It’s always interesting when I reflect on the timing and effectiveness of life’s lessons. I use the word “interesting” loosely, as it makes me seem more mature than I am…and since some of the words that come to mind when I get one of those lessons don’t belong on your screen. Anyone else feel me here?
I recently received a communication from someone dear to me, in which she decided to make clear every single thing that has ever bothered her, specifically about me, but also about select members of our family. It was, let’s just say, a less-than-pleasant experience. I was shocked. I was hurt. I was indignant. And I was angry.
It took me completely off guard. And while I have managed to block out some of the more hurtful phrases, the one I couldn’t (and still can’t) get past was the bold statement, “I deserve better.”
Because my immediate reaction was, “No, you don’t.”
And once my vision cleared and my blood pressure started returning to normal, I had to pause for a moment of self-reflection. (I really hate those, by the way.)
Nevertheless, while this letter wounded my heart, it also sharpened my sense of “self”. How many times have I entered or left a situation with a list of all the ways I deserved better? How often have I forgotten just how fortunate I am? If we’re looking at hard truths, I’m certainly due my fair share.
This moment of self-reflection through reality-tinted glasses, while oh-so-fun, gave me a thought:
What if we took the word “deserve” out of our vocabulary, unless it’s preceded by the word “don’t”?
None of us actually get what we deserve – thank goodness. In our heart of hearts, in the deepest places where we hide our most secret thoughts, we breathe a sigh of relief. Because we know the truth. We know who we are, and what we’ve done, or said, or thought. We know what we really deserve…if we’re honest. And what we really deserve isn’t unending grace and love. It isn’t a life of freedom and second chances and opportunities. It isn’t an open invitation to eternal joy and paradise. We don’t like to focus on that part, do we?
When we, as flawed people, use the word deserve, our focus is on the human element. We go one of two places with this. “I deserve”, which leads us to entitlement and accolades based on accomplishment. Or “they deserve”, which often takes us to judgment and an anticipation of punishment. We’re looking at the end game here on Earth instead of opening our minds to the big picture. We look sideways, instead of up, wondering “What did we get? What did they get?”. It makes us cocky. It creates competition. It gives birth to dissatisfaction, and often greed.
We are called to be grateful, not dissatisfied, and certainly not competitive or covetous.
Colossians 3:15 – Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.
The addition of “don’t” changes our focus from “I deserve better” to “I don’t deserve that”. When we change our language (inside and out) to don’t deserve, we can focus on the divine. It shifts us from entitlement to gratitude, and puts our hearts in a posture of humility. We become thankful for grace and all of our blessings, or express sorrow for crummy circumstances.
The tension comes when we look at what we consider to be fundamental human rights.
- I deserve to be happy
- Children deserve to be safe
- People deserve to be fed, or healthy, or treated with dignity
We can still apply our new vocabulary here.
The truth is: no child deserves to be neglected or abused; no one deserves to be cold, or homeless, or hungry; we don’t deserve to get terminally ill, or injured; we don’t deserve tragedy or pain; the French didn’t deserve to be victims to acts of terrorism; the Syrians don’t deserve the horror they are living; victims of sex-trafficking don’t deserve their plight.
Are we starting to get onto the same page? Does it change your rhythm a little to phrase it this way?
In all of Scripture, there is not a condoning of the “I deserve” school of entitlement. Even the life of Jesus and story of the cross revolve around what he didn’t deserve as opposed to what he was due – and let’s face it, if anyone who ever lived had rights to that parade, it would have been the Son of God.
Isaiah 53: 5-8 – But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought our peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
He died a death he didn’t deserve, so that we could receive the gift that we don’t deserve.
He was God, and yet, there is no mention of him deserving better than the simple life he lived and brutal death he endured.
Philippians 2:5-9 – Your attitude should be the same as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross.
Despite all of this, we never hear how richly he deserved what came next.
Philippians 2: 9-11 – Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Nary a “deserve” in the whole passage. In fact, the focus is still on the Father; the accolades still aimed at His glory.
There’s a very clear message here for us. There’s an expectation of how we are to view ourselves, and example of the attitude we should embrace.
It gets so very tricky.
I’ll give you an example:
The desire of every mother on the planet is to raise healthy children. It’s a basic wish, and the hope of all our hearts. My secular job revolves around parents who face the other side of that coin. I’ve spent 16 years working with families going through the pain of raising children with broken bodies and minds. They are amazing people, kind people, good people, faithful people. Their kids are beloved and special, and precious. They don’t deserve the hand their dealt, nor have they asked for it.
And as much as I love/adore my three kids and think they are pretty great, I know this to be true – they don’t deserve their amazing, talented bodies and minds any more than the children I treat.
There but for the grace of God go I.
And as we raise our kids, as we watch them and celebrate them, encouraging them in every endeavor and phenomenal achievement they head towards… Their father and I have one over reaching goal: to be sure that they never, for one second, forget to do all that they do in the name and to the glory of the One who dealt them these cards.
It’s all from Him.
It’s all for Him.
Ephesians 5:19b-20 – Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The more gratitude I embrace, the more joy I find. The more joy I find, the more gratitude I feel. I find myself celebrating the little things…and not just for me or mine. It becomes easier to celebrate for and with others as well.
The cycle continues in this big, beautiful circle that brings me closer to God with every repetition of the rounding.
We shine brightest with His light when we are filled with His joy.
We are most filled when we let go of ourselves – our pride, our competition, our dissatisfaction or self-proclaimed sense of what’s “fair” and lift up a simple thank you. It acknowledges God’s gifts and the trust we have in His provision for us. It brings to the forefront of our minds His sovereignty. It reminds us of who He is.
I am grateful His is who He is, and chooses what I don’t deserve over what I do. I know who I am. I know, in my innermost secret places the wretchedness of my heart. I am grateful to be loved in spite of it. I am grateful Father wants me to find joy in His love, and in the love of and for others. I am grateful that here go I, in this time and place, in these circumstances, with the people in my life – because this is where He placed me, with specificity and purpose. So, this is where I’m supposed to be.
Here is where my focus should be – on the One who loves, who created everything and let’s us take part, who is waiting patiently for us to grow up and do our part and live our purpose, then join Him for an eternity of joy.
It’s a beautiful life…even when it’s messy, or less than perfect, or hard, or criticized. Those things do not diminish it’s value, or mine, or that of those who surround me. We are loved. We are precious. And I am incredibly grateful.
Solidarity, sisters. Grab a hand and give thanks.