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Blessing our messy everyday lives: Compass 102

Jessica Richie shares the story and practices behind The Lives We Actually Have, written with Kate Bowler.

The Lives We Actually Have (Releasing February 14, 2023) is a collection of blessings for the struggles of our shared humanity, from the New York Times bestselling authors of “Good Enough”. A blessing for a painful day? A blessing for when things don’t make sense? These feel like strange times to consider blessing. But, as Jessica points out, perhaps those are the instances when we’re drawing closest to God.

This episode contains special blessings from both Kate Bowler and Jessica Richie.


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Episode Notes

Kate Bowler is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Everything Happens for a Reason (And Other Lies I’ve Loved) and No Cure for Being Human (And Other Truths I Need to Hear). Kate is the host of the popular podcast “Everything Happens.” And she’s a professor at Duke University.

Jessica Richie is the co-author of the New York Times bestseller Good Enough, the executive director of the Everything Happens Project at Duke Divinity School, and the executive producer of the Everything Happens podcast.

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    This episode posted on February 8, 2023

    Episode Transcript:

    Michelle Maldonado (00:01):

    This is the Compass Podcast where we disrupt the everyday with glimpses of the divine. We all go through periods where we feel like God is distant. What do we do when we don't feel hashtag blessed? Kate Bowler and Jessica Ritchie wrote The Lies. We actually have a little prayer book offering creative faith-based blessings that help to connect with a sense of gratitude and hope in the midst of our real messy lives. One, to know what we mean, we have a blessing just for you. From Kate Bowler, who is the author of the New York Times bestseller, "Everything Happens for a Reason." Kate is the host of the popular podcast "Everything Happens." She's also a professor at Duke University where she taught our friend Ryan Dunn all about Christian history.

    Kate Bowler (00:56):

    Here's a little blessing for the gift of doubt along for understanding, but life is full of unanswered questions. Oh, God, reveal to me what I need to know now. And as for the rest, teach me how to live with so much uncertainty. Blessed are we who come to you in the discomfort of our doubt, for we trust that our honest unknowing is a truer and better prayer than bootstrapping efforts at certainty. Blessed are we receiving the gift of doubt for we trust that it is a doorway freeing us to become all that we could not otherwise have known.

    Ryan Dunn (01:46):

    Michelle, are you the kind of person who thinks to offer a blessing when you're feeling grouchy or when you feel like your body is your enemy?

    Michelle Maldonado (01:55):

    I have to be honest. I don't always remember to be that positive. Hmm. I I just sometimes get bogged down with that negativity, but I should start using this more often, especially since these folks have created such amazing content.

    Ryan Dunn (02:12):

    Yeah. You know, I tend to look for the gratitude kind of in the same situation, like when things are going well, <laugh>, and, but it's like when I'm grouchy like that, I'm not thinking about offering a blessing. So I really wanted to know what prompted these prayers. And thankfully, I got to sit with the co-author of "The Lives We Actually Have," Jessica Richie, and she gave me the scoop on the inspiration for these blessings, and then also how this spiritual practice has impacted her life. And of course, a few other tidbits of blessing. Well, let's meet Jessica Richie, the co-author of the New York Times bestseller "Good Enough." She is also the executive director of the Everything Happens Project at Duke Divinity School, and the executive producer of the Everything Happens Podcast. Jessica, thank you so much for joining us on the Compass Podcast. We kind of have this question of initiation. I'm gonna throw it at you. How goes it with your soul today?

    Jessica Richie (03:11):

    Oh, thanks for asking Ryan, and thanks for chatting with me today. You bet. You know, my, I think the way that I would describe my soul today is weary. I feel like the beginning of the year adds so much unnecessary, but pressure, you know, like you mm-hmm. We're resting, we're spending time with family, we're enjoying, and then all of a sudden January's this like, full on sprint. So I feel, yeah. I feel the cost of that. I felt rested and now I feel like that like pylon feeling, you know, where you're like, mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, oh Lord, how much can my shoulders bear? So I think, I think I feel weary, but, but simultaneously always like joyful and, and entertained and full. I think just that flip side of the full coin is the, is the weight of it all.

    Ryan Dunn (04:09):

    Yeah. Well, you've helped to pen this book of blessings, and one of them actually speaks to <laugh>, probably the situation that you're feeling right now where it's like the challenge to go from zero to 60 in nanoseconds. When situations like that come up are, are you pulling back to your own book or do you find that you have some new words that come to mind when you start to think about how you might, I don't know, call into call a blessing into that moment?

    Jessica Richie (04:38):

    Yeah. I think that that speaks so much to what our heart for this book is, is that we needed richer, thicker, theological language for these moments. These moments that don't seem like they would go on like a precious moments plaque, where that you find it, like, I grew up in Denver, Colorado, and we had a martel's down the street. I know that's like a local, like Texas and Colorado might be the only places, but fine on a martel's Christian t-shirt is <laugh>. Okay. Like these moments of feeling weighted freighted by maybe even important spiritual work. So we, we wanted to craft better words, better prayers for this moment when we didn't feel especially spiritual or especially holy or especially cheerful <laugh>. Maybe there are, maybe God can be found in, in and among our garbage days in and among our tired days in and among our two full days in and among our like, grief filled days. And maybe especially that's what the work of being a person that's interested in who Jesus is, is about. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative> is finding and maybe putting on goggles that like, adjust our lens a little bit to imagine God in this here now.

    Ryan Dunn (05:54):

    Yeah. Yeah. You know, you mentioned language there that can re lead us down a, a a whole rabbit hole. But did you find in, in writing this book that you were being deliberate about planting in some of the, I guess, religiousy type words or spiritual words? Hmm.

    Jessica Richie (06:13):

    I think if anything, we were coming them out.

    Ryan Dunn (06:16):


    Jessica Richie (06:16):

    As somebody who, I grew up in the church and going to Sunday school and going to Wednesday night Bible study and going to youth group, I find that sometimes my spiritual language feels too practiced mm-hmm. <Affirmative> and it loses its meaning. Cause it's felt, felt so repeated. And, and so I think in, in this case, in the case of these blessings, we were trying to find ways, like fresh ways to, to describe these, these moments where we needed God to just intervene God to be present, God to sit with us that didn't feel as well worn maybe as some of our, our, that like spiritual language of our childhood.

    Ryan Dunn (06:55):

    Yeah. Okay. I it can feel a little bit inauthentic maybe, or impersonal when you're just stealing words from the past. I don't know.

    Jessica Richie (07:02):

    That's right. Where you're like calling it in a little bit. Yeah. You know, like, I'm gonna just phone this one. And I, I grew up in evangelical land and a lot of like prayers that just came to you. And so I find such comfort in some of the lit liturgy of some tradition, like some older traditions. And I think the reason I find that, and I feel like people maybe that grew up in liturgical traditions feel the opposite. They feel so much freedom in being able to just talk to God, how they, yeah. How they need to express. But for me, I really enjoyed the ability to, to read a prayer out loud, knowing, trusting that there is a, like a cloud of believers, this, this like whole like chorus of, of people that have believed these words before me for thousands of years, and I can just kind of fold myself into that. So I think that was one of our one of my hopes for this book was that even on days where people didn't believe it, even on days when reaching for a prayer felt too hard, too forced to they didn't have the words that maybe they could find themselves like nestled in one of these prayers that other people might be praying with them alongside them before them over them too.

    Ryan Dunn (08:14):

    Yeah. Hmm. Well, so they're in part is part of your motivation for, for writing this book, but why, why now? <Laugh>?

    Jessica Richie (08:25):

    Yeah. So Kate and I started writing these blessings before the pandemic. It was like December, 2019, you know, before, oh yeah. Everybody imagined that their lives would be

    Ryan Dunn (08:35):

    Drunk. Oh, now days alive, everything's fine.

    Jessica Richie (08:38):

    Who were we, Ryan, who were we before then? And, and it was for similar reasons. We wanted better ways to bless our actual days. We wanted, we wanted God to show up on a regular boring Tuesday just as much as God shows up on our highest days where we say like, God is so good. And on our lowest days when we say like, God helped me, God, I need you. Like, what does it look like for God to be just, just infused in it all? And what we didn't realize was how much we actually needed this language of blessing throughout the pandemic, throughout these fear-inducing uncertain days where we needed God to show up on our Tuesdays, on our tear stained pillows and on our like joyful reunite, reuniting with the people that we love so much like those kind of moments, like every single step of the spectrum, we wanted language for those kind of prayers. Mm-Hmm.

    Ryan Dunn (09:37):

    <Affirmative>. And in the process of pulling these all together, did you find that there were some that were a little bit hit or miss? Like particularly were there, were there some that you were like, oh my gosh, this is just what I needed and I'm going back to it again and again?

    Jessica Richie (09:54):

    Kate and I recently got the chance to read it for the audio book version of it. Yeah. <laugh>. And I think that's fun. The book process is like you write it a year before it releases. So by the time we're recording an audio book forward or releasing it, like we're already working on like the project for next year or something. Yeah. So it is such a nice chance to go back and I think Kate and I were both surprised by how moved we were not because we're like, particularly like, wow, look at the writing that we can do no <laugh> by more by how the prayers felt still true by how they felt like, wow, I feel so, like that is exactly what I need. That is the, the feeling that I'm still feeling. That is the space where I really am hoping that God shows up.


     And I, we have one in there that like, I just get teary just thinking about it because we wrote one for our mournful days and what we had in mind was somebody to read it like before a funeral or before, like during a, like a, a viewing or something where, and I just, I, I think I'm, I'm so moved by how people have been using our words and our prayers in these like painful moments when they're like seeking and grappling for something. And the hope of how this will just continue to be useful to people as just like this little coffee table prayer book is what we kind of hope. Like just something you just like Yeah. Flip through, grab and be like, this is, this is what I need today.

    Ryan Dunn (11:23):

    Yeah. Well, each one of 'em contains a a blessed are we win kind of statement. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative> actually, most of them contain several. But those can almost become kind of mantras because those are what stick out, at least having gone through the bug. Those are of what stuck out to me. And so when I do find tho myself in those moments, it becomes a way of almost reframing of the attitude and saying That's right. You know, instead of blessed am I when I'm at the end of my rope, you know, I'm blessed Yeah. Am I when I don't know what to do blessed and I, when I'm having a curmudgeonly day or a frustrated day. Yeah. And in the books' intro, you all mentioned that, that these kinds of blessings can be a form of, of placement mm-hmm. <Affirmative> and putting things in perspective mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. So do you find yourself now using these blessings to reorient your perspective? Was that a natural process for you before or or is it something that's <laugh> been kind of kicked up by the whole book writing process?

    Jessica Richie (12:22):

    Sure. That language of spiritual placement is from Dr. Steven Chapman, who, did you have him while you were at Duke?

    Ryan Dunn (12:30):

    No. I, I did did attend a lecture with him, but no, he was not one of my professors.

    Jessica Richie (12:34):

    Wonderful, wonderful Old Testament professor who has this, who, who says that blessing, I think in American culture, we imagine that to be blessed is like the hashtag that everybody uses to brag. It's like a humble brag of like, oh, blessed hashtag vacation hashtag like, look at my perfect family all smiling at the camera at once. And what Stephen Chapman talks about is blessing's, actually a spiritual placement. It's a way of speaking true things about God and us and God's, God's intervention in our actual everyday lives. And I think for me, the the attitudes, which is the, the passage on the Sermon in the Mount when Jesus said, blessed are the poor spirit. Blessed are in the Eugene Pearson version. Blessed are those at the end of their rope. Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted. These ideas of, of Jesus turning blessing.


    What does it mean to be blessed completely on its head of like, when I'm grieving, when I'm mourning, I do not feel hashtag blessed. Like, that's not the picture I'm gonna put on Instagram, but maybe there is a upside down blessing of the, the presence of God who knows our tears, who counts them, who bottles them up. Maybe there is a blessing in this moment of, of brokenness, of spiritual emptiness, of hopelessness, of despair that might be found if, if we have that language like blessed are we here now because we are, we are, we are the children of God. We are blessed, we are blessed with God's presence in all things.

    Ryan Dunn (14:09):

    So if we are blessed with God's presence in all things, do you find yourself going back to these, these prayers and all things mm-hmm.

    Jessica Richie (14:17):

    <Affirmative>? I do. I think the way that I use them most practically is praying for other people or offering them to other people. I think this language of blessing and this practice of blessing has become something, become something that I'm doing as a spiritual practice. So whether it's returning to the ones that, that we've written or writing new ones, like I, I got to write a blessing for my sister at her, at her wedding and got to like, pray it over them as the new couple before. And I recently lost my dog, and that was Oh, so, so sad. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. And it, like, it got me thinking of like, what does it mean to be blessed in this kind of really specific grief that only, that really only I'm affected by? You know? So this, this language of blessing is, has really infiltrated my spiritual practice when it comes to loving and, and, and praying for other people, like genuinely praying for them, not just being like praying for you. Like no, like sitting there and, and offering them a blessing that I know to be true and a little bit more nuanced than, than maybe Instagram might show

    Ryan Dunn (15:31):

    <Laugh>. Right. <laugh>. Do you find yourself now kind of being a, a compulsive bless?

    Jessica Richie (15:35):

    I think I don't wanna be the kind of person that I, I think I don't wanna be the person that people are like, okay, enough with the enough with that Jessica <laugh>, you know? But I do, I do always, I always think that, like, I always, like when somebody's going through something hard, I always like, I don't know, I like, is this a cultural thing? Is this a regional thing? But I always say blessings on your forehead. And I don't know why or where that came from, but I have always said that of like, just blessings on your forehead. Like, it just makes me wanna like, anoint people Yeah. With like, hope and courage and like my, like my, my heart meets your heart kind of support. So I think, I think I do wanna be a, bless her. Like I want to be the kind of person who blesses an Ima and, and when I say bless, Ima like opens my imagination for how God could be present in this moment, with this circumstance, with this wariness, with this grief, with this new, new marriage, whatever it might be.

    Ryan Dunn (16:30):

    Hmm. Well, you've mentioned what's coming next. What is, what are you working on next? <Laugh>? Is there gonna be like a volume too?

    Jessica Richie (16:40):

    Kate is working on a volume two of some dressing, which is really fun. And the, the thing that we're working on together right now is that some new podcast episodes, which

    Ryan Dunn (16:52):

    We're big podcasts, are great

    Jessica Richie (16:54):

    Podcast people. We're interviewing some really amazing people this season we just talked to we're talking next week, we're talking to Mary Louise Kelly, who's the, she's the anchor for all things Considered on NPR and Oh yeah. About about aging and aging out of the people who need you, who you built your life around. So what does it mean to watch your kids grow up and what does it mean to say goodbye to your parents? And how do relationship change over time and what does it mean to enter into this like act three of life that you didn't quite expect to have, to have, like to have to refind yourself again at this point? So we're just having some really rich conversations that help inform our language. And then at the end of every podcast, Kate and I put our brains together and write another blessing that came out of that podcast conversation. Cool. So this cool act of blessing has really in every iteration has been really informative to us.

    Ryan Dunn (17:51):

    Wow. So coming outta this, are you gonna write a blessing for when you are a podcast guest? When I

    Jessica Richie (17:57):

    <Laugh>, when I am only podcast, blessed our sounds, concerns and <laugh> and hoping and praying that my dog is quiet in the next room. That's right. That's right.

    Ryan Dunn (18:12):

    Well, hey, speaking of all that stuff, of everything going on there, where is a a place to pick up on all this online?

    Jessica Richie (18:19):

    Yeah, you can go to it's available for sale everywhere starting on Valentine's Day, and you can go to kate book to get it. And Ryan, actually, I would love to read one of them for your people if

    Ryan Dunn (18:31):

    Oh, please do. Yeah.

    Jessica Richie (18:33):

    If that's a good way to to do this. So the one I picked out, let's see. Yeah. This one the one I picked out is a blessing for stretching your heart. Hmm. God, my life has too many things. Awful, lovely, full shockingly incomplete. Will you help me to learn to live with a greater capacity for this living in the tension between a life that has worked out and one that has gone to hell in every hand basket? Let today be a divine exercise of yes and yes. I have so much to be thankful for. And this hasn't turned out like I thought it would. Yes. I feel moments of joy and I have lost more than I thought I could live without. Yes. I want to make the most of today and my body keeps breaking. Yes. I am hopeful and this is daunting.


    Yes. I am trying to be brave and I feel so afraid. So bless me, trying to live in between those two words. Yes. And may I understand this is where the real work of life is found, where it takes great courage to live where grief can strip me to the studs and love can remake me once again where my heart can be both broken and keep on beating, never sorry to have broken at all. Yes. And make me capable of great joy, great love, great risk, even fear as you expand my heart with this. Yes. And today. Amen.

    Ryan Dunn (20:28):

    Amen and amen.

    Michelle Maldonado (20:31):

    Thanks for talking with us. The Compass Podcast is brought to you by United Methodist Communications. If Compass is meaningful for you, then check out another episode.

    Ryan Dunn (20:41):

    Yeah. If you like this one, then you probably want to check out our original conversation with Kate Bowler. It was one of our first actual episodes and we re-released it in June of 2022. It's called "Does Everything Happen for a Reason" Or another related oldie but goodie was our chat with Kaitlin Curtice, that's called "Finding the Divine in the Every Day." And that was re-released in July of 2022. And while you're listening, leave a rating and or review. We'd appreciate that so much. Compass comes out every other Wednesday, so we're gonna chat at you in a couple weeks. Peace.



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