Earning My Keep
“Stop trying to earn your keep.”
Tears flooded my eyes as my brain digested that statement, straight from the lips of my slightly disgruntled, trying-to-comfort-a-crying-wife-but-not-fully-knowing-why-she’s-crying-this-time husband. This. This spoke to every single one of my relationships and the anxiety I was currently feeling about all of them.
I have a confession to make. If I’m not careful, I could spend 95% of my days in a crumpled heap on the floor, letting all the mean thoughts I think about myself fill my head until I can’t remember what’s real and what’s just a big ol’ failure. However, thanks to wonderful, supportive people in my life, better thought systems, some fun things I learned in counseling in undergrad, and then just the grace and mercy of God, I live and function and only crumple into that heap on really bad days, such as the one I was having when this aforementioned conversation took place.
When Zach said this statement, it was one of those proverbial “aha” moments for me. I often feel a need, perhaps not so irrationally, to earn my keep in relationships: in my relationship with my husband, with my parents and family, with my friends, and most often, perhaps even most tragically, with the Lord.
I’m currently reading through the book of Deuteronomy as part of my Bible reading plan. In it, Moses constantly draws the children of Israel’s attention to the fact that they are smaller and weaker than the opponents they will face on the other side of the Jordan, but that this is by design. He goes further in chapter 9, saying, “It is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land” and “from the day that you left the land of Egypt until you arrived at this place, you have been rebellious against the LORD.” Not only were the Hebrews to remember that they were smaller in number than their opponents, but to remember that there was nothing about their own righteousness or religious efforts that commended them to this task. Rather, God chose them in spite of these things to accomplish His purposes and to bring Himself glory.
I think too often we believe that we have been chosen by life, God, or others because of some innate goodness within, some sort of characteristic or strength that commends us to the tasks that lay ahead. This sort of thinking led me to feeling the need to earn my keep and to a hyper-defensive posture in my conversations with others, where harmless comments could quickly be turned into direct attacks on my own capabilities.
But it’s not my own righteousness or good qualities that led me to be blessed with as good of a husband as I have in Zachary Adam, to end up in as beautiful a place as Cambridge, to have wonderful friends and family members, or in any way to be called a child of God. Instead of focusing on attempting vainly to earn my keep or trying to impress every single person in my life, I can relish the blessings I have been given and serve each of those relationships with the joy that comes from seeing the grace in them. I can be truthful about areas in which I fail or struggle, but those failures don’t have to lead to some sort of frenzied, let’s-make-up-for-all-my-problems-by-baking-a-cake kind of attempts for perfection or even perceived perfection.
The truth is, I could never earn my keep. But thanks be to God, His mercy says I don’t have to.