather a reflection of the way the world is. We don't live in bubbles, disconnected from one another. We are in this thing together. What goes around comes around. (See Donne, John, Meditation XVII)

Yes, when we sin, we sin against God and against others. But in so doing we inflict equal damage upon ourselves. By the same token, when we do good we bless ourselves as much as others. There is nothing new under the sun. Our words and deeds go out, bounce around in the world, and come right back to us. May they be of the sort that we are glad to see them headed back our way.

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