“Well, bless your heart.”
What a wonderful thing to hear. Someone wants to impart a blessing upon your inmost being.
But before you begin to savor that inward rush of joy and gratitude, it’s just possible that those words mean something else. “Bless your heart” – especially if you’re in the American South – can fall anywhere along a spectacular range of meaning. It all depends on the context.
We could be talking about endearment and affection. “She is the kindest person I have ever known, bless her heart.”
Or perhaps a sincere expression of gratitude. “Bless your heart, I can’t believe you went to all the trouble of finding that missing file!”
Sometimes it’s a statement of sympathy. “You got caught in the rain without your umbrella? Why, bless your heart, come over here, sit by the fire and get warm.”
Or maybe a kind way of acknowledging someone’s shortcomings. “Stanley hasn’t yet finished trade school, but bless his heart, he’s going to go ahead and try to wire the new addition.”
Then again, it just might be a way of saying someone is absolutely pitiful and doesn’t yet know it. “The whole neighborhood lost power? Stanley must be at it again, bless his heart.”
Every human being longs to be blessed – to receive regular assurance from God and from others that all is well, and that life is worth living. What many of us fail to realize is that we ourselves are called to be a source of such blessings. We can aspire to become “blessing people” – those who bless others as a way of life.
Paul says as much in Romans 12:14: “Bless and do not curse.”
What does it mean to bless someone?
Philosopher and theologian Dallas Willard writes in his book Living in Christ’s Presence, “Blessing is the projection of good into the life of another. It isn’t just words. It’s the actual putting forth of your will for the good of another person. It always involves God, because when you will the good of another person, you realize that only God is capable of bringing that. So we naturally say, ‘God bless you.’”
Cursing someone, on the other hand, doesn’t mean hurling a string of curse words in their direction, or mumbling the kind of incantation that might be featured in a horror movie. To curse someone is to want them to suffer – to dismiss them out of hand, to want them in your heart of hearts to feel abandoned or alone.
One of life’s spiritual certainties is that those who curse others will find their curses crashing back upon their own heads. When we wish evil upon others, we ourselves become more evil.
But those who bless others are blessed by the very act of imparting a blessing. That’s why becoming a “blessing person” is one of the best things that can ever happen to us.
Willard points out that we need to take our time when we bless someone. Don’t be in a hurry. We can rattle off, “God bless you!” when someone sneezes, but that’s not the same as quietly and thoughtfully projecting all of God’s goodness into someone else’s life.
For that matter, he adds, “One of the problems in blessing is to get the other person to hold still long enough to receive it.”
We can be anxious, hurried, and distracted people. When the pastor raises his or her hand at the close of the worship service to offer a blessing, there will always be a number of folks who are thinking, “If we can just beat the traffic, we can arrive at Sunday brunch before everyone else.”
How different things might be if we believed that every time we come into God’s presence, and into the presence of God’s people, we have a fresh opportunity to give and receive life-sustaining blessings.
Go ahead. Give it a try this weekend.
Choose to be a channel of the matchless blessings of God’s grace, peace, and comfort.
You might even hear yourself saying, “Bless your heart!”
And really mean it.