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You Don’t Have to Earn It

You Don't Have to Earn It
Throughout my life, I’ve had this itch, this need: to be someone who earned his keep, who produced enough to justify my existence. Simply being isn’t enough.

When I was a student, I imagined that once I got out into the workforce and had a full-time job, I would feel justified. I would be producing value, making a difference. Then I would feel like I had earned the food I eat, the clothes I wear, the gas I burn.

Then I got that job, working at a bank in Wichita. I helped people – especially folks in the Spanish-speaking community – carry out their financial transactions. I was doing good, necessary labor. I was giving back to society in tangible way. And yet, I still felt a deep emptiness inside. No matter how hard I worked, it didn’t feel commiserate with the abundance of goodness and comfort I enjoyed.

I’ve grown a lot since my job at the bank. Part of that growing has been learning to be less hard on myself. But to this day I have a tough time believing that I really deserve to live on this beautiful earth, to enjoy good food, safe housing, and rapid transportation. Billions have worked so hard to provide me with material wealth that I enjoy. It seems impossible to give back even a small portion of what I receive. I want to repay the debt I owe to so many, but I can’t.

And my debt isn’t just to other people. The reality is, every single one of us relies completely on the amazing gifts of the creation. All of this wealth and beauty that we as a species enjoy – we didn’t make any of it. We’ve never created a single tree, rock, or bird. All of the food, fuel, plants, and animals that we rely on come from something beyond us. It’s a pure gift that we could never have possibly earned, and can never repay.

For so long, I’ve felt a compulsion to repay all the good things that I receive, to somehow get square with the Creator. But I’m realizing that all I really need to do is say, “Thank you.”

I don’t have to earn my daily bread, to justify my existence through the work that I do or the value that I provide to human economies. God provides everything as a pure gift. Our job as human beings is to receive that gift, and to pass on the gift to those around us. What a beautiful reality, and how different from the stress-filled visions that our culture often feeds us!

In contrast to God’s economy of love and gratitude, we are frequently surrounded by messages of guilt and consumption. We are taught to think in terms of who owns what. We to live in a world governed more by property rights than by thanksgiving and wonder. Rather than embrace the awesome beauty of God’s reality, we are blinded by a mindset that sees the whole created order – even human beings – as property to be owned, and disposed of, as the owner sees fit.

This distorted vision has far-reaching implications. Our need to justify our own existence, our fixation on equal exchange and ownership, is the ideological foundation for environmental destruction. Our world is an unearned, unwarranted gift from God – a gift we should honor and cherish. Yet as long as we cling to the false story of debt, ownership, and self-sufficiency, we will continue to ravage this planet, seeking our justification in work that never was ours to do.

What would it feel like to rest in the knowledge that every single moment is a pure gift from our Creator? What would change if we truly believed that we don’t have to earn God’s love, our daily bread? How might our lives be different if our starting place was an acknowledgement of the gift, and an intention to pass on that gift to those around us?

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  • Nick Skelsey

    Micah, this is a great essay. I graduated from high school thinking that I could repay the debt you speak of.

    However, I am confronted by the moral bankruptcy of ‘holy’ men trying to prey upon that very feeling of emptiness. (For a citation see the televangelists.)

    To answer this I think that all we are left with is the simple line from Psalm 46.

    “Be still and know that I am God.”

    • Thank you, Nick.

      You are right, there are so many people – religious leaders, politicians, corporate interests, and more – who are seeking to take advantage of the emptiness we feel. I hope we can build strong communities that help ground us in something deeper and more fulfilling.