Not too long ago, I got hit by an 18-wheeler.
No. It wasn’t the big rig itself which struck me, but rather what was printed on the side of the vehicle.
It was a beautiful, white truck emblazened with a golden Marine Corps logo, which stood by these boldly proclaimed words: “Earned. Never Given.”
The reference, of course, was to “respect,” but in the philosophy of the Marine Corps as well as much of the world, it spoke to the larger belief of, “You get what you deserve.”
As a Marine Corps brat, I was raised on this core USMC philosophy, which is skillfully designed to recruit, train and manage the finest fighting force on the planet. There was no room for wimps or cowards and if you fail you only have yourself to blame. If you want to succeed in life, you need to raise yourself from your own bootstraps. There is no surrender.
My father, of whom I have enormous respect for due to his service to our country, taught me this from the time I took my first breaths.
Over time, this forged me into a highly competitive, goal driven, never-say-die individual who, by the world’s standards, has climbed many ladders.
But these beliefs also nearly killed my soul. Because ultimately they’re just not true. And they lead us to a very lonely, dissatisfying, empty place.
Earned. Never Given.
A day does not go by when I have to struggle with this mindset which is written into the core of my being. It holds me back more than anything else.
You see. It took me many years to realize that there is nothing of lasting value that I have ever earned on my own.
Respect among men? Fleeting. Awards and achievements? They end up dusty and yellowed and forgotten in the attic of my life.
It’s only through the grace of God where I have received all that really matters to me. I didn’t earn them. I didn’t deserve them. They came as free gifts from God. It’s what we call grace.
My wife? It’s a true mystery why she puts up with me. Grace.
My beautiful children? What a miracle it was that brought them into my life. Grace.
My faith? Why has God has forgiven and embraced such an unworthy individual? Grace.
In fact, if I’m honest with myself. Really completely honest. There is only one action I performed truly worthy of merit.
I quit the cycle of believing the lie that if I only worked harder, tried more intently, or crossed more obstacles that I would arrive at a special place of real, lasting value, where I could say, “I earned this.”
So I surrendered. I realized I couldn’t do it without God. And this act of surrender, was the most courageous act I performed, because it went against everything I was raised to believe. But it was all replaced with this truth:
Given. Never Earned.
I was relieved to learn that by embracing this, we won’t become spineless, lazy, unmotivated individuals. Instead, it transforms us with a strength much greater than our own and with a vision and a purpose much more profound.
Have you ever tasted the sweet victory of surrender?
Looking for more Michael? You might also enjoy The Terrible Truth About Christians
Michael K. Reynolds is a writer with more than two decades of experience in crafting fiction, non-fiction, journalism, copywriting and documentary production. He is represented by Janet Kobobel Grant of Books & Such Literary Agency.
He is the author of a series of Irish historical novels published by B&H Publishing Group. These highly acclaimed books are available in bookstores and libraries across the nation and beyond.