Why Christians need to let go of the word “deserve”

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. ” – Jesus, Matthew 23:37

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?  Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” – attributed to God by Isaiah, Isaiah 49:15

What does your child deserve from you?  Leaving aside personal feeling for a moment, what does he or she really deserve?

When he kicks and screams in the store, while you’re doing your best to buy him the good things he needs, because he can’t have a toy, what does he deserve?

When she has, in her sweet but graceless toddler way, tried to help and made your job twice as hard, what does she deserve from you?

When you are still bleeding, two weeks later, from labor, and he won’t let you sleep, but wakes at all hours demanding even more from your tired and broken body, what does he deserve then?

When she works herself into such a frenzy over the medicine that you are trying to give her that, once you finally get it in, she promptly throws it all up, what does she deserve?

Are you screaming at me, yet, that I’m missing the point?

These children, your children, my children, don’t deserve anything from their parents.  It’s the wrong word.  Parenthood goes far, far deeper than that.  We have a word for parents that would stop feeding or medicating their children because of a fit, for those who punish good intentions, for those who disdain the needs of the most vulnerable among us, no matter how onerous they are to fulfill.  We call parenting based in that attitude abusive.  It’s a strong word, but we know that true parenthood does not rest on deserve.  We are in another framework entirely.

The framework of parenthood seeks the best for the child, even when the child is not wise enough to know what it needs.  It takes joy in giving good things to the child, in seeing the child grow, in seeing the child’s joy.  Parenthood’s framework is one that is not concerned with punishment, but with directing down the right path.  It is patient in its endurance, for the child’s sake.  The framework for parenthood is not deserve.  It is love.

We know this, many of us, from our first moments of parenthood.  Though we are imperfect, we learn and grow along the way.  We love our children with everything in us without the least thought toward what they deserve.

Why do we think less of God?

God, who is named as Father and Mother.  God, who goes to great lengths to teach and heal and reconcile with his children.  God, who IS love.

And yet I hear my brothers and sisters worrying about whether they deserve good things from God.  Whether they’ve done enough to deserve his forgiveness.  Whether they are earning their place in the Kingdom, in his notice and his love.  And my heart hurts, the way it would hurt if a small child told me he worried about deserving his mother’s love.

It can be hard, as a child, to hold your burgeoning ability to reason in tension with those things that you know to be true, but can’t explain.  Occasionally my boys will ask me why I love them.  They suggest maybe it’s because they are smart, or because they did something helpful that I praised.  And my heart breaks a little, and I tell them that I love them simply because they are mine, and they will always be mine, and I will always love them, forever and ever.

God loves us.  He loves with the heart of a parent, unshakable, unwavering, unbreakable.  He loves us toward growth and reconciliation and healing.  Deserve is no where in it.  He loves us because we are his, and we will always be his, and he will love us, forever and ever.

Amen.

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