What is a Blessing?

There has been one constant in my life for as long as I can remember. Every night I kneel down in prayer and make an earnest petition for a simple request: that I can fall asleep quickly that night. And every night I lie awake in agony for hours as my petition is seemingly ignored. Insomnia is a perpetual storm cloud intent on pouring rain on every aspect of my life. It tortures me nightly, aggravates my depression, incites suicidal thoughts, and impedes my ability to function as a basic human being. As I've wrestled with my insomnia I've questioned why my pleas for it to be alleviated have gone unanswered. One doesn't have to read too far into the scriptures to learn that God is capable of causing a deep sleep to fall upon humans. (See Genesis 2:21. For what it's worth, I would gladly give up a rib for my insomnia to also be gone. If that comes with a companion, all the better.) The question of "Why haven't I received this blessing?" lead me to ask a more fundamental question: "What is a blessing?"

There are a few scriptures that immediately came to mind when I first formed this question:

There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated--
And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.

Doctrine and Covenants 130:20-21

 

For all who will have a ​​​blessing​ at my hands shall abide the ​​​law​ which was appointed for that blessing, and the conditions thereof, as were instituted from before the foundation of the world.

Doctrine and Covenants 132:5

 

I, the Lord, am ​​​bound​ when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no ​​​promise​.

Doctrine and Covenants 82:10

 

And secondly, he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you. And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever; therefore, of what have ye to boast?

Mosiah 2:24

These verses painted a picture in my mind of the way blessings from God worked: when we keep commandments, we receive blessings associated with that blessing. Furthermore, these blessings are apparently immediate! This is perhaps not a foreign interpretation of the scriptures to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I remember an object lesson that illustrated it that I'm certain has frequently been shared in Sunday School and missionary lessons in which a pencil is labeled on one end as "commandments" and on the other as "blessings". When one end of the pencil is picked up, the other automatically follows. It's simple "If A, then B" logic that is comforting. It reassures that God is a God of order. Unfortunately, I feel that this way of understanding this scriptures can easily be misunderstood.

As I thought about the "If A, then B" concept I wanted to try to pin down specific A's and B's to understand this principle better. Maybe I could even find the A for the B of curing my insomnia. Tithing seemed to be the most cut and dry commandment, so I went to Malachi:

Bring ye all the ​​​tithes​ into the storehouse, that there may be ​​​meat​ in mine house, and ​​​prove​ me now herewith, saith the ​​Lord​​ of hosts, if I will not ​​​open​ you the ​​​windows of heaven​, and pour you out a ​​​blessing​, that ​there shall​ not ​be room​ enough ​to receive it.

Malachi 3:10

This seems to follow the "If A, then B" pattern well: "If [bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse], then [I will... open you the windows of heaven]." I've paid tithing for as long as I've had income so I tried to think of what the blessing poured out of the windows of heaven could be. I ruled out the kinds of things I often heard in stories related to tithing where people received a sudden windfall after paying tithing—first, this didn't seem to be "immediate" as described in Mosiah 2, and second, if money was the blessing for paying tithing and any blessing was obtained by obedience to the associated law, then it made no sense that Bill Gates, who I assume did not pay tithing, would have billions of dollars while some who faithfully paid tithing lived paycheck to paycheck.

Of course, my dad had illustrated this to me from a young age when he taught me the principle of tithing. If financial prosperity was the promised blessing for payment of tithing, then that means it would be in such a quantity that there would "not be room enough to receive it" and even Scrooge McDuck has room in his vault for more money. My dad always suggested that the promised blessing was not temporal at all, but spiritual: the blessing of revelation on how to be a wise steward of your financial resources. Though, as I thought about this more, this didn't seem to be immediate as promised in Mosiah 2. We often have to pay tithing in faith, not knowing how we will make ends meet until well after the tithing is paid.

Around this time I started to question if I fundamentally misunderstood the nature of blessings. I started looking for more scriptures on blessings and came across this verse:

For after much ​​​tribulation​ come the ​​​blessings​. Wherefore the day cometh that ye shall be ​​​crowned​ with much ​​​glory​; the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand.

Doctrine and Covenants 58:4

This seems at first glance to be completely incongruous with Mosiah 2—instead of being blessed immediately, we are expected to keep commandments through "much tribulation" for the blessings to come after.

It struck me then that the point of this verse in Mosiah 2 was not to give a time frame for when we receive blessings. We are being blessed at every point in time. We will be immediately blessed as we keep commandments and receive even more after tribulation and in eternity. Joseph Smith taught:

Men not unfrequently forget that they are dependent upon heaven for every blessing.

Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 68

This is what Mosiah 2 was emphasizing!

If I was misinterpreting Mosiah 2, was it possible that the "If A, then B" principle was also incorrect? I think so. At least, it had led me to a mindset that was certainly incorrect: I would think to myself, "I am keeping commandment A and don't have blessing B while others have blessing B and aren't keeping commandment A!"

I also realized I was viewing blessings like they were prizes at an arcade. In the economy of blessings, if I had enough tickets from doing good things, I should be able to pick my prizes. I felt I had put in the time to earn a lot of tickets and was only getting things from the counter when others with seemingly fewer tickets were getting prizes from the top shelf on the wall. I was being obedient to the laws; why wasn't I getting the blessings predicated upon them? Wasn't the Lord bound when I did what he said?

As I revisited Doctrine and Covenants 130, I was struck by what the verse did not say. It did not say, "For every blessing there is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which each blessing is predicated". Instead, there is a law upon which all blessings are predicated. Next, it did not say, "And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by our obedience to that law upon which it is predicated". So if not by our obedience, by whose obedience are these blessings obtained?

The answer is obvious: Christ. We don't obtain blessings through our own obedience to commandments—Christ obtains them on our behalf. Yes, God has promised us specific things for keeping commandments and God cannot lie so if we keep those commandments we will receive those blessings but it's only because of Christ's atonement that that is possible.

So then, if blessings are only possible through the atonement, what then is a blessing? I don't believe that blessings are the things we receive or what happens to us. They are not our situations or our circumstances. Blessings are opportunities to become closer with God. Certainly my faith would grow if I were to be cured of my insomnia but it is the grown faith that is the blessing, not the cure. Even now while I still suffer, perhaps I am not cursed because my insomnia remains but instead I am blessed because it taught me to pray every night.