The Problem with Focusing on What one “Deserves”

The other day, my mind took me to a place I’m guessing many of you are familiar with. Someone to whom I have only showed kindness and concern behaved in a way that hurt me. In the scheme of things it wasn’t a major thing, but my feelings were badly hurt. As I was driving to work, I played and replayed the person’s action in my mind and I felt myself thinking, “I didn’t deserve that. Given how I’ve behaved toward him/her, I deserved better.”

As soon as the thought of what I thought I deserved entered my mind, the hurt felt so much worse. The hurt of the actual behavior of the person was magnified many times over by my reaction that I received bad treatment I did not deserve.

And as soon as I focused on that, two things came to my mind simultaneously. Jesus suffering mockery, torture and death he didn’t deserve – and how he dealt with that. And me, receiving the incredible, unconditional love and constant presence of God that I have done nothing to deserve.

Here is the reality: We don’t always get what we deserve. Sometimes we get treated badly when we don’t deserve it. That’s just he way it is. We can be kind and loving toward another and they can still treat us in an unkind and unloving manner. We notice those times very quickly.

But is it also the case that we get a lot we don’t deserve (and we think a whole lot less about this). Someone to whom I’ve done nothing to warrant it treats me with an extraordinary kindness. I get a gift I’ve done nothing to deserve. And, of course, I am the beneficiary of extraordinary gifts from God I’ve done nothing to merit.

As I reflected on all of this, it occurred to me that maybe we’d be a whole lot better off if we didn’t think in terms of what we “deserve.” If we can learn to accept bad treatment the way Jesus did – responding in love no matter what he was subject to. And to be grateful for the good things we receive.

It is not easy. I think the pull to think in terms of what we deserve is strong. But I think if we can let go of that, we will have much peace of mind.

Although was not part of the reflection that prompted this post, after I wrote it, it also occurred to me that, although we don’t tend to focus on our getting more than we deserve, we are really quick to notice when someone else gets more than we think they deserve. And that really makes us unhappy. So not thinking in terms of what others deserve is as helpful as not thinking in terms of what we deserve.