Undeserving

One of the biggest surprises of my recent Jeju trip was how much I enjoyed the Fulbright conference (the primary purpose of the trip).

Beforehand, I wasn’t particularly excited about sitting through 21 research presentations and then giving my own 15-minute presentation, but the presentations were actually one of the highlights of the trip.

I have some really amazing, intelligent, passionate, hilarious, interesting colleagues in this Fulbright program. I learned a lot from them in Jeju and left the conference really inspired.

But, my experience could have been very different if my view of myself hadn’t been righted before the conference.

Just a few months ago, I was intimidated by the prospect of presenting my research in front of the other Fulbrighters (as well as the staff).

What research? I suddenly felt guilty about how I had been spending my time here in Korea. What had I really been accomplishing? Not much, it felt. This presentation, though in reality quite short, felt like a burden. It’s primary purpose? To give the impression that I was more deserving than I actually was. To hide my inadequacy as a person and as a recipient of this prestigious scholarship.

Fortunately, I didn’t stay in that place. I not only began doing more research, but I recognized the significance of what I had already been doing. (Sometimes I forget how much preparation is required for a recital and that I can count all the effort I put in as legitimate work in my field.)

But a truth that hit me the night before I left for Jeju was what really changed my perspective: I am undeserving.  

That may seem like a strange source of a confidence boost, but that truth set me free.

The message at the Friday prayer meeting I attended right before my trip was all about grace. That is the central message and core of Christianity, that God offers us what we don’t deserve, but it was established in a deeper way inside me that night. The pastor asked people who had a hard time receiving God’s grace to stand up. I stood. He said,

“God’s word to you right now is: Submit to my grace.”

As I stood there, eyes closed, I realized how burdened I had felt by the need to earn. I needed to prove myself worthy of my Fulbright Scholarship. I needed to make up for every privilege and advantage I’d been given in life. I needed to make sure I made the most of every gift I had received, whether intellectual, musical, financial, situational, or relational.

But I heard those words, Submit to my grace, and something started to shift.

Two things that came to my mind in that moment:

My Fulbright Scholarship, which currently funds all my daily living here, and all the amazing spiritual breakthroughs I’ve been having at my church, New Philadelphia.

Why me?

Why should I get to enjoy 10 months of fully-funded living? Why should I get to experience all these revelations and transformations? What about all these other people who didn’t have these blessings? What made me worthier than them? How could I receive these gifts knowing that not everyone had been blessed in the same way?

Submit to my grace.

The world tells me I have to be productive, have to earn everything I get. And somehow it just leaves me feeling guilty and discontent with myself.

God tells me something different.

He told me that night, “I’m not disappointed with how you spent your day,” (which hadn’t been super-productive) “I was just glad to spend time with you. I loved it when you took your time going to FedEx this afternoon and we walked and talked together. That was all I wanted, to spend time with you.” (That was when the tears started to fall.)

Being at the Fulbright conference, hearing brilliant presentations by my peers, could have left me feeling intimidated and inadequate, but instead, I simply felt so thankful to be there listening. I could cheer on my colleagues warmly and sincerely, because I wasn’t worried about how I measured up. I had left that measuring stick behind. In presenting, I wasn’t there to prove anything, simply to share. (And I even got to play a Korean piece on a piano for everyone, which was really cool.)

The amazing thing about grace is how it frees you to live life to the fullest.

Sometimes I feel like I deserve this Fulbright Grant. Other days I don’t. But either feeling binds me to a need to earn. When I receive the grant as a gift, I am freed to truly make the most of it.

So I write this post unashamed to admit that I am undeserving. Because I know that, I can live my life unintimidated and unafraid. I walk in freedom, covered by the grace of Him who died that I might truly live.

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Elizabeth is an American living in South Korea who believes in destiny, miracles, and living life intentionally. She holds to simple faith in a complex world, values the beauty of the everyday, and strives for vulnerability with other imperfect humans. She is always learning, laughing, and finding herself in awe of grace.

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