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The Beatitudes in Our Families: Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn...

This year, we are focusing on the Gospel of Matthew. I have been thinking about how we can apply the Beatitudes to family life. Let’s start.

Uh-oh. Right off the bat, we have a problem. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The problem is in trying to understand what “poor in spirit” means. Before you read any further, stop and ask yourself what that phrase means to you.

The Sermon on the Mount, from which we get the Beatitudes, appears in Matthew and Luke, in somewhat different versions. In Luke, Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor.” Period. Matthew adds “in spirit,” shifting from what may have been, in Luke’s version, literally about economic poverty, to something more spiritual. And we note, of course, that the next thing Jesus says is “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

I’ve always read “poor in spirit” as being about sorrow. But it can be read to mean “humble.” Voluntarily lowly. But since it’s my blog, I’m going to focus on sorrow. 

No person with a working heart goes through life without sorrow. In our families, we encounter sorrow and grief. We all must mourn. Grief and love are inseparable. The absence of grief means the absence of love.

Children cry. Perhaps you’ve noticed. They cry because they’ve been denied dessert. They cry because we made them get down out of the tree. Because children cry a lot, we may get a bit hardened to their tears. What we shouldn’t do, though, is to be dismissive of the sadness and sorrow our children experience. This is a kind of ageism. We are tempted to say, “You are 9 years old (or 12 or 15). What do you know about heartbreak? Wait until you grow up and THEN you’ll know about heartbreak.” Not to be glib about this, but we should never underestimate a child’s sadness in response to a dead hamster. Not to mention being mistreated by his or her peers, or having an insensitive adult wound his or her feelings.

Blessed are the poor in spirit. The lowly. Those who mourn. Let us be fully present for our children when they are truly sad, when their hearts are broken. We don’t have to fix their problems or heal their brokenness. We need to be there, listening, with our hearts open. Gently, we can say something like this:

Jesus once said that there is something special about our sadness, our sorrow, our broken hearts. He said we are blessed when we are low, or sad, or depressed, or grieving. One day, we will be in a different kind of world which Jesus called the Kingdom of Heaven. And that will be a place where our hearts will be healed.


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