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Why I am grateful for every stranger’s “blessing” on my large family

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Maybe all the "God bless you"s from strangers effect grace in our lives, even the ones that come with an eye roll.

It was an early fall day. The smell of pencil dust seemed to fill the air as my six sons and I wove through a bustling school supply section. I was lost in the excitement of finding a stack of brand new manuscript journals for my boys, empty and unscribbled, full of endless possibilities.

I’d been paying no heed to the attention we were attracting. I’m already accustomed to it — whenever we go out, my ginormous pregnant belly and very large brood tend to draw goggling eyes and double-takes. But that day, quite accidentally, my boys wore coordinating green t-shirts, so we stood out even more than usual — “Why yes, Mr. Staples Employee, I certainly do have my very own basketball team.”

Anyone with even a couple of kids is familiar with the “basketball team” quip and others like it, expressed with astonishment or disapproval or admiration, depending on who you’ve run into.

“You’ve got your hands full,” of course, is a hall-of-famer. “God bless you,” is right up there with it, and that’s often offered ironically.

Lately, I’ve come to welcome these comments, regardless of their tone, and I’ll tell you why: because they’re true, and right and good.

Occasionally someone will mutter “God bless you” paired with a sigh and an eye roll. I’m never sure if they’re trying to express exasperation with me or their own belief that they couldn’t do what I do. They don’t understand that while having lots of kids is certainly exhausting, it’s also invigorating at the same exact time.

Cynics, of course, don’t get it — they don’t really understand the joys of being part of a large family, and I’ve come to feel bad for them, rather than feeling insulted.

Every once in a while, though, as on that day in the school supply section, I’m gifted with a gem like this: “These are all your children!” a stranger exclaimed with eyes aglow and a wide smile. “God. Bless. You!”

Maybe it was the way her hand pressed my arm, but I swear, I felt a shiver, as though I’d been touched by an angel. Or maybe it was because her blond curls sprung toward the fluorescent lights like a halo.

Or perhaps it was the fact that my eyes had very recently landed on C.S. Lewis’ 1959 essay The Efficacy of Prayer, a piece that expounds on the mystery and power of even the smallest prayer — in this case, the smallest and most common prayer, the three simple words, God bless you.

Either way, it was a moment I will never forget.

After checking out and loading up the car, my kids were chatting pleasantly in the back seats, kindly passing and smelling their new fruit scented markers. “That woman’s ‘God bless you’ really worked that time!” I thought as we drove home.

But since then, I’ve thought, maybe all the “God bless you”s from strangers effect grace in our lives, even the ones that come with an eye roll.

Lewis says: “[In prayer, God] lends us dignity of causality … He seems to do nothing Himself which He can possibly delegate to His creatures.”

So is it possible that God distributes life-giving graces even when the request is in the form of a casual crack — a “God bless you” from a cynic?

I’m counting on it, especially if I offer up the cynic’s words with even the tiniest mustard seed of faith. I’ve decided to receive all the comments offered by strangers as gifts, no matter how they are offered. I will lift it up with thanks. Yes, I have my hands full. Praise be to God, and thank you for noticing.

This mysterious God we serve is so rich in mercy, I’d expect him to honor even the grouchiest blessing with a guardian angel’s hand, gently brushing an off-balanced toddler back into the shopping cart.

 

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