This morning, as I was scrolling through social media, I came upon this article written by Maria Shriver. It was about deserving and how we react to that word, to that idea. And it hit upon a sensitive part of me, something I’ve struggled with for decades now.
Maria talks about being raised in a world of expectations, and I get that. My parents brought me up with the same ideology: from whom much is given, much is expected. There was the basic courtesy (we never referred to my parents with pronouns–it was always Mommy and Daddy, not her and him), as well as the commitment to service to others and to hard work.
Still, my upbringing wasn’t really where I developed my complex relationship with the idea of deserving something. That came later, when my husband, children and I began attending a non-denominational, evangelic church. There, where I was part of the leadership of the women’s Bible study, the indoctrination began. It was subtle, but unmistakable: as humans, we are the lowest of the low. We deserve the pits of hell, degradation, and punishment. Often the preacher would marvel that thanks to Christ, we don’t get what we actually deserve. Sometimes he sounded a little disappointed when he said those words.
I was in my early thirties when we were part of that church, but apparently, I was still impressionable, because in the nearly fifteen years since we left that body, I’ve consistently fought against the damaging dogma I was taught there. When I hear the word deserve, I still cringe, and my knee-jerk reaction is to claim that I deserve nothing.
I’m not saying that there isn’t Scriptural basis for the idea of the sinfulness of man. However, focusing on that alone and not seeing the evidence for the other side of the coin is an affront to God.
God created us. In the beginning, He created everything, and in Genesis 1:31, after He had created humans, man and woman, He saw that it was very good. This is God declaring us GOOD. He didn’t say that lightly; it wasn’t the same way you might tell a friend, “No, we’re good here.” This has deeper meaning. “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”
Throughout history, God redeems His people, time and again, up to and including the incarnation of Jesus. As Paul points out in Romans 8:2, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” Think about this. Do you really believe that God would send His only, beloved son to secure the salvation of a bunch of depraved humans who were without any value? No. God loves us–even when we might be unlovable–and although our sin might separate us from Him, that sin does not mean there is no good in us. We are still the created works of a perfect God, who is Love Incarnate.
Over the centuries, we’ve twisted and corrupted that idea, until many believers fall squarely into two camps: those like the evangelical believers of my experience, who see nothing good in humans at all, and those who don’t recognize any sinfulness of man at all. Neither one is exactly on the right track.
I know that Jesus came because we needed to see God. We needed to experience Him walking among us, to understand how deep the Father’s love for us. Sin had–and continues to–separated us from God. But sin had not made us bad. It does not make us undeserving. It does not make us unredeemable.
So . . . what is it that I think I deserve these days? First of all, like Maria Shriver, I deserve the respect of others, particularly of my husband and my children. I deserve to be able to move around in this wider world without expectation of harassment, sexual or otherwise. I deserve a break every now and then. I deserve to protect my own sanity and well-being in whatever way I must, assuming that doesn’t infringe on the needs of anyone else.
Like everyone else in the world, I deserve healthy relationships, laughter, love and the expectation of a future.
So today, and for the coming weeks, I’m going to be mindful about remembering that I am loved beyond measure by the God who created me and then declared His creation very good. I’m going to walk forward, knowing that He wants good for me, because He has paid a high price for me. And I’m going to embrace the idea that I deserve all the wonderful things He has prepared for me.
And so do you.