Friday, November 28, 2014

You Deserve It

“I’m so happy for you. You deserve this!”

My friend Susan and I were talking yesterday and rejoicing in the beautiful love I’m experiencing in my marriage.

It’s a lovely sentiment expressed by a caring friend. It’s not the first time I’ve heard something similar to this. Yet, every time, I recoil at the word, “deserve”.

“I don’t feel like I deserve anything,” I said.

Why is that?

My friend means it as an encouragement but somehow I hear it with foreboding, unworthiness, even guilt. It seems inherent in the phrase is the suggestion that “deserve” smacks of entitlement. Like I’ve somehow earned the right to be happy.

Deserve? What do I deserve? Sure I’ve had my share of sadness. Even in that phrase, there is a comparative term: “my share”. As if, somehow, I have “paid my dues” and now I have “earned” the right to be happy.

Life is not a competition, although many might view it that way. Some even find it motivating to “work hard, apply myself, so I can reap the benefits and earn what I’m worth.”

“It’s endemic in our religious upbringing,” Susan quickly points out. I know immediately what she means. We know we can’t earn salvation, that because of sin we deserve the punishment of death, therefore we don’t deserve the grace that God lavishes upon us. It’s unmerited favor. That’s why it’s grace. It’s a free gift.

Rather than take this blog into a long, heated discussion of differing theological points of view – like some of my early family holiday dinner conversations (shudder – can you say “indigestion”?) think about how much of life is competitive.

“Faster, Higher, Stronger”
“Auditions will be held…”
“Job competition”
“Performance bonus”
“The Top 40” (this week)
“You get out of this what you put into it”
“I must be living right” or “I can’t do anything right”
“I really worked hard for this”

We track games, races, sports scores and team records, tracking stats and doing analysis at the micro level to find yet one more way to give comparative status to the value of each player or athlete. If we take Second Place by one-hundredth of a second, the only title given is “Loser”.

We have regular performance evaluations in our workplace and annual salary reviews, which determine our compensation for services rendered. There are salary grids for different job classes and corporate guidelines about how quickly one can move up in their range. Bonuses, commissions, profit-sharing are all based on “What have you done for me lately?” There are companies that specialize in quantifying the value of a role and creating quantifiable measures for individual experience and skill.

Profit is good, loss is bad. We strive to choose the best financial products to achieve the highest possible return on investment (ROI). We seek out the “most reputable” advice and “most comprehensive” research and investment advisors with the best track record in financial markets.
Ultimately, the assumed truism is: “You earn what you deserve” or “You deserve what you earn”.

On the other hand, there are other voices using terms like:

“It’s God’s will/sovereignty/plan/judgment/punishment.”
“How lucky can you get?”
“How fortunate!”
“Just my luck!”
“The odds were against me.”
“The tide is turning in my favor.”
“The whole universe just waits for me to get cocky, then slams me down.”
“We lost because I attended the game, I’m bad luck.”
“You must have a horseshoe up your a**.”
“It just wasn’t in the stars.”
“It’s destined to fail.”
“That was a fluke.”
“It’s like magic.”

This second list reflects an opposite extreme to the first list. I’m sure philosophers, psychologists, social scientists and theologians all have their own terminology for these two opposing world views regarding our “deservedness” for blessings and benefits. I’m not going to research specific terms or cite scholarly sources (although the OCD side of me really wants to).

I want to get back to “You deserve this”. It seems this phrase could be used with equal convictions on both sides of the pendulum: grace or works. In my case, I fault on the “I didn’t earn it” side. (Please don’t comment on how worthy I am. I don’t write this to solicit any reassurances of my deservedness. In fact, I tend to dismiss that kind of sentiment).

I know when I’m giving my best and when I’m not. I know that many sad things have happened in my life and I spent more of the last couple decades grieving than celebrating. Yet I also crave affirmation when I have done a good job at something that mattered ANYTHING. In fact, I’ve spent my life measuring my worth by the applause of people. More recently, I’ve fought back against this compulsion and begun to understand the true measure of my worth is found in who I am, not what I do (but that’s another blog for another day).

I’m coming to the conclusion here that the key factor in any of this “deservedness” is not how I come to receive blessing or bounty, but rather, “Am I thankful?” Do I have a heart of gratitude? Do I have eyes to see the myriad of gifts that I have received?

When I am in a hard or dark place, I often think about the scripture’s instruction in the Apostle Paul’s epistle to the Philippians: “Don’t worry about anything. Tell God what you need. Thank Him for everything he’s already done and peace will follow” (my paraphrase of Phil. 4:6).

I believe “every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of Lights” (James 1:17) and so God is the direct person to whom I offer thanks. But I don’t, not for one moment, believe that God gives these gifts because I deserve them. He gives them out of his rich generosity. Because God is love and all goodness, and thus, cannot give anything other than what is ultimately good for those who love him. He is a father who delights in giving good gifts to his children. Just like you.

So, whether I deserve it or not, I am grateful. And as I was looking for a proper conclusion to this musing, I thought of the phrase “after you have suffered a little while…”

It’s from 1 Peter 5:5-11
“… Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”  (ESV, emphasis mine)
Yes, I have suffered. Just like every person on earth suffers. Perhaps more, perhaps less. Some of my suffering has been by my own hand, poor choices or sinful decisions. These have been and continue to be confessed, forsaken and forgiven because Jesus died and rose again to pay the price for that 2,000 years ago. Thanks be to God!

Other suffering I’ve endured (sometimes not so patiently) has come by the hands of others who put me down, rejected, abused or abandoned me. All of this is in process of being healed, as I release it and extend forgiveness where needed. I am being restored. I am, through this process, being confirmed in my thoughts and attitudes. I am being strengthened and established not only in my faith but in the safe, caring harbor of a loving marriage.

Thanks be to God, who daily loads us with benefits. (Psalm 68:19, paraphrase)

Undeserved favor.


I am SO grateful.

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