Upon first hearing, “Count your blessings,” sounds so trite, like a dismissal of someone’s pain. Oh, you have three children under three and they’re sharing a cold? Count your blessings. At least you have children!
I think one of the reasons this piece of advice thuds so hard against hurting ears is that it’s become a platitude. It’s a way for the speaker to acknowledge someone’s complaints without really taking the time to listen and empathize.
As in all things, though, it’s important to test phrases like these against Scripture. Is there any truth to this common saying?
It happens that the Lord calls his people to remember, time and time again. In Deuteronomy 5:15 he says, “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.” And in 1 Chronicles 16:11-13, “Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles and the judgments he uttered.”
Maybe another reason this piece of advice is hard to hear is because it usually comes when we’re complaining or when we think our case is hopeless. The last thing we want to do is act thankful when we’re feeling thankless.
I find that the times when I need to count my blessings the most are when I’m grumbling against God in the desert. I don’t want to go to God with my grumbles—I just want to vent and have my dire situation affirmed.
My family recently went through a season like this. We were in the process of moving from Virginia to Wisconsin and our house looked like someone had picked it up and shook it up and then set it back down. My two-and-a-half-year-old was showing his stress through tantrums and sleep strikes. My six-month-old was still not sleeping through the night. We were saying good-bye to family and good-bye to friends as dear as family. And when I wasn’t crying or arguing with my husband, I was working to help pay our bills during the transition. Moving is terrible!
During this time, an older sister in the Faith, advised me that when I felt angry and anxious I should stop and tell God what I’m grateful for. It’s the last thing we want to do when we feel justified in our protests against what God has for us. But it’s the best thing. It works. And more importantly, it’s what God commands us to do. (And in His commands, there is always peace and freedom.)
Count your blessings. Whether it’s five things God has done for you today—given you food, shelter, family, another day on Earth, and a surprise visit from someone who wanted to pack some boxes—or whether it’s 1,000 gifts God has given you, as author Ann Voskamp chronicled in her New York Times bestseller. It’s a way to see God’s goodness to you when you don’t see the good in your situation. It gets you to the light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how far away it is.
So, remember to remember. Recover this simple truth, “count your blessings,” no matter how overused, and you will work toward the peace already given to you in Christ.
There is something even more comforting, though, than the encouragement that comes from remembering your blessings. Throughout Scripture, God also talks about how He has promised to remember His people. Isn’t that just like God? Not only does He want you to remember the good things He has done for you, but He promises to remember you in the future.
For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.—Psalm 103:14
Whatever your hardship, God has not forgotten about you. He will remember you. He will make good and glory out of your present suffering. And if you know and love Jesus, He will remember you before His throne in the new world, in the eternal life that is to come. He will not say, “I never knew you” (Matthew 7:23.) He will say, I always knew you and I will always love you.
Lindsey M. Roberts spent years writing exclusively for secular journalism, including such outlets as The Washington Post, Architect, and Gray magazine, before she first tried to write about Jesus. She’s thrilled to explore in words how everything from cleaning the kitchen three times a day to delighting in the maritime history of Nantucket is an opportunity to meet and glorify God. Lindsey lives with her husband, a pastor and U.S. Army Reserve chaplain, and two children in Wisconsin.