“In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Acts 20:35 (NIV)
My mother was raised on a farm in the Southern region of the United States. During my growing-up years, I often heard my mom use an expression sometimes spoken by folks native to that region: “Well, bless their heart.”
My mom uttered this saying when referring to someone who was sad or hurting. If the neighbor girl took a tumble sledding, skinned her knee and then began to cry, my mom would utter, “Well, bless her heart” before scooping up the child and then offering a cup of steaming hot cocoa to help her forget the pain. However, there’s another way this phrase is more typically used.
The expression, “Well, bless their heart” is also invoked when trying to convey that someone is totally clueless; it’s a way to point out that they are completely oblivious, without using unkind words to say so. In fact, my adult daughter, who herself now resides in the South, seems to have streamlined and shortened this idiom. When she encounters such a situation, a smile slowly forms on her face as she sweetly declares, “Oh, bless.”
I’d actually like to offer a third meaning to this idiom. Not a way to describe someone’s sadness. Not even a method to refer to their cluelessness. Instead, what if we made this saying an ongoing goal of our relationships?
When we think of those God puts in our path — wondering just why they’re in our lives — let’s imagine Jesus giving us the directive: “Well? Bless their heart!” Might we think of the Lord urging us to gift them with a word of encouragement, some needed physical help or a simple gesture of kindness, especially during this time of year? We can give in a way that will bring a genuine blessing to their heart.
In Acts 20:35, we see the Apostle Paul bid farewell to some of the leaders of the church at Ephesus. His final advice to his friends ends with these words, “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” On the surface, this quote from Jesus seems completely backward. How can it be better to give something away rather than grab something for yourself? But Jesus’ admonition is an upside-down but beautiful truth — if you want to bring yourself joy, then seek to give to others, for it’s in losing your life that you truly will find it.