The gospel story implies what is sometimes difficult to believe and almost impossible to live.  It is audacious and crude, yet lovely and gracious at the same time.  The implication is this:  The highest power in all the universe finds worth in humans.  More personally, God finds you and me worthy of redemption.  John 3:16 summarizes this Christian concept:  For God so loved the world, he gave his only begotten son so that everyone that believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.

While this is a life changing doctrine, it is not a magical incantation.  In other words, I cannot simply utter John 3:16 over anyone (myself included) and expect immediate soul sweeping change.  This belief must be cultivated in our lives.  Like a seed that is planted the doctrine must be nurtured and cared for.  But God is not the only gardener in the garden.  We are ultimately in control of our spiritual lives.  We have a choice of nurturing our belief in our innate worthiness (as presented in scripture) or reinforcing our faults and shortcomings as proof that worthiness must be earned.

No greater time is our sense of worthiness challenged than when we are mistaken, late or at fault.   King Saul was greatly mistaken in his pursuit of David’s life.  King Saul had disobeyed the God of Israel and, through the prophet Samuel, God chose David to replace King Saul.  Saul’s obsession with David’s death distracted him from his royal duties.  The mental and spiritual absence of a king caused the people of Israel to suffer military defeat.  My theory is that Saul could not see himself as worthy to God for whatever reason (his failure or his jealousy).  He felt his title as King and his sense of belonging to God was to be earned by protecting his legacy from David.  Saul lost his way.  He became a man obsessed with the destruction of his God chosen successor.

David had failure in his royal tenure too. But David never lost his sense of worthiness.  In Samuel 17, David sins by ordering a man to the front lines of battle while David seduced his wife.  A child is conceived from David’s union with Bathsheba.  David married the widow but the child died.  He does not “shake it off”.  David mourns.  I believe David never lost his sense of worth to God because he gave himself grace – time and space to experience deep sadness and loss.  When we believe that we are worth God’s love, the sacrifice of God’s son and the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit, we lovingly care for ourselves.  (After all, God has deemed us worthy.  Who can argue with that?)  David embraced his worthiness by caring for his soul. He gave to himself what he needed.  In doing so, he honored God and emerged a better king.

Everyday little actions and thoughts are opportunities for us to offer care to our internal and physical selves.  We give what we need and nurture John 3:16 within our souls.  Imagine that God has permanently “liked” you on Facebook…forever!

What does it look like to nurture John 3:16 inside ourselves?  Sometimes we need rest, other times we need to give ourselves permission to be imperfect, sad, or angry.  For my husband, he needs to give himself permission to step away from our family and spend an hour at the gym.  For me, I need permission to be lazy and have a do-nothing day.  Those acts of care reinforce that we are worthy of God’s love, worthy of being nurtured by ourselves and others.  We emerge more wholehearted people living out of John 3:16.  Worthiness is cultivated, not earned.

On a personal note….

I never realized how much I thought worthiness had to be earned.  One day I was the attending chaplain to a death during my CPE residency.  Being a good federal employee, I followed policy and procedure.  The point had come in the pastoral care to fill out the paper work with the family.  Clearly, they were not ready.  I gave them private time to huddle, cry and talk.  Not being one to look un-busy by standing in the hall way, I walked to the chaplain’s office.   My supervisor entered and asked what I was doing.  After I explained he said, “Amy, you give to others so easily what you deny yourself.”  He went into his office and closed his door.  I sat there confronted with my un-grieved grief of a miscarriage.  After two days of contemplation I began to wrap my head and heart around those words.  I had spent so much time earning my place by playing it cool or being happy….by God.  I had not given myself time to be sad or fearful or grieve losses.   Once I made time for those things (and it was a long process and it’s not over) I felt that worthiness did not have to be earned.  I began to feel the grace of God, instead of just study, read and preach about it.