Finishing my morning jog, I noticed some litter on the road. It was an advertising brochure: “You deserve a clean home. We can help.”
We live in a culture in which “You deserve . . .” is a gold-plated slogan. I grew up with the McDonald’s jingle “You deserve a break today, so get up and get away, at McDonald’s.” I also deserve–according to advertisers–Barclays Premier banking services, Louisiana homegrown fruits and vegetables, a Buick Reatta, Farmers Insurance, a decent sandwich, satin sheets, a better congressional representative, and a board-certified plastic surgeon. I could fill this column five times over with things that advertisers tell me I deserve.
Well, if I deserve them, why not just hand them over?
“You deserve” is an old trap for the citizens of this world, going back to the garden snake who told one of us we deserved fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It focuses our attention on ourselves and our dissatisfaction with something we don’t have. It robs us of contentment, erodes our sense of community–other people have X; why shouldn’t I?–and takes us on a downward spiral.
As an antidote, let me remember things I don’t deserve, but have received nonetheless: a quality education; a wonderful and inspirational marriage partner for 35 years; a car that has plowed through 10 Michigan winters and is still chugging; pileated woodpeckers that occasionally come to our backyard suet feeder; steady, interesting, and meaningful work at an institution that seeks the well-being of others.
The same apostle Paul who tells us that we can be content in all circumstances (Phil. 4:11) reminds us that from those who have been given much, much more will be expected. Oops. That last bit came from Jesus Himself (Luke 12:48). I don’t deserve the convenience of googling Scripture, but I have it nonetheless.
Nothing wrong with having our carpets cleaned—or replaced, if need be. It’s a good thing to have insurance. I look forward to my next decent sandwich. But it’s a much healthier mind-set to work toward these goals: take the bread out of the refrigerator, slice some avocado and tomato . . . and see them as the end product of personal effort. And to remind ourselves of the daily things we should be grateful for but often overlook, especially when we fall into “I deserve” mode. All my joints are working today. I can hear out of both ears. I work with people I enjoy.
Which brings us to the gift of salvation and the privilege of fellowship with Jesus. These are gifts no earthly advertiser could put a tag on; but they are ours for the asking. These gifts without price should put us in a continual mind-set of humility and gratitude, and arouse in us a desire to share them with others. We don’t deserve what God has done for us, but we can bask in His love and help others to do the same.
Scott Moncrieff is a professor of English at Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.