It’s become the selling strategy behind many an advertising campaign (starting to become quite the cliche throw away marketing spiel). And optimises much of the attitude of western culture.
You should buy this product because… You deserve it. You work hard. Your life is hard. You’re a good person. You’re too hard on yourself. You’re amazing. You deserve to treat yourself… For five easy payments of $99.
Sounds peachy right? I mean, it makes us feel pretty good about ourselves. And it works well enough for companies to use it to sell us stuff we don’t really need.
So where’s the problem?
The problem is, when society believes that they deserve more (rather than less), that it takes the joy out of life. Let me explain:
When I give a gift – even an extravagant gift – to someone, who feels deserving or entitled of that gift, there is little or no gratitude for what they have received. It’s not a gift, it’s payment of what’s due. If they feel like they deserve more, the gift might even elicit an angry response. But; if I give a gift – even a small one – for no reason at all to someone who says “no, I don’t deserve it”. Gratitude is exponentially increased and a guaranteed smile on their face. By believing that I don’t deserve things, opportunities for joy and happiness are increased, and we become humble.
G. K. Chesterton wrote, “Whatever may be the reason, we all do warmly respect humility — in other people.” I don’t know about you, but truly humble people; not those parading around with false humility; but those who without a fuss, go about, as if life and everything in it is a gift, taking nothing for granted; are wonderful people to be around. Any good thing that happens is a wonderful surprise and adds joy to even the most everyday experience. A rainy day. A green light. A parking space. Although negative experiences will always be hard, they are easier to accept and deal with – because they no longer expect the universe to deliver the best to them, there is less depth to disappointment.
To have too high a view of one’s self, is to feel you deserve and is in essence, what pride is. And to feel you deserve is to minimise and reduce opportunities for happiness and joy within our lives. What do counsellors say to those struggling with depression and anxiety? Be thankful for what you have. Focus on being grateful. Simply being thankful for the things you have which you acknowledge you don’t deserve.
Christians fall into this trap as well. Many believe that because of their moral performance – their prayer, or faith in the face of doubt, or perhaps their evangelistic attempts, or large gifts into the offering bucket – that they somehow now deserve God’s favour or his blessings. I would know, as I was one for many, many years. It made me miserable. When ever life threw a curve ball at me – I was ill equipped to deal with it, as I thought I had done what I needed to to deserve good things.
Everything a gift
The solution to all of this is to have a lower view of ourselves, and what we feel we deserve. Not to feel we deserve nothing but to see everything as an undeserved gift bestowed on us through pure grace.
My job, a gift.
My income, a gift.
My health, a gift.
My meals, a gift.
My clothes, a gift.
My friends, a gift.
Their time, a gift.
My wife, a gift.
Her love, a gift.
The affection of my kids, a gift.
Her acts of service, a gift.
My intelligence (whatever there is!), a gift.
My personality – including all its flaws – a gift.
My faith, a gift.
God’s goodness, a gift.
God’s provision, a gift.
The bonus is, that if I ever lose any of these gifts, then I’m better equipped to deal with the feelings of loss and grief. I never deserved them anyway.
The good news of the gospel
The good news is there is grace. Ultimately, according to God, we deserve death and separation from God. We deserve the consequences of our self centred existences. Now we can argue (and many do), and disagree with how God weighs the scales. We can tell him what we really deserve; tell him that we deserve good things! That we are really good people and that life is hard! But God, rather than argue with us, pulls up his sleeves, and plunges headlong into our mess. He accepted what we really deserve. He took our consequence. Our death. Our separation. And he gave us something we didn’t deserve – himself. He gave himself, his life, his love and he packaged up all the things he truly deserved – and gifted them to us. They have been graced to us – and this knowledge fuels my gratitude and joy.
We can and should enjoy good things, not because we deserve it; but because we don’t. We can even treat the things that we have earnt fair and square, as a gift. (Who gave us the faculties to earn them? What did we do to deserve those faculties?) So when good things, and success do come our way, we can be truly, honestly grateful. We can make the most out of the moments life gives us to be joyful.