Earn This

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???
matt_damon    b_lookalike

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.

14 thoughts on “Earn This

  1. You have “earned” it! You are a good friend and an inspiration to many. If the shoe was on the other foot, you’d be first in line to help out.

    If you and a few others only knew how many times, your words have kept me going in some of the darkest hours, you would know just how much, you’ve earned!

    Love ya!

    • Thanks Kristin. My thoughts on my husband’s deployment are rather jumbled and hard to explain. i was just telling a friend that when it comes to military sacrifice, i have never felt like anyone should thank me. my husband, yes. but not me. someone has to do that job and i just happen to be married to someone who chose to do it…

      also, i’m just as indebted to all the men and women in uniform as the next person. in short, i don’t feel quite deserving of all that has been given to me and my family recently – the love, prayers and support has been mind-blowing. but it reminds me of God’s gracious goodness – how He richly blessed undeserving me with the greatest gift of all.

      hope that makes a little sense…

  2. Jeneil……Thank you Thank you Thank you. I needed to hear just this! Well I agree with Kristin and Jenn, because your family is doing amazing things. I also disagree, I like the idea that there are some things that we receive that we could have never earned. And through grace we accept these as gifts and nothing more. Not repayment for a debt that is owed to us just gifts out of love.

    I have done nothing to earn the sacrifice my Savior made for me on the cross. He died before I had earned it. It was a gift given to me out of love. A gift I could never repay. What I do with that gift is up to me.

    Your words have been a gift to me.

  3. oh darlin, with all due respect – challenge. you’ve ‘earned’ every bit of kindness that you’ve found. and while brandon may be the one who is physically deployed, there is no denying that the entire family makes it possible. 

    what I wrote to you the other day sums it all up for me … 

    i know that you feel like you’re ‘accepting’ something by taking the kindnesses that you have found in your life in recent days. and i know it can be uncomfortable. and i get that. 

    want to know why i get it? because all of us  have had to learn how to accept the gifts that you and yours have been giving US. 

    WE have had to figure out how to humble ourselves and accept the tremendous sacrifices that y’all have made (and continue to make every day) on our behalf. we have had to swallow our pride, bow our heads and simply say thank you. 

    BUT we cannot do that without taking responsibility for helping to care for you just as you take care of us. we cannot stand by when there is finally something – some tiny little thing – that we can do to reach out, to show you that the caring runs both ways. 

    in so many ways, my friendship with you has opened my eyes and my heart. you have shown me what it means to be a family of God’s children. and i am grateful.

  4. I think the gifts you have received are representative of God’s love (grace) in the world, between us.

    Indeed accepting His love (as our Savior) or from others meant to grace us is part of our faith walk.

    Indeed your words are a gift to me, too.

    Placing an exchange value on gifts, denigrating gifts to the realm of earned wages could be considered ungodly.

    If you want to explore the pretzels-for-performance technique, I did several posts earlier this year (before we knew each other) on that kind of technique, starting with this one:


    And I think B is handsomer.

  5. Thanks, Jeneil. I was already at your “punchline” before I got there. But it is so good to be reminded of it every day. It is too each to forget in the middle of the chaos.

    I think Brandon is cute and looks like Matt Damon, you don’t need to dream. I’m going to miss him at next month’s Navigator’s retreat.

  6. Your stories and your writing are always such a beautiful reflection of your faith.

    “We get it in our heads that we must earn everything – friendship, acceptance, value.” How heavy the weight of this notion. Thank God for the contrast in his truth; free and unconditional love that just is.

    And by the way, puppies are adorable. Baby booties are adorable. Hope, is adorable. Matt Damon is smokin’ hot. I think given the parallel you’ve drawn here, Angel Cake’s with me on this one. Amen, AC??

  7. The best six minutes of my day thus far.

    God doesn’t require we “earn it”, but I’d like to think he asks us to live it… like we mean it… like we “get it”.

    The grace I’ve tasted has been rich and full and broken me to my core. The lengths for which my Father’s love has traveled on my behalf to save me makes little sense to me. After all, I’m just one, but somehow, I don’t think my “oneness” diminished God’s willingness on the front end. I think my one, along with your one, along with a world full of ones, increased it.

    Blessings, Sister America; you’re teaching me much about sacrificial love and about the worth behind the sunburned faces of Ethiopia. No wonder you love so lavishly; God has richly prepared you for the road you now walk.

    As I read about your October while currently living in this October, I’m reminded again that none of our experiences in this life are ever wasted. We can refuse the learning, but as we bow to them, bend to them and allow them to shape us accordingly, God strengthens our wisdom, our wills, and our hearts for the journey ahead. I imagine you understand (perhaps more than most) just exactly what this means. You’ve lived it. You’re living it.

    peace and prayers for all of you this day~elaine

    PS: For the record, I think there’s a striking resemblance between the two soldier boys… with you getting the better end of the stick because your man comes with a lavish love and unconditional devotion to you and your daughters.

  8. You deserve every bit of goodness that comes your way- for you sound wonderful
    I have made my peace with getting – I just treat it like pay it forward
    Not in terms of returning kindness but in terms of doing someone else a kindness
    Your DH is very handsome

  9. Your friendship, your prayers, your thoughtful words, your kind spirit – you have “earned” every gift you have received, and then some! And hey – I’d much prefer a clone of Brandon than of Matt Damon!

  10. Pingback: veteran’s day « a diary of a mom

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