I feel like I haven’t done a rambling type post in a while, so it’s time to do one. As you may know, I have several books of journal prompts that I like to use to write in my diary from time to time. Sometimes, if I have a lot to say about a particular topic, or if it’s fun, or if I think my perspective might be interesting, I’ll write a blog post about it. Such is the case today.
The prompt that inspired my thoughts today comes from a book called 200+ Journal Prompt Ideas for the Mind, Body and Soul by Riley Reigns, and it goes like this:
What do you deserve best in life?
Now, that is quite a question. A rather, um, strange question, both in its essence and, according to my proofreading tool, even grammatically. And an annoying one for me, because I hate, HATE the word “deserve”. In most contexts, anyway. It’s so vague and clichéd and makes me roll my eyes most of the time when I hear it (well, at least inwardly, as I have nystagmus so can’t really do a convincing voluntary eyeroll 😀 ) and gives me terrible coach-speak vibes. A bit like the word “unique” when used to describe people, but in a different way, and being “deserving” is even worse than being “unique” 😀 When I wrote about it in my personal diary, I didn’t have an exact answer to this question (frankly, can you even have one?), but I had a lot of related thoughts rushing into my brain at the speed of light, so the resulting entry ended up lacking a bit of coherence. Which is totally fine, because it’s my diary and I actually prefer writing like this rather than after thinking things through, because it’s a more accurate reflection of my brain at the time, which in turn might be useful for a future Bibiel as a point of reference or for drawing conclusions or something. But of course I didn’t want that to be the case with my blog post. I felt I needed someone to help me sort out my thoughts a bit, and so, as is my wont when writing such posts, I turned to my Mum, about whom I knew she’d have a similar perspective to mine. My Mum agreed with my point of view for the most part, but didn’t really have any ideas of her own, as she admitted she’d never thought about it before. Still, we ended up talking about a few more aspects of ‘deserving’ that hadn’t occurred to me before. That’s why I love having these fun and deep conversations with my Mum. Next, to help me refine the jumble in my brain, I turned to everyone’s new favourite know-it-all polyglot pal – ChatGPT. – So he too (because he talks about himself as he in Polish, Polish verbs indicate the gender of the speaker) deserves some credit as a consultant and a little bit as a proof-reader, though the proof-reading is more courtesy of (also AI-powered) DeepL Write (the one who thought the question ungrammatical), which I prefer for this because it does its job very well without altering my writing style and making it sound bland and shallow, which is what ChatGPT does. And yes, I got his permission to write “Bibiel’z” instead of “Bibiel’s” in the title. So, with the credits out of the way, get yourself a coffee or whatever you like and let’s have a bit of a philosophical, a bit psychological, inevitably theological, but mostly terribly subjective, and hopefully just fun and interesting chat about deserving.
I think that I may be someone who is easily hurt, yet not someone who is easily offended. However, I suppose I have always been oddly sensitive to things around the subject of an individual’s worth, deserving or worthiness, because I have vivid memories, from a very early age, of watching various adverts on TV, especially those aimed at women, and also those for candy and such, and feeling that they really did demean not only the intelligence of the viewer (as most adverts tend to do), but also something deeper, like their worth. Although of course, I didn’t always have these big words to put what I was thinking into 😀 Maybe it’s because my Mum is a bit like that, and she probably made loud observations about it in front of me. The most vivid memory I have is of hearing L’Oreal’s “Because you’re worth it” slogan countless times over the years, and flinching at it. Because I’m worth what? Your cosmetics? I mean, really? Thank you, what a flipping honour! Like, wow, I didn’t even realise that. But is that really all I’m worth? I know they don’t say it explicitly, and it’s meant to sound empowering or whatever, but am I seriously the only one who finds this stuff patronising and low-key insulting?
And the whole deserving thing is often a very similar kettle of fish. “You deserve this. You deserve love. You deserve to feel good. You deserve some rest.” Well, who doesn’t? And ultimately, who gets to judge what you deserve? It certainly shouldn’t be us, because we can’t be objective about our efforts and achievements, and we have a terrible tendency to justify ourselves whenever we do something wrong. But neither can other people, because they never have access to the whole picture and have an equally terrible tendency to judge others harshly without having the full picture. More importantly, and more interestingly to me at least, why do we deserve? The etymology of the word implies that it involves some kind of service, and if you serve well you may deserve something. We might think that someone deserves a rest because they’ve worked hard all day. That makes sense. But if that’s the case, does that mean that, for example, sick people who can’t work because of their illness don’t deserve a rest? Of course they do! But if we insist on using the word “deserve”, it seems only logical to me to ask “what for”. Or what makes one deserving of love? Is it being lovable or loving others? Then do people who don’t seem lovable (which I think is a very subjective thing anyway), or have some deficiencies in that area, or can’t express their love in the right way, don’t deserve to be loved?
I’d like to approach this from a theological-ish perspective because that seems to make the most sense to me. But it’s a difficult and delicate subject, and I don’t know if I’m completely right about everything I’m going to say, and it’s probably going to be quite simplistic, because I think I may still have a lot of gaps in my knowledge and understanding of a lot of things related to the faith, which are only gradually being filled in since I turned to the Catholic tradition just over a year ago, and I still have some leftover errors or inaccuracies in my thinking. I mean, back when I was happily going to the Novus Ordo and all that, I thought I was quite knowledgeable on the subject, maybe even very knowledgeable, considering my age and all, but when we started exploring the tradition and going to the TLM (Traditional Latin Mass), I was quite quickly and starkly confronted with the shallowness and superficiality of my knowledge. Our Sofi, with the help of Mum, is now doing a sort of correspondence catechetic course for children, and I like listening to her do it, because both I and Mum still learn a lot of new things from these catecheses that we either didn’t know about and certainly weren’t taught in religion classes or anything like that, or just never thought about before. And this particular course she’s doing now is actually for children a year younger than Sofi and is pretty basic, I think. :O Oh yeah, and let’s not forget that most of the Catholic stuff I read or listen to is in Polish, because I just prefer it that way. It feels kind of weird and oddly trivial to do it in English, like it’s a different religion or something lol. For me it’s just like every language has a different purpose I guess. So my wording here might be a bit weird at times.
As a Catholic, I think there are two different ways of looking at it that can be compatible to a certain extent. Let’s call them the divine way and the secular way. Just for the purposes of this post, we’ll start with the secular way (albeit still from a Christian point of view, because that’s my point of view), to hopefully better illustrate and acknowledge the importance of the latter.
We are human, and as such we are the only beings in the world made in the image of God. This alone makes us inherently good, because God is good. He loves us, and the fact that we are made in His image and have immortal souls like Him means that we all have an inherent, innate dignity that cannot be taken away. This, in turn, makes us deserving of certain things in the eyes of our fellow human beings. For example, we deserve to live, we deserve to be loved and respected by our fellow people, we deserve to be treated in a humane way that reflects our dignity, and so on. As a result, we have our basic human rights, such as to have enough to eat, sleep, rest, etc. In a sense, we can say that we deserve all these things. But do we literally “deserve” them? Personally, I don’t think so. A much more appropriate phrase here would simply be that we have a right to them. These two expressions may be very closely related, and in some contexts may even work well as mutual synonyms, and I guess I can sort of see why “deserve” may sometimes be a more appealing alternative, but generally they are not synonyms, because again, deserving implies some kind of service. We may or may not have done anything special to deserve any of these basic things, but we still have a moral right to them. So the conclusion of thinking about deserving in a secular way would be that Bibiel “deserves” (if we really insist on using this particular phrase) pretty much the same things as everyone else, and there’s nothing special that Bibiel “deserves best in life”.
Now let’s move on to the divine way. As I’ve said before, God loves each and every one of us infinitely, because our souls are made in His image, and so we are the pinnacle of His creation. There is nothing that we ourselves have done to make Him love us, to make us the pinnacle of God’s creation, or to make us the most like Him in all of creation. There’s nothing we have done or are doing that makes us good, whether humanity as a whole or each individual. All the good that is in us, all the virtues and impulses to do good that we have, all the good that we do, comes from Him. He gave us countless precious gifts when He created us, and none of them were because of anything we did. Just because it was His whim to do so, if I may put it so colloquially, and because He could. What we have done, however, is to turn away from Him towards sin, original sin and then actual sins, which has caused our souls to become tainted, His image in them to become less clear, and our bond with Him to weaken. Yet, despite our weakness, God continues to love us no less and continues to shower us with gifts, both material and spiritual, every single day, most importantly by letting His own Son die to save us. He continues to offer us help and to give us new opportunities and more grace to change, and He rewards the slightest effort on our part, even though, strictly speaking, if it weren’t for His infinite love and mercy towards us, none of our efforts would matter at all, because we are just tiny, insignificant pieces of dust compared to His greatness, and if He were only just and not merciful, offending Him even once venially could make us suffer serious consequences both here on earth and in eternity. Yet, as I said, He continues to care for us and provide for us in every way. When you consider it all and think about it more deeply, what He’s doing seems totally crazy, when looking at it with people logic. And of course He doesn’t give His graces only to His most faithful and heroically virtuous children, not even only to all those who have been christened. His common grace, i.e. all the undeserved blessings that people receive from God, such as health, talents, happiness, the beauty that exists in the world, etc., etc., are given to ALL people. And let’s just think about the word “grace” and what exactly it means in Christianity for a minute. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as: “Free and unmerited favour of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings”. The Catechism of St. Pius X (which I use as the only traditional catechism I have found in electronic format) gives the following definition of grace: “Grace is an inward and supernatural gift, given to us without any merit of our own, but through the merits of Jesus Christ, in order to gain eternal life”. Free and unmerited. There’s even a kind of grace called gratuitous grace, or grace freely given, which term shows this even more clearly. So if all the good things we have are because of God’s grace, and we theoretically deserve much worse because of our sinful nature, even if some of these blessings are given to us because we are sort of entitled to them as God’s creation, then it seems even clearer that we don’t really “deserve” these good things in any way. At the same time, however, we are supposed to be God’s servants, and if we serve well, we can acquire merits that will help us on our way to salvation, although our merits alone are not enough to save us, because they only have value when they are combined with the infinite merits of Jesus, which He acquired for our sake during His earthly life and especially on the Cross. These merits of ours are meant to be more like proof that we actually care about our salvation and are willing to make an effort to achieve it, rather than actually contributing directly to our salvation as such, because Jesus’ merits would be enough for that. We can acquire our merits by doing all kinds of good deeds or offering things up to God, as long as our intentions are completely pure and the soul is in the state of sanctifying grace, otherwise they have no value. Such merits, in turn, will further increase God’s graces in a soul, making it much easier for us to attain salvation. So while we often say that from a Catholic/Christian perspective we deserve nothing and everything is gratuitously given to us by God, just because He felt like it, I think in a sense we can talk about deserving, because we have to deserve salvation, even if in the end it is not by our own merits that we can be saved. It is not given to everyone and you have to serve God here on earth before you gain it. Going back to our prompt, this still leaves us with much the same conclusion as if we looked at deserving in a secular way. There is nothing that Bibiel “deserves best in life”, because all the great things Bibiel has in this life are completely undeserved, and it’s certainly not Bibiel who gets to judge what Bibiel or anyone else deserves best in eternal life, instead Bibiel should rather focus on the serving part for now.
So yeah, outside of that very narrow and specific religious context, and a few other contexts where the word actually makes perfect sense, I just don’t like the word “deserve”.
As the regular people here will know, as well as being a Christian, I am also someone who has AVPD (Avoidant Personality Disorder), and this is probably why I cringe a lot when pondering such egocentric questions as this one, and which could potentially affect my feelings about deserving in general to some extent. For those who might be new or something and don’t know what AVPD is, let me just explain it VERY basically and briefly. It is like a more extreme and generalised form of social anxiety, causing social inhibition in most if not all social situations. It is also characterised by strong feelings of inadequacy and inferiority, and a higher than normal sensitivity to criticism and/or rejection. It interferes with all kinds of relationships and social interactions and causes a kind of intense loneliness that doesn’t lift when you’re around people, in fact it’s often quite the opposite because when you’re around people, it can make you feel even more alienated. So, given what AVPD is, I guess it makes sense that it could potentially make people feel less deserving or worthy of anything. On a cognitive level, I may realise and believe what I wrote earlier, that Bibiel deserves and is worthy of the same things as everyone else, but emotionally it never quite sinks in. To be honest, I’m always quite baffled and confused when someone seems to like me, because why the flip would they? 😀 I must be deluding myself if I think they do. I feel this way even more if I like the person a lot myself. Similarly, on an emotional level, it’s confusing to me when people seem interested in me, even on such a basic level as asking “How are you?”. I usually assume they’re just making polite small talk and don’t give half a flip about how I’m actually doing, because why would they be interested in that? If I answer honestly and with anything longer than “Fine, thanks”, I later get cringe fits thinking I must have bored them to death with my talk about how beautifully Misha purred today and/or my own messy brain and whatever’s going on in it at the time. Or sometimes I think that when people ask questions that make them seem interested, they must have some ulterior motive, like they’re either being sarcastic or doing it out of pity for me or whatever. When I have what I call AVPD flare-ups for short (so when my AVPD symptoms get worse than my baseline), I tend to struggle with things like eating or basic self-care. It’s hard to explain and put into words, but it feels like the fact that I have to eat makes me extremely weak and needy, and I’d rather not have those needs, so I pretend I don’t have them. It sounds ridiculous and almost pathetic to say this, but in a way I suppose you could say that at times like this I somehow feel that I don’t deserve things like food. In the same way, I find a lot of basic self-care pointless, because when you feel intense self-loathing, why bother looking good? Things are complicated by the fact that I’m disabled and there are a lot of things I can’t do independently, like more complex meals or some personal hygiene stuff, and help isn’t really something I deserve either, according to Maggie, my stinky and snarky inner critic. I struggle with these things less now than when I was a teenager, but I still have these feelings, no matter what I think cognitively or what someone tells me, even if I believe them rationally. In general, there seem to be a lot of things that I think are more than OK for other people to have or do: normal relationships with people, sharing their deeper feelings spontaneously without cringing for the next 20 years, giving and receiving physical and verbal affection normally, etc. But whenever I think I’d like to experience one of these things freely, I immediately hear Maggie cackling and saying in her cynical tone something like: “Oh, really, Bibiel?!” So, to look at the prompt question from the AVPD point of view (which is always an unusual point of view, considering how rarely AVPD is talked about), I wanted to ask Maggie how she would answer this question, but she just snorted at it. So I asked another peep in my highly populated and diverse paracosm/brainworld – Fiadh (it’s just pronounced sort of like FEE-uh, in case you can’t work it out, it’s an Irish name) – who is much more likeable and not as nasty as Maggie, but who embodies a lot of my AVPD feelings, for lack of a less awkward way to put it – and she giggled and said: “Misha’s shit”. It’s actually hilarious! 😀
So, over to you, dear people. What do you think you deserve most in life? And what do you think about deserving in general, no matter what angle(s) you’re looking at it from? I’m really curious! 🙂