I once walked by Rhema’s little classroom and observed her teacher using edibles as a reinforcer. The motivator of choice was pretzel sticks, broken into tiny pieces. Every time Rhema gave good eye contact or imitated her teacher’s nonverbal action (clapping her hands), she was rewarded with one tiny piece of pretzel.
Many of our kids learn the concept of “earning it” early on – from mini-marshmallows to token boards, they know how to work for their reward.
At times Rhema has tried to grab the pretzel out of turn. Her teacher has responded, “No, honey. You have to earn this.”
That phrase reminded me of the movie Saving Private Ryan. I’m not into war flicks (particularly right about now), but I’ll never forget the closing scene of that movie. A small company of soldiers are tasked with finding Private Ryan and bringing him safely home. Ryan has already lost three brothers in the war (WWII), and the Army has decided to rescue him as he is the last remaining son.
Private Ryan is played by the adorable Matt Damon. Now don’t you think he looks just like my soldier???
Not so much? Oh well. A girl can dream.
Anyway, at the end of the of the film, most of the company are killed while trying to save Ryan’s life. As the commander is dying (played by Tom Hanks) he whispers to Ryan, “James… earn this. Earn it.” It’s a powerful scene, and the whole movie contemplates, What is the value of one person’s life? Ryan seems to struggle with that question the rest of his life. How could he possibly “earn it”, that is, the sacrifice of 6 men giving their lives in exchange for his?
We get it in our heads that we must earn everything – friendship, acceptance, value. As I’ve blogged about before, I have been the somewhat reluctant recipient of many gifts lately. They have come in the form of encouraging words, prayers; people spending time with me and my girls, bringing us meals, helping me with the laundry… and the latest… gifting me with a rug to replace the one damaged in my radiator-flood-catastrophe.
One of the hardest things about receiving all of this is that I did nothing to earn it. It’s just people being plain good to me – no strings attached, no expectation of recognition or reward. It’s like I’m getting to eat the whole pretzel, and I didn’t do anything for it!
For me, again I’m brought back to the truth of God’s saving work. We did nothing to deserve His gracious gift, nothing to earn His great sacrifice for us. And yet, indeed He was willing to die that we might live. He judged our lives so worthy that He would sacrifice of His own. Not because of anything we have done, but simply because He loves us… incredibly.