The practice of offering someone a formal blessing may be more ancient—and meaningful—than you know.
Blessings can—and should—be offered freely and often to those we love and the community at large. If we regularly receive and give blessings, our own lives are enriched. For Christians, it is a Divine request to bless others. For non-Christians, the act of blessing is a powerful tool for uplifting and strengthening relationships with our communities.
The best advice on how to give a blessing is simple—follow your feeling. As a father and grandfather, I’ve experienced the joy of blessing my family. For example, when our daughter left for college, I placed my hands on her shoulders, looked in her eyes, and said, “Just be who you are and you will do just fine.” She did do just fine and continues to do so 20 years later!
As a pastor, I’ve had the privilege of blessing hundreds of people at key moments including birth, baptism, confirmation, marriage, retirement, sickness, divorce, and death. One of my favorite blessings is: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace” (Num. 6:24–26 NRSV).
Although giving a blessing is a significant Jewish and Christian practice, other traditions also engage in giving (and receiving) blessings. An Apache Native American wedding blessing reads: “Now you will feel no rain, for each of you will be shelter for the other. Now you will feel no cold, for each of you will be warmth to the other.” Non-religious people can certainly also bless others. Determining how to give a blessing needn’t be a complex ritual: all that’s required is love and good will.
A good model for blessing others can be found in the Biblical account of Isaac blessing his son Jacob. In spite of the complicated family dynamics behind this story—Jacob was pretending to be his brother Esau—three simple but effective elements of a blessing emerge.
Offer Meaningful Touch
When Isaac blessed Jacob, he said, “Come near and kiss me, my son.” Although Jacob was a grown man in this story, he and his father kissed and embraced. We’re never too old to give—or receive—loving physical affection. When Jesus blessed people, both children and adults, he almost always touched them.
People of all ages need loving human touch. Therefore, blessing others usually involves meaningful but appropriate and consensual touch. For family members, that could mean a kiss or a hug. For friends and coworkers, appropriate touch might be a handshake.
Speak Affirming Words
When Isaac blessed Jacob, he spoke words of encouragement: “Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed.” Of course, I don’t recommend telling people that they smell like dirt. But in an ancient agricultural setting, these words conveyed parental admiration and affection for a beloved child who worked the fields.
People want to know they have value in the eyes of their loved ones. Therefore, if we want to bless others, we should regularly affirm them with words of appreciation, value, and encouragement. Although best done in person, we can also do so via phone calls, letters, emails, and texts.
Articulate a Positive Future
When Isaac blessed Jacob he said, “May God give you of the dew of heaven, and of the fatness of the earth, and plenty of grain and wine.” In short, Isaac envisioned a full and vibrant future for his child with everything he needed to thrive.
When we picture a positive future for someone, we help stimulate optimism, courage, confidence, and hope through visualization and the power of intention. As it’s been shown through studies, intention statements and affirmations can make a significant impact on a person’s life. Blessings should particularly be offered to young people, the newly married, new parents, recently divorced or unemployed persons, retired folks, and others experiencing transition (both positive and negative), vulnerability, or duress.
Is There A Wrong Way to Give A Blessing?
There are no rules on how to give a blessing. I once heard about a father who engaged in an unusual method of blessing his children. When they were little, he regularly hugged his kids and kissed them on their foreheads. Then he gently took them by the ears, looked in their eyes, and said, “I love you, I bless you, and I think you’re absolutely terrific.” He continued that tradition over the years, even when they became teenagers. Although they sometimes complained about it, they secretly loved their father’s unique blessing.
This father’s oldest son is now a grown man and a former professional football player. He stands six feet six inches tall, weighs 290 pounds, and can bench press 500 pounds. One day when he came home for a visit, his father hugged him and kissed him on his forehead. Then he took his son by the ears, looked him in the eyes, and said, “I love you, I bless you, and I think you’re absolutely terrific.” His grown son’s shoulders began to shake, and his eyes filled with tears. “Thanks Dad,” he said, “I really needed that today.”
Every person, no matter how old or how strong, needs to be blessed. How can you give a blessing to someone this week?
Now that you know how to give a blessing, read more on why we give blessings to others.