My Least Favorite Word… “deserve”

My Least Favorite Word… “deserve”

Posted by Regi Campbell on October 13, 2011

There are few words in the English language that stop me cold. Hearing the Lord’s name used in vain still does it. But about the only other word that has same effect is the word “deserve.”  Every time I hear it, whether on t.v. or from a close personal friend, it makes me want to explode.

“Deserve” means “to be worthy of”. Need I go on?

What am I worthy of without Jesus?  I mean really.

He gives me every breath I breathe. He gives me every heartbeat, every bite of food I eat, every sight I see…it all comes from Him.  Every ounce of love I feel comes from someone He put (and kept) in my life.  He owes me nothing.  It’s all grace…undeserved blessing.

“Deserve” and “Grace” are children of comparison and contrast. We feel like we deserve something because we compare what we did with the consequence that ensues. “He deserved that heart attack. He didn’t exercise and looked like the Michelin man.” “He deserved that promotion….he had worked his butt off.”  In our performance-based acceptance, risk-reward, pay-for-play, we deduce everything to an equation….a ying for a yang, an “I do, thus I deserve.”  Or worse, we feel entitled. “I deserve, because I am…”

But turn it around.

Ask “What I have I done to deserve God’s love?” “What value could I ever add to God so that I would “deserve” something back from him?”  Ridiculous.

When I stop and reflect on the enormity, pervasiveness, sweetness and constancy of God’s love and presence in my life, I can’t let the word “deserve” come off my tongue without feeling a blush of embarrassment and dishonesty.

When a soldier surrenders on the battlefield, he holds up the white flag.   He hopes for grace….there are international laws and conventions that say he’ll get it. But from his perspective, he is not worthy of anything.  He has nothing to trade.  He gave up.  He’s at the mercy of his captors.  His hope is not in what he deserves. His hope is in grace.

So be thoughtful before you banter around “I deserve” this and that. Remember that what you deserve is your God-less, unforgiven self and eternal life separated from God.

What God’s grace has given you is peace, love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.

And eternal life with Him and all those who love Him.


but greatly appreciated.

Question:  Do you feel like you are deserving? Of what?


Responses (4)

Brian Hall
Brian Hall Posted: April 1, 2012, 11:28 pm

This is probably my FAVORITE blog you have done. Pouting is usually an example of someone saying “I deserve”. I hate those words but think them way too often.

Regi Campbell
Regi Campbell Posted: April 2, 2012, 12:33 am

When my friend’s little boy would scream “That’s not fair”, his dad would say “Life isn’t fair son. If life were fair…if we all got what we deserve, we’d all burn in hell.” The 3 year old was scarred for life, but I learned a valuable principle from the story.

Alex Zorach
Alex Zorach Posted: October 9, 2012, 4:30 pm

I found this page really interesting, and it really resonates with me.

I also have developed a negative or skeptical view of the word “deserve” recently, although it’s a new occurrence in my life. Several years ago, for the season of lent, I took on the tough task of giving up the word “should”, because I found that it was, for me, tied to depression (beating myself up for things I “should have done” or “shouldn’t have done”) but it was also tied to vague senses of obligation (I feel like I “should” do this, but I often don’t have good reasons why). And I also had a bad habit of judging others using the word “should”–talking about what people should and shouldn’t do.

It turned out to take longer than the season of lent to get rid of the use of this word, but I’ve now mostly rooted it out.

More recently though, in large part due to discussions in Why This Way (a consensus-based religion which I participate in), I realized that the word “deserve” often masks a hidden “should”. I deserve X often can be construed as “I should get X”.

I also recently was reflecting on a sermon at an Episcopal church I have been attending recently, in which the pastor was emphasizing the message of Jesus, that God’s love is available to all people, without them needing to do anything (to “deserve” it). This seems to resonate a lot with what you’re saying in this post.

I think the idea of deserving things can potentially become dangerous and harmful, and lead people into unhealthy ways of thinking and acting, because it can get people judging the relative worthiness of others, kind of like you said here. I think when people start treating each other as having different inherent self-worths from each other, based on anything (their beliefs, wealth, racial/gender/class/religious identity, even their actions) it leads people down a bad road. So I guess I can see the word “deserve” as feeding into that whole unhealthy system.

Regi Campbell
Regi Campbell Posted: October 11, 2012, 1:16 am

Thanks for your comment Alex. I”m not familiar with the religious movement you referenced. I’m convinced that there is one true God who is the source of every breath I breathe and everything else that comes my way. I deserve nothing. It’s all “grace”. Undeserved blessings! It’s like a friend of mine told his son when he was crying “That’s not fair, Dad”. He turned to his boy and said “Son, if life was fair, we’d all burn in hell. But because of Christ’s death on the cross in our place, we’re spared from ‘fair’. Life isn’t fair. Be grateful it’s not”. A good word, although I’m sure his boy is now in counseling!

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