why we celebrate undeserved rewards

Today at school, my daughter received an award for integrity. The irony of this was not lost on me, as we had an incident just a couple days ago where her integrity was in question. When I found out about something she had hidden from me, we talked about doing the right thing and being honest about our mistakes. 

As my children get older, I find myself thinking more and more about what they will be like as preteens, teens, and young adults. I am realizing that more than their good behavior or even their integrity, I want their trust. When they make terrible mistakes that are hurtful to themselves and others, I want to be the first one they run to for help. I know the pain of shame and want to be there to let them know that they are loved and accepted and treasured, no matter what.

After our conversation, I circled back to reassure her that I love her always, no matter what mistakes she makes. I squatted down, asked her to lift her head and look in my eyes. “Do you see that I love you?” I asked. She lifted her face, battling her own shame, and looked into my eyes before nodding tearfully. I hugged her, gave her some space, and then we moved on with our evening.

Today, we celebrated the many, many times she has gotten it right, even though we both knew about a time when she blew it just recently. I listened to the teachers as they presented awards and described the recipients through the use of lots of absolutes… “These students always help others… are never dishonest…. always do the right thing…” I smiled to myself and thought, “Maaaaaybe we are exaggerating just a teensy bit.” Because  not a single child is perfect, I knew that, in a sense, not a single one of them deserved the award she was receiving. Isn’t that how it is for all of us, though? Isn’t that grace–learning to receive the rewards which God and I both know I don’t deserve?

Even as we cheered and celebrated these precious children, I whisper a prayer that my children will mess up enough to know their need for a Savior. Only when we are confronted with our desperate need for a Savior do we truly begin to grasp the height and depth of His mercy and perfect love that casts out fear.

I wasn’t really there to celebrate my daughter’s honesty, even though it’s a value our family holds dear and I’m very proud of all the times she chooses to tell the truth. I want my children to be people who develop a strong character, but that wasn’t the real reason I came to that crowded assembly in the middle of flu season, squirmy three year old in tow. Really, I was there to celebrate her because it was a moment that mattered to her. I am proud of that kid beyond belief, simply because she’s my daughter. 

When I think of my child as a teen and imagine her making a mistake that leaves her in a desperate or dangerous situation, my heart would be broken if I found out that she didn’t come to me at a time when she needed me most. And then I wonder… how many times have I broken my heavenly Father’s heart in my stubborn refusal to allow myself to be rescued? Perhaps the greatest mistake we ever make is when we try to go it alone, allowing shame and pride to keep us from the Rescuer.
After we blow it, let us allow Jesus to lift our heads from shame, gaze into our teary eyes, and say with all the authority that belongs to Him, Do not be afraid. Fix your eyes on Me, and I will keep you in perfect peace. I love you always, no matter what mistakes you make. Nothing can separate you from My perfect love.”

For Christians, Christmas is a celebration of the most undeserved gift possible. In fact, it is so undeserved, it really isn’t possible, but God made a way to break into our world and save us from ourselves. If we find ourselves feeling less than celebratory, it may be a symptom of our failure to recognize our great need for Him juxtaposed with the depth of His grace. When you fail, don’t let shame be the end of the story. Let’s not miss or pretend to be unaware of the depth of our mistakes, and let’s not minimize the depth of the perfect love and grace that waits, ready to rescue. 

Jesus is pleased with our obedience and blesses us when we do what is right, but oftentimes, before the confetti even has a chance to fall, we have messed up again. When that happens, He lavishes His undeserved love on us. And when you find yourself in the very best place, abiding in Christ, His arms wrapped around you as He holds you in love, you might just feel safe enough to whisper to Him, “We both know I don’t deserve this,” to which He responds, “That is true. But. I don’t love you because of what you do or don’t do. I love you because you are Mine.”

One response to “why we celebrate undeserved rewards”

  1. I love that she won an award for integrity when she had recently fallen in that area. It’s like God reminding her—what you did is not who I made you to be. You are my daughter, and my daughter has integrity. I also love how you pointed out that we won’t ever get it perfectly right, but how we wouldn’t need Him if we did.


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