"Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your many blessings see what God hath done."
("Count Your Blessings," lyrics by Johnson Oarman, Jr.) I
I have always loved the tune of this old hymn, although I must confess it took me a long time to incorporate its spiritual wisdom into my life. This is why I often like to draw people's attention to a hymn's lyrics either right before or right after we sing it. We too easily sing in church without reflecting on the meaning of the words we are singing, so that to "count your blessings" ends up being little more than a nice thing for someone, somewhere to do sometime.
But, when we take some time to think about what we're singing, and realize that the song is recommending something that is potentially deeply happy-making, blessings start taking on a greater importance. When we take seriously the song's advice to "count" our blessings, to itemize them, then blessings start becoming something specific and definite. They become real to us, and that means the giver of these blessing- gifts becomes real to us as well. Each one of them inspires gratitude, which wells up in thanks-giving to God, and that makes us happy.
A blessing is a "special favor, mercy or benefit" bestowed by God, according to dictionary.com, So, to "count" blessings means getting specific about the favors, mercies and benefits that God has put in our lives, and we do this through the godly use of our memory.
Many of us will quickly remember happy childhoods and parents that loved us, although others may remember teachers or coaches who filled the empty places where a father or mother should have been. Some will remember abilities in soccer or prowess in algebra. Others will recall a unique capacity to love and appreciate nature, and yet others will remember their surprising ability to make money. And all of us will remember those role models and mentors who inspired our lives and guided them through their patience, compassion, and wisdom. Many will remember the gift of husbands or wives, life partners who have enriched our lives well beyond the first flush of falling in love.
The list could go on and on, and that's a good thing, because that list is a happy-making list, a series of memory prompts inspiring grateful happiness. Thanks-giving! To remember these blessing-gifts of God is to grow in happiness from gratitude into worship. What quickly amazes us is how many blessings and God-gifts there have been in our lives, and how many there still are now!
Not all of us are like the Count on Sesame Street, who always and everywhere likes to count things (in Bela Lugosi's Romanian accent). For most of us, counting blessings requires some attention---energy and self-discipline. We are like accountants pouring over seemingly endless numbers, only instead of numbers, we review memories with the precision of a financial auditor at tax time. But, it is here the analogy of accountants and auditors breaks apart, for instead of exhausting us, reviewing our memories of God's generous goodness refreshes, replenishes and reinvigorates us.
Let's go back to the first stanza of "Count Your Blessing":
When upon life's billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings--name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
Auditing our memories and counting our blessings reminds us how rich we are--that our lives are running a surplus of God's grace and that we are spiritually in the black, despite circumstances that may seem to suggest otherwise:
So amid the conflict, whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged, God is over all.
Count your many blessings; angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey's end.
Take time this Thanksgiving season to count, actually count, your blessings. Write them down! Make a list! And see if the time and effort needed to make your list doesn't make you happier in Christ than you were before.