When something good happens to me, I’m often afraid it’s too good to be true.
I almost expect any joy I experience to be paired with pain or sorrow. My brain can’t accept the concept of pure, isolated, unadulterated joy.
And it’s true that often our greatest joys are discovered in times of great pain, so the two often do go together.
Perhaps it is important to make a distinction between joy and happiness. Happiness typically requires the absence of pain. Joy is often most salient in the presence of pain. Like a jewel offset by its dark surroundings, it gleams more brightly when sorrow encroaches.
Yet it is sometimes possible to experience delight (at least happiness, perhaps joy) that is unmingled with sorrow.
Unfortunately, I’ve often spent moments of delight looking (watching and waiting) for the suffering I expect to ensue, preventing myself from consummately enjoying the beauty of those moments.
The Price of Joy
Ever been afraid of something good happening to you? Or afraid when something good happens?
You feel like you don’t deserve it.
You fear that when you experience a blessing, you’ll have to pay for it sooner or later.
You’re sure there will be a price, because it’s not possible for something good to just happen to you without some form of suffering or cost on your part.
Perhaps you’re even afraid to enjoy that good thing because you know it must not be the end of the story.
In a position of high responsibility or honor? You expect to get fired or do something to lose your employer’s or clients’/followers’ trust and respect.
Is someone interested in you? You expect that to change once they get to know the real you.
Is your marriage too wonderful? You expect it to turn sour a few years down the road.
Able to play the piano? You fear losing your hands and hearing.
I worry about a lot of things. Maybe not all of the things above yet, but whenever something good happens in my life, I often find myself incapable of fully enjoying it, because I believe that I don’t deserve it and that it will come to an end.
And the reality is, I don’t deserve it.
as it is written,
“There is none righteous, not even one;
– Romans 3:10
But I have a loving God who delights in giving good gifts to his creation. Even to those who have wronged him (which would be all of us).
Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!
– Jesus, Matthew 7:9-11
God sent his son – himself incarnate – to suffer and die a brutal death on our behalf, because a sacrifice had to be made for our sin, and that sacrifice had to be perfect, blameless, and holy (which only Christ was).
God gave us a good gift, even when we did not deserve it.
Yet this concept is hard for someone like me – for a lot of us – to grasp, because we’re so used to quid pro quo.
If you give me this, I’ll give you that.
What’s in it for me?
What’s the damage? What do I owe?
You get what you deserve. You don’t get what you don’t deserve. That’s how we understand the world and life to work (at least, in a lot of arenas).
Receiving something good that we do not deserve seems such a foreign concept (even though this phenomenon happens all the time in the world).
But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
– Jesus, Matthew 5:44-45
A lot of people also seem to suffer in ways that they don’t deserve, and a lot of “extra evil” people seem to be unfairly rewarded for their atrocities.
But even though these things happen, they don’t seem “right” in our minds. They don’t seem like the way things should be.
What seems “right” to us is that we shouldn’t be blessed at all if we are awful (sinful) people.
What seems “right” to us is that the only way to become deserving of something good is to perform good works.
Yet all our works are as a filthy garment before God.
For all of us have become like one who is unclean,
And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment;
And all of us wither like a leaf,
And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
– Isaiah 64:6
When we are reminded of our sin, it’s hard to grasp the idea of us receiving such a wonderful gift that we know we ourselves cannot possibly earn.
Until my health completely went down the drain, I considered myself a very self-sufficient person.
I wanted to be responsible for my own path, success, and provision.
In reality, I’ve never been self-sufficient. But for a long time, I was dancing with the illusion of self-sufficiency.
We did not make the air we breathe.
We did not create our bodies which are capable of working and thinking.
We did not feed ourselves as babies.
Most of us don’t grow most of the food we eat.
And those of us who do still didn’t create the elements, molecules, or laws of chemistry and biology which result in the synthesis of life-giving organisms which supply vitamins and antioxidants which are safe for our consumption and effective in sustaining our complex vessels.
Most of us rely – or have relied in the past – on employers for our livelihood.
And those of us who are entrepreneurs rely on other people to bring us business.
Self-sufficiency is an illusion.
This realization was painful for me. And it still stings sometimes.
However, since I’ve come to acknowledge (by utter necessity more than desire) my dependency on God and even other human beings – for compassion, kindness, provision, care – I’ve entered a place of inexplicable peace and rest that I’d never known before.
I like gifts primarily because they’re practical. I don’t like the way they remind me of my reliance upon others.
The concept of receiving a free gift that I do not deserve and cannot earn is something I’ve wrestled with for much of my life.
I don’t want to need a gift. I want to be able to meet my own needs. Or at least to have completely earned a gift if I receive it.
And yet, the very nature of a gift is that it is generally unsolicited, unearned, and there is nothing required in return. If there is, the gift becomes simply a good – a commodity – within a transaction.
This kind of love that gives to the undeserving is not a human form of love, so it’s hard for us to comprehend.
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts.
– Isaiah 55:8-9
Although it grates painfully against our urge to perform, achieve, buy, or earn, there are no works that we could possibly perform that would bring us even close to earning eternal life. And our evil deeds cannot be undone through performing good works.
They can only be wiped out through the good work of a perfect Savior, who loved us enough to humble himself to the point of being savagely scourged and killed for crimes He didn’t even commit. He, the epitome of power and strength, rejected self-sufficiency for a time so that we could forever be sufficient in him.
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