Our daughters know the word that I use. They would say overuse.
My overuse became apparent one Father’s Day when our youngest daughter gave me one of those books where the kids fill in blanks to tell about their dad. One entry featured the line: “Dad always tells us to never be ________.”
I’m sure there were kids whose dad tells them “never be afraid” or others who say “never be worried.” My daughter took it as an opportunity to remind me of my word.
“Dad always tells us to never be entitled.”
Yep, entitlement, the American malady. It’s the sum of success and the product of prosperity. Entitlement is the sneaky consequence of growing up in a home where food is always on the table, gifts are in the attic, and vacations are on the calendar.
“Entitlement is the sneaky consequence of growing up in a home where food is always on the table, gifts are in the attic, and vacations are on the calendar.”
Sure, entitlement affects more than just Americans and kids. It’s the human curse. We receive something, grow accustomed to it, and then expect it. Further, we believe we deserve the next great thing and feel ripped off if we don’t get it. Take your kids to Disney in Florida for four days and they wonder why they didn’t do seven. Take them for seven and they wonder why they’ve never been to Disney in California. Take a HELOC against your mortgage so you can do both, they’ll wonder why you skipped Universal.
For some, it’s like being born on third base and thinking they hit a triple. For others, they start believing they also own the stadium.
So what’s the solution? Should we live in austerity? Should we manufacture suffering? Should we cancel Christmas and downplay birthdays in hopes that our kids temper their expectations? Maybe, but I’m not sure that would do it.
“So what’s the solution? Should we live in austerity? Should we manufacture suffering?”
Perhaps the answer is gratitude. We resist entitlement when our gratitude list is longer than our grievance list. Contentment comes not from pretending to be destitute, but instead by recognizing the source of our blessings. Paul says we should place our hope in God, rather than “on the uncertainty of riches” (1 Timothy 5:17). But this goes beyond money. In fact, most of our entitlement and expectations are unrelated to finance.
What does it mean to have a happy marriage?
Or what does it mean to have good parents?
Or a healthy church?
In each of these cases we must acknowledge a harsh truth: our definition of happy, good, and healthy would be tempered if we were coming out of a relationship that was truly toxic. Many divorced people, who know what an unhappy marriage looks like, might think twice in their next marriage before berating their beloved for putting the toilet paper roll on backwards. People who grew up in dysfunctional homes probably don’t hurl petty criticisms at their mothers for caring too much about a clean house or their fathers for struggling to share his emotions. They know what actual dysfunction looks like.
“Contentment comes not from pretending to be destitute, but instead by recognizing the source of our blessings.”
And church folks who’ve survived nightmares of division and decline are hopefully more forgiving of leaders whose tenure is littered with clunky policies and moments of poor communication. They know the difference between a paper cut and a hemorrhage. We do, too. There is a range of emotions that all Christians can embrace. And there is a season for each.
We can be hopeful.
We can be joyful.
We can be disappointed.
We can be hurt.
But we should never be entitled.
As Philippians 4:11-12 says, “For I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.”