What do you deserve?
It seems like a weird question, but also one that I think most of us have a pretty negative answer for.
For me, I tend to think I deserve “bad things.” I never out-right say that, and you probably don’t either. It comes out in a different way:
“I don’t deserve that house.”
“I don’t deserve this job.”
“I don’t deserve your love.”
“I don’t deserve that dessert.”
Why do we say things like this? Why do we have such a negative view of good things in our lives? Why do we disqualify ourselves from joy?
When did we lose the joy of our salvation, and the good gifts it brings that go beyond the spiritual, ethereal realm, and succumb to a narrative that we “deserve” nothing but the hell and damnation we’ve been spared from?
When did we separate the whole story from our bodies, our physical needs and desires, even from our very selves?
Why do we cling to a story of shame instead of joy?
Look at the story
When we shy away from joy, we are like the older brothers in the prodigal son story, pridefully self-denying and other-denying joy and celebration, because “we/they don’t deserve it.”
The father in the story pleads with his oldest: “This son of mine was considered dead, but he came home. That is worth celebrating. Nothing else matters!”
Redemption and mercy—the gospel—are met with a party. a celebration.
And the one who received the mercy, who rehearsed his lines to say “I’m not worthy to be your son,” was at the party. He was the reason for the celebration, the subject of the rejoicing.
The one who had grown accustomed to mercy, who hoarded it and silently resented what it did not give him, stubbornly refused to enter.
What if the answer to the question “What do you deserve?” — is actually JOY?
Salvation is a joyful gift. The psalmist prays to recover his sense of JOY over his salvation.
But salvation is rooted in real life, abundant life. And so your joy should be, too.
Joy in your living situation.
in your job.
in your marriage and your friendships.
in your eating & drinking.
Yes, sometimes it is a difficult to find joy even in these areas. But God doesn’t call us to despair or to despise his gifts by rejecting the joy he offers –even simple joys. He calls us to find joy even in the hard circumstances, but sometimes joy is just that: joy.
Sometimes it’s a conversation with a friend, baking into the night, buying something happy from Target. These joys are valid. Celebration is a part of our story.
We are allowed to find joy in earthly things, in things we tend to think we “don’t deserve.”
Remember these truths:
When joy is hard, don’t berate yourself by thinking you aren’t content enough. Don’t assume the hard circumstances are a result of you being tested or even punished (God doesn’t work that way). Sometimes life is just that: hard, and joy doesn’t mean blithely overlooking the reality you face. It means looking beyond it.
When joy is easy to come by, don’t automatically give into guilt that you’re enjoying something too much. Don’t automatically assume you are idolatrous when you’re just living. God will convict your heart of true idols; good things are not idols automatically. Joy, enjoying life, is definitely not an idol.
Joy is an expression of the gospel.
It is a clear indicator, alongside faith, love, and hope, that we are not our own anymore, that we are not the old people we were, that we are new, and that we do not deserve punishment or shame or “not good” things.
Joy looks beyond circumstances and sees God—not as punisher or tester, but as fellow worker. God joins the Christmas story in Jesus, in flesh, in very hard circumstances, in order to give us joy. The angels announce this story’s advent as “good news of great joy!”
Yes, we deserve this joy.
May we not reduce this joy to temporary joy, to tempered joy, to joy dependent on circumstances, or to joy absent from our whole selves.
This is good news of great joy for all people, and for all of us, our whole selves. Join the celebration in every way you can this Advent.