What Does It Mean to be Blessed?

On Saturday, we went on a tour in town. Our first stop was the Slave Lodge, the oldest surviving slave building in Cape Town. Built in 1679, it “housed” the slaves of the Dutch East India Company. After a hard day’s work, the slaves were packed into  dark cement quarters where they were graciously allotted just enough floor space to lay down… This building, an early symbol of white superiority on the Cape, screams of the crude confusion that subjugated human beings simply because of the color of their skin! The struggles of colonial slavery and the racial discrimination of the apartheid era still persist today as many black and coloured Africans remain structurally and economically disadvantaged despite constitutional assurance of racial equality.


We then visited Bo-Kaap, one of Cape Town’s oldest and most fascinating residential areas. It is known for its vibrantly colored buildings with ornate Dutch and Georgian terraces. Bo-Kaap residents, known as “Cape Malays,” are descended from dissidents and slaves imported by the Dutch in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The area has a vibrant Muslim community, so we also toured one of the oldest mosques in Cape Town.

Later that night, we had a “braai” – a South African barbecue. Each house brought side dishes and we grilled tons of meat…chicken, lamb, and steak! One of the service-learners invited over a friend from the area. The young woman was originally from Zimbabwe but came to South Africa to go to school. However, her mother became unemployed and she was no longer able to pay for the rest of her schooling. Currently, she works as a waitress in Cape Town, but is struggling to live day to day.

The "Braai" in our backyard

As we shared the wonderful meal together, we joked and talked about perceptions of the United States. Many Africans tend to see America as a land of wealth, hot celebrities, and happiness. And the way she spoke implied that the first two of these things were prerequisites of the third. My heart mourned as I realized that she, like I and countless others, have believed that happiness comes from glitz and glamor and the promise of greener pastures on the other side…always on the other side.

However, after being deceived for many years, I’ve discovered that happiness has nothing to do with money, fame, sex, a skinny waist, or big muscles. If it did, celebrities wouldn’t be depressed, addicted to drugs, or cheating on their spouses on an ever-increasing scale! Has anyone picked up one of those magazines lately? You know, the ones that expose the secret lives of the hottest celebs? Do they look happy to you?? No. But for some reason, they’re the ones that we idolize. Somehow we’ve acquired the idea that if we could only buy that boat, or get that perfect job, or own that new iPod, or lose ten pounds, we would finally be happy… but are we?

In The Pursuit of God: The Human Thirst for the Divine, by A.W. Tozer, he states: “There is within the human heart a tough, fibrous root of fallen life whose nature is to possess, always to possess…The roots of our hearts have grown down into things, and we dare not pull up one rootlet lest we die…God’s gifts now take the place of God” (22).

As we talked about the way of life in the United States, the young woman said something that struck me with such sharpness: “You are blessed. You are truly blessed.” I agreed with her at first, saying how much of a blessing it was to live as we do…but then I began to question, “What does it mean to be blessed?”

This morning in church, the pastor talked about the Sermon on the Mount. The Beatitudes speak of what it truly means to be blessed. It seems to me that…

Blessedness has nothing to do with abundance,

Blessed are the poor in spirit…

Blessed are those who mourn…

Blessed are the meek…

Blessed those who hunger and thirst…

(Matthew 5:3-6)

Blessedness has everything to do with poverty.

Spiritual poverty. God has placed within each of us a hunger for Him, and we try desperately to fill it with anything and everything we can get our hands on. However, it is only those who aren’t already crammed full of the stuff of this world that can truly be filled with God’s blessings. In other words, it is only those who embrace their emptiness and need that can experience true fulfillment. Ironic, isn’t it?

To be poor, mourning, meek, hungry and thirsty are the opposite of what most of us would consider “blessed,” and yet Jesus himself calls them blessed! (Jesus likes to do stuff like this…you know, turn everything that makes sense in our minds inside out and upside down!) But in a way, He makes some sense here. He’s saying, you must first be empty, to be filled. You must be thirsty to be satisfied. You must be broken to be made whole. You must mourn to rejoice. You must be humbled to be glorified. You must be lost to be found. And you must possess nothing in order to possess everything in Christ!

So enough with my ramblings…I’m still trying to figure out all that God is teaching me, but this I’ve discovered: to “be blessed,” isn’t (as the young African woman implied) to have everything the world has to offer. It’s much simpler than that. It’s the joy I’ve witnessed in the townships. It’s the light in the eye of the woman that cleans our house. It’s the warm smiles of the children at Masiyila. It’s the love of Christ that shines in the hearts of those who recognize their need for Him.


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Janet
    Feb 06, 2011 @ 19:44:16

    Hey Alyssa,

    I’m really glad you highlighted what it means to be blessed. It is incredible to think that we are all missing something by our deceptive understanding of blessings. You are absolutely right that being blessed has nothing to do with abundance. Thanks for your words of wisdom!


  2. Dad
    Feb 08, 2011 @ 14:12:21

    Hi Hon,
    Reading your post on blessings again made me think about all the prosperity preaching in the world today. Turn on the TV and even though we don’t have cable we can see multiple preachers spewing the “good news” at all times of the day. Thanks for reminding us what being blessed really means.
    Love Dad


  3. Caleb N.
    Feb 10, 2011 @ 16:33:23

    You are incredibly wise, Alyssa! I just got done with a class on Philippians, and we learned all about “joy” and how Jesus gives us our REAL joy in life. It’s really cool to see you unpack the idea of being “blessed”, and what God’s teaching you about that firsthand.

    God Bless you, my friend.
    Caleb N.


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