Emma Gets Nothing


I’ve been getting Ana and Emma to help out more around the house lately. You might remember how I mentioned that this was the summer of Life Skills Boot Camp, and this has definitely played into our regular schedules around here. I try to make it into a competition, because that’s always helpful when you have two kids really close in age. Who can find the ground cumin at the grocery store first? Who can weed the flower bed best? Who can fold the most laundry?

Emma is always excited about these competitions. Ana was at first until she realized that I’m not handing out any prizes. When Emma wins, she congratulates her in fine pre-teen fashion by saying, “And Emma gets NOTHING.”


“Well, guess what, Ana?” I’ve told her again and again. “That’s life. Sometimes you do the right thing and you do it well, not because you’re getting anything, but because doing the right thing is always the right thing.”

And wow. That’s a bummer. An adulting bummer if I’ve ever heard of one. I didn’t realize how unfair life actually is until I viewed these things through an Ana attitude, and I realized that – hey! – doing the right thing doesn’t always come with a prize. What kind of sorry fine print is that?!

Life is like that, though. Unfair. I could get all theological and make the very accurate, scriptural point that fair is judgment and condemnation for us all because we’re always going to mess up, and anything less than God’s standard of perfection, which is ours through the faultless life and work and Lordship of Christ, is grounds for eternal judgment. True enough. But we certainly don’t teach that in any real life circumstances on a daily basis. We teach our kids that if you do good things, good things will happen to you. And if you do right, it’s going to come back to you.

But it doesn’t. Not always. Sometimes Emma gets nothing. Because that’s life. And good work without a prize doesn’t suddenly give us the liberty to stop all good work altogether.

I’m walking with my kids through this right now, trying to explain it so that it makes sense. It doesn’t make as much sense, though, when I do the right thing and I still come up against conflict and hardship. My kids should get it and still do the right thing even when there’s no prize… but, come on! Where’s my prize?! Where’s my thanks for doing thankless work? Where’s my payoff for being ethical? Where’s my prize for having a good attitude?

I’m challenged to remember that God certainly doesn’t owe me anything, and the circumstances of life are not always going to play out in my favor. Sure, God works all things together for the good of those who are called according to His purpose, but the fulfillment of that promise from Scripture may not come until I’m in glory, which is a far better good than anything I could ask for. I need to stop looking for the reaping from the good that I’m sowing in the here and now, even as I keep on doing the right things.

Because doing the right thing is always the right thing, even when you get nothing in return…

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