We, the human race that is, tend to operate on a “deserve-it” philosophy. People get what they deserve. It’s a comfortable philosophy because it can be managed. It is “fair.”
We see it in all aspects of our thought and culture from the way we parent to the way we throw around the word karma, and even in our Christmas songs (see: Santa Claus is Coming to Town). We make decisions about who to give to, who to withhold from, and who to root for based on this deserve-it philosophy.
We even want a God who operates on the deserve-it philosophy because if we don’t control the outcomes, at least he does, and perhaps we can get him to give us what we want if we can prove we deserve it. I learned this pretty early on in Sunday school. The parable of the talent. My take-away was: if you want stuff from God, you gotta prove you deserve it. (Hey kids, here’s how to manipulate God.)
I mean let’s face it, this deserve-it principle feeds right into our need for control—it provides a sense of order in chaos. It works for do-gooder liberals and boot-strap capitalists alike. This whole rain and sun shining on the righteous and unrighteous can really pose a problem for us, though.
Those of us who live with longings that seem out of reach (all of us?) can find this all quite confusing. My inner dialogue goes a little like this… You don’t have what you desire because you haven’t been faithful with what you have now. You don’t deserve it. You’re not worthy of it. God would give it to you if you could prove how worthy you are. Make better decisions, love more, be less selfish, be more faithful, deny your base desires. Work. Work. Work.
And I lose site of relationship. I lose site of a God who is committed to me. Of a God who sees. A God who wants to meet me in my longing.
Because the truth is, the waiting, the longing is not punitive. It is the reality of living in the tension of now and not yet. The reality of two kingdoms. Longing awakens us to reality and calls us to relationship. We have to thirst. We have to hunger. It’s not going away. Not fully.
To live is to long. The problem comes when we try to explain our longing with the deserve-it mindset. The behavioral therapist and life coach in me wants life to operate on an absolute sow/reap principle, so that there is no mess, all can be fixed up with the right behavior, and everyone gets just what they deserve. But it is not so. There is mystery in life. There is longing.
Sowing and reaping can guide us, but it cannot explain life and grace and God. The haves and the have-nots. The rain on oversaturated land. The sun on already scorched earth. The barren. The hungry. The waiting.
It is in these things, He calls to us, and not because we deserve it. Because of grace.
So, rather than carrying around a burden of shame for not having, rather than work work work to find our way out of the waiting, we need to lean into it. Let our longing lead us to relationship. Let it draw us to a God who is committed to us and on whom our hopes are anchored.