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The BLESSINGGiving the Gift of Unconditional Love and Acceptance
By John Trent Gary Smalley
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2011 John Trent and Gary Smalley
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTo Change a Life
The writing of every book has its own story. For me, the story of this book is one that changed my life.
It has now been more than thirty years since two intensely personal experiences collided on the same day. It began on my first day as an intern at a psychiatric hospital. It ended with the Lord opening my eyes to the life-changing power of a simple relational tool called the blessing.
That day at the hospital, I spent a full shift sitting next to a young man on twenty-four-hour suicide watch. He was tall, handsome, well mannered, and an excellent student. In fact, he had been a straight-A student in high school and for three years of college. When he caught the flu the first semester of his senior year, that all changed. In a required PE course he had put off until then, he missed so many classes that his instructor gave him an automatic grade reduction to B for the semester. When the young man found out that there was no extra credit, no way to substitute other classes, and now no way to change his grade or drop the course, he fell into instant despair. He left the teachers office, went back to his dorm room, and tried to take his life. He would have succeeded had his roommate not unexpectedly and providentially returned.
As we sat and talked, and as I tried not to stare at his bandaged wrists, this young man poured out his heart to me. His story included a brilliant, demanding, engineer father who had gotten straight As himself and demanded nothing less from his oldest son. It highlighted how hard he had tried, all his life, to gain his fathers favor. And it ultimately led to how his failing to get an A in a tennis class brought the death of a dream—and nearly his own death as well.
This young man desperately yearned for something he couldn't quite define—something that was always in sight, yet somehow never within reach. His heartbreaking tale left a haunting, indelible impression on me. I went home late that afternoon and shared the events of the day at length with my wife, Cindy. While I was still pondering and processing what had happened, the second of two dramatic events took place.
It was nighttime when I finally sat down and began working on a message for a couples Sunday school class. While I'm sure you would never do such a thing if you were the teacher, I was just beginning my message—for the next day—and kicking myself for letting school, work, and family crowd in so much. Looking back, I can see how Almighty God had his hand in the timing: after sitting down for hours next to that hurting young man, I now sat down and opened my Bible to Genesis 27.
Genesis 27 tells the story of twins: Jacob and Esau. I had read of the struggle between these two brothers countless times in the past. My plan was to speed-read through the passage and throw together a few inspired thoughts. Yet that night, with each word I read, time seemed to slow down. It was as if I saw, for the first time, the intensely personal story of how these two young men struggled so mightily to receive the same gift.
In fact, that night, it wasn't just words that I saw. It was like I could see each boy's face. The ear-to-ear smile and unbridled joy in Jacob's eyes when he walked away with his father's blessing. The crushing look of shock and loss on Esau's tormented face when he realized he would never receive that gift.
When Esau lifted up his voice and cried in anguish, "Bless me—me also, O my father!" I suddenly saw not only Esau's unfulfilled longing and broken heart but also an echo of the tears and desperate cries I had heard as I sat next to the heartbroken young man in the hospital. And at that moment, it was as if the Lord put tangible words to the intangible something that young man had longed for all his life.
He missed his father's blessing ... That's what broke his heart!
As that thought washed over me, I read Esau's pitiful, heartbreaking, repeated cry, "Have you only one blessing, my father? Bless me—me also, O my father!" (Gen. 27:38). Just as suddenly, I had words for my own pain and hurt. For all my life I, too, had longed for something I had never received from my own father—his blessing.
Long into the night, I studied and thought and remembered and prayed, and the next day was the first time I taught a group about the blessing. In a small basement classroom at Northwest Bible Church in Dallas, Texas, on a rainy Sunday morning, twenty couples heard about Jacob's gain and Esau's loss. They were the first people I ever asked whether they had received this life-changing gift from their parents.
The impact was incredible. The nodding heads. The tears in too many eyes. The discussion in the hallway, long after class. The calls that came for days afterward from people who felt as if Esau's cry was their own—and from just as many who wanted to make sure they were giving the blessing to their children.
"Can you tell me more about that blessing?"
So began a personal, now thirty-plus-year study of the blessing. It became the subject of my doctoral dissertation and the basis for this book. (The original edition was written with the incomparable Dr. Gary Smalley, who continues to support our blessing ministry in many practical ways.) It also launched seminars and talks I've done and continue to do on the blessing at churches and even stadiums across the country. Rather than adding layers of dust to a stale concept, years of teaching about this amazing Old Testament concept has caused interest to mushroom, not diminish.
When this book was first published, the Internet was reserved for high-end computer users in major universities. Today, blessing messages go out as tweets and e-mails or text messages sent from BlackBerries and iPhones. Yet with all the advances in technology, the challenges of raising children in a world haunted by terrorism and social upheaval has drawn people—more than ever—to want strong, loving families. In that search they keep coming back to God's Word ... and to the blessing.
Perhaps you are reading this book as a third-generation Christian and have personally benefited from a long tradition of blessing children. If that is the case, you may well find yourself saying, "So that's why our family has stayed so close all these years!" Or perhaps you are like my wife, Cindy, and me: first-generation Christians from difficult backgrounds—hers an alcoholic home, mine a single-parent home—each wanting to pass on to our children more than we received. This book can put into words what you missed as a child as well as provide practical, hands-on ways of communicating unconditional love and acceptance to your children and loved ones.
Hardly a day goes by that I don't get an e-mail (and, yes, "snail mail" too) from a joyful, now-grown child whose aging parent finally gave him the blessing for the first time—or from a child who went out of her way to return the blessing to her father or mother and changed their relationship for the better. I hear from athletes and students who never received the blessing at home but who found those life-changing actions and words modeled by a coach, teacher, or youth leader. And I get to read or hear about the excitement and commitment of new fathers and mothers determined to give their newborn child a gift they missed themselves.
Which leads us to today, to this very special edition of The Blessing—an ancient, relational, biblical tool whose time has come.
A Call to Action
Every so often, there comes a unique time, opportunity, or experience. I believe all three happened when you picked up this book.
Today is indeed a unique time for you to take part in a significant challenge that launches with this book.
Along the way, you will learn about an unparalleled opportunity to create a radically positive experience that can be nothing short of life changing for you and for a child in your life.
This new edition of The Blessing trumpets a call to action for a huge gathering of parents—literally one million of them—from every corner of our country and world. Men and women who know it's time to go counterculture and do something truly great in this age of just getting along.
What is that something great?
Changing the life of just one child.
And how will it get done?
You guessed it—through the blessing.
A powerful relational tool, whose elements were first shared in the Bible, The Blessing continues to be reconfirmed in both ongoing and completed clinical studies, providing a model for a strong, thriving family. It's a way of helping children (and adults) experience at the deepest level of their hearts the certainty that they are highly valued and forever treasured by someone incredibly significant in their life stories. And it lays out a simple path to follow—five specific actions parents or other caring persons can take, no matter how busy their lives or challenging their circumstances.
The Blessing is not just for children, of course. As we'll see, the principles in this book can transform marriages, friendships, and adult-sibling relationships. Grown children—even those whose parents refused to accept and affirm them—have used these principles to reach out to those very parents in blessing. But because childhood experiences are so powerful in shaping lives, the primary focus of this book is helping adults, especially parents, to give the blessing to children or, as we have said, to just one child.
We all have heard (and by now have mostly grown numb to) television commercials that tug on our heartstrings and implore us to "help the children"—meaning poor kids out there in a different part of town or another country. That's a valuable message, but it is not the message of this book. Instead it's about reaching out to that one child within your reach and letting your blessing become an agent of life for him or her.
Before we get specific about how the blessing works and how you can give it, let me share with you four reasons why taking the blessing challenge can be so absolutely transformational.
The Blessing ... Fights Back Against a Toxic Culture
What we are asking you to do in this book runs counter to our dominant culture in these crazy times. With adults working so hard to make ends meet—and some simply preoccupied with their own agendas—there seems to be less and less time for children, and children suffer as a result.
Many children struggle today with what experts call attachment disorder. That's the failure of children and young adults to create significant bonds with their parents or others as they get older. They stumble down a road toward broken relationships. They enter young adulthood—and later marriage—with a deep desire for connection but without the understanding, modeling, experience, or confidence that they really can build loving, lasting relationships for themselves. They step back from what they want most because they've never seen what it looks like to have someone step toward them.
These are kids who need to experience the blessing in loving homes right now.
Can the blessing challenge reverse this trend?
My experience tells me it can make a big difference—by offering you a strategy for redeeming some of your precious time with your children and strengthening your bond with them. The blessing provides a parenting path that is so practical, so clear, so gently sloped, that if you will just start it, you will soon find yourself gaining momentum in terms of capturing closeness and caring with your family. It offers a way of reclaiming connection with your child no matter how many hours our culture (or your boss) tries to carve out of your month!
The Blessing ... Can Open a Child's Heart to a Lasting Faith
According to a recent survey, fully eight out of ten parents report that passing a strong faith to their children was "important" or "very important" to them. Yet while a majority of Americans want these benefits to be a part of their children's lives and futures, studies also show that it's not happening. Depending on which study you choose, anywhere from 40 to 70 percent of children who sit in a second-grade Sunday school class at church today won't be attending any religious services or meetings when they reach their high-school years. In fact, they won't be claiming any kind of growing faith at all.
To understand why this is, it's crucial to understand how a living faith in Christ is successfully transferred. It doesn't happen by teaching a set of rules or customs or passing along a set of traditions, though many think of religion this way. Christianity is and has been primarily about a relationship. And the blessing is all about building relationships. When we give children the blessing, we are laying an incredible relational foundation that not only helps them connect with other people but can also prepare their hearts for a relationship with Jesus.
Those are two crucial benefits of taking the blessing challenge. You'll have a tool—no matter how busy you are—to help you battle the cultural phenomenon of attachment disorder with genuine connection. And in learning to give the blessing, you will also be opening a child's heart to a living, lasting faith. But there's also a third benefit.
The Blessing ... Can Help Heal the Hurts from the Past
Let's face it. Even those who grow up in the best and most loving of homes can come away with a degree of hurt or disappointment. So how do we cope? Even more important, what can we do to move past the significant damage that a difficult childhood can cause? How can we prevent a painful past from having a negative impact on our present and future relationships? The blessing can make a surprising difference by offering an alternative to damaging self-protective mechanisms we may have developed over the years.
Children simply don't have the maturity or understanding to deal with hurt and pain, so they tend to grab on to anything they can find to protect themselves and help them cope. Whatever works—athletic prowess, academic success, good looks, even drugs or alcohol—they want to repeat. By the time they grow up, they may have created layer upon layer of self-protection.
The trouble is, self-protection has a shelf life! Success is fleeting. Looks fade. Addictive substances and activities can bring dramatic life-long damage. More important, none of these self-protective mechanisms offer real, unshakable, lasting confidence and connection—which is exactly what the blessing offers.
Instead of having to wrap themselves in self-protection, children who receive the blessing can be freed to pursue God's best in every area of their lives. And adults can too! My colleague Tony Wheeler and I have seen this again and again in our workshops. As grownups learn to give the blessing to their children, they also learn how to move away from their own hurtful, self-protective pasts.
Imagine not having to live in fear of wrinkles or slowing down. Imagine not having to worry about acquiring all the "toys" someone else has. Imagine moving beyond issues that have held you back for years and finally making peace with your past. That's another life-changing part of experiencing the blessing from God and others—and a third great benefit of taking the blessing challenge.
Here, then, is one last benefit ...
The Blessing ... Is Part of Your Call to a Real and Radical Faith
A number of Christian books and messages today call young (and old) believers to a "sold out" life of faith. For example, in reading books such as Crazy Love and Radical, you find a much-needed call to pursue a Great Commission lifestyle as a real-life goal. But adopting a Great Commission or "missional" lifestyle doesn't mean leaving your important relationships in the dust as you seek to win others for Christ. In fact, if you are not living out a crazy, radical faith and love for Christ with your family and own children first, you have missed a huge first step!
Excerpted from The BLESSING by John Trent Gary Smalley Copyright © 2011 by John Trent and Gary Smalley. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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