1851) Counting Your Blessings

From Standing on the Promises, by Lewis Smedes (1921-2002), 1998, pages 89-91.

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     “Count your blessings,” went an old gospel song that we sang a lot during the Great Depression, “name them one by one; count your many blessings, see what God has done.”  For too long, I thought life was too tough to be tenderized by such simple piety.  Now I know by experience that counting the blessings I remember is the surest way to keep alive hope for blessings still to come.

     I recall Benjamin Weir (1923-2016) and how he kept his hope alive while he was a hostage in Lebanon (for 16 months in 1984-85) and blessings came one by one, in small packages that were not always easy to spot.

     “How did you spend your time during all those months?” reporters asked him after he was released.

     “Counting my blessings.”

     “Your blessings?”

     “Yes, some days I got to take a shower.  Sometimes there were some vegetables in my food.  And I could always be thankful for the love of my family.”

     Counting blessings was Weir’s secret defense against demon despair.  And remembering this day’s special blessings in the frame of last month’s special miseries was a reinforcement for hope of bigger blessings to come.

     As I have slowly crept into old age decrepitude, I have been surprised at how often I feel washed in warm waves of awe at the graces of life.  They come over me when my wife and I sit down to supper and we start counting the blessings we have been given that day.  The deeper my wonder at the gift of a day almost gone, the stronger my hope becomes for the one on the way.  And the brighter my memory of the gifts of good days, the stronger may be my hope in the dark days on the way.

     No one can be expected to hope for a better future who does not have some memories of hopes that came true in his past.  Without any good memories to feed from, hope eventually starves to death.  There are swarms of cold-eyed young men and empty-eyed young women roving the jungles of the city who, if you told them that there was hope for them, would spit in your face.  They need some good to remember or they will never hope for good to come or even have hope of having hope.

     So I need to conclude with two sober thoughts.  No one has a right to count his own blessings without doing something to give others some blessings to count.  And no one has a right to hope for good things for herself unless she hopes for good things to come to others.

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“Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has many; and not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”   

–Charles Dickens

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(After Stephen commented on how Levin always seemed to be so happy):  Levin replied, “Perhaps that is because I rejoice in what I have and do not bother about what I don’t have.”  

Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

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     I once asked Eddie Rickenbacker what was the biggest lesson he had learned from drifting about with his companions in life rafts for 21 days, hopelessly lost in the Pacific (after his plane was shot down in WW II).  He said, “The biggest lesson I learned from that experience was that if you have all the fresh water you want to drink and all the food you want to eat, you ought never to complain about anything.”  

–Dale Carnegie, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living

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Psalm 103:1-2  —  Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name.  Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.

James 1:16-17a  —  My dear brothers and sisters, don’t let anyone fool you.  Every good and perfect gift is from God…

Psalm 136:1  —   O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.

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“COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS”  By Johnson Oatman, Jr.

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.

Refrain:  Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will keep singing as the days go by…   Refrain

So, amid the conflict whether great or small,
Do not be disheartened, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.   Refrain

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