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Empty Hands

I have a notebook in which I write texts and phrases that have meant something to me. One of these is ‘You are deserving because you are loved, not loved because you are deserving.’ I’ve just checked this, which is when I realised that I’ve changed it to ‘You are worthy because you are loved, not loved because you are worthy.’ [As far as I know, I didn’t read this anywhere, and it’s not copyright, but if it is, let the Community know, and I will acknowledge the source.] It is something I repeat to myself fairly regularly, for while I know and acknowledge the truth, and while I also know and acknowledge God’s love, there are levels where I do not always believe this.

During the various lockdowns that have happened over the past year, I have had time and space to live with myself on a deeper level. As I live on my own, it has in some ways been like an extended time in retreat. I have become far more aware of how much I try to prove to God that I am worthy of salvation, despite an (at least) intellectual knowledge that this is impossible. I want to come before God saying ‘look, I am worthy, I did all this’. Yet we can’t. I can’t. The only way to come before God is with empty hands. Here I am, Lord, use me as You will.

Yet, however much I know this on an ever deepening level, I still need to prove myself to God. I need to prove myself worthy – possibly not so much in God’s eyes, as in other peoples. Somewhere I read that the oldest child is often a conformer, and as the oldest, I have always conformed. I have realised over the past year, how much I try to match other people’s expectations, and how much I feel guilty when I don’t. I have an inner voice, who has learnt what she thinks others expect, and is continually telling me when I don’t match up.

For, deep down, I know I don’t. I’ve always identified with the unworthy servant in the parable of the talents, and with the unwise virgins in that parable. So I’ve known I have to prove myself worthy, and I’ve known it’s an impossible job. It’s felt at times like I’m on one of those wheels you get in hamster cages – going round and round and round, never stopping or arriving anywhere.

But this is all unnecessary. I am not worthy because I do lots of wonderful things (do I do lots of wonderful things??); I will not get saved for what I do, whatever that is and however valuable it is, or isn’t. I am deserving because I am loved, not loved because I am deserving. Any worth, any value I have comes because I am loved by God; because in the amazingness of the universe, each individual is created by and loved by God.

That is all we need to know. It is all we need to come before God saying. We can only come before our Lord with empty hands, yet with the knowledge that we are loved. We cannot buy ourselves salvation. That has all been dealt with.

It is in the knowledge that we are loved that we can go out and do, whatever it is that we do. It is in God’s love that we follow in the Way; it is that love that we are – amazingly – called to find ourselves rooted, and to come to know ever more fully, and ever more deeply. You are deserving because you are loved, not loved because you are deserving.

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