“It is easy, when you are young, to believe that what you desire is no less than what you deserve, to assume that if you want something badly enough, it is your God-given right to have it.” ~Jon Krakauer
Can you remember when you first felt important?
Maybe it was when…
…you were the only one among your friends who owned the Barbie airplane
…you were selected as the lead in the school play
…earned perfect grades
…realized you lived in the “better” part of town
…had the fastest time in the 200 yard dash… made varsity as a freshman
…left the house wearing a perfect shade of new pink lipstick and frosty eye shadow (Dating myself, I know…)
We can point fingers on today’s generation of entitled children, but it began with us. I am guilty of feeling entitled. When did I personally start to feel important?
The year I became sophisticated.
I used to ride the train into Philadelphia as a 15 year old every Saturday. I’d saunter up the silver steps and slide onto a ripped leather seat by the window wearing a different, carefully selected outfit, so I could travel 60 minutes to Barbizon School of Modeling. Once I reached Reading Terminal I’d step off the train to make my promenade down four city blocks and through city hall where I’d give a nod to William Penn.
This is when I began the dangerous journey into prerogative. It was those trips into the city where I learned the illusion of entitlement.
I was something! Everyone who saw me on the train or passed me on the street, especially those who happened to catch me walking through those special doors at the modeling school, must have known I was important!
Unfortunately for me the illusion of entitlement does not walk with reality. No one ever noticed little ‘ol me. I was and still remain a grain of sand.
The funny thing though, is that I never felt as sure or confident as what I appeared on the outside so many years ago. The strut was only a hope that someone would confirm that I was significant. And it was also during this time when I felt least like the real me. I was an imposter in perfect makeup.
Eventually the makeup smeared and I faced reality that modeling and me didn’t mix, but my sophisticated date with entitlement continued into high school and college, even though it morphed into greater dysfunction. I did not become a straight A, varsity playing prom queen, nor a famous model (remember… my legs were all wrong for the job).
I decided I was entitled to a good time!
Fun. Little responsibility. Laziness. Unsupervised freedom became my handsome rendezvous with privilege, even though I would have never been able to label it as such.
I am recognizing all of this entitlement stuff after the fact, which leads me to wonder…what do I feel entitled to today. Comfort? Health? A warm bed? Surely, some good weather! Uncluttered freeways? Whatever I feel like eating? How about answered prayer? God should at least grant that to this repentant, God-fearing woman!
I’m just scratching the surface.
As I look back on the whole of my life so far, however, it was a two month period of time where my affair with entitlement reached a climax. It was in India where I went to bed with an American privilege I never realized I had.
It was disgusting.
While standing on the dusty, cluttered streets of Pune, holding a hand to my mouth over the crippling shortage of all things I still take for granted, I allowed (and even expected) abundant service toward my opulence. What’s insanely illogical was the fact that I owned very little, had minimal funds by all civilized standards, and yet just because I happened to be born under democracy, the red carpet was rolled out for my un-calloused clean feet to walk upon.
Parties were thrown for me, a blue-eyed blond American, on rooftop terraces with lit lanterns and more curried cuisine than 1 billion street dwellers might see in a month! As an immature, pompous twenty-one year old, I thought it was the Punjabi’s job to serve me solely because of my street address back home. Little did I know there was a rising population of orphans that would reach 3 million by 2013.
I hate to think about how little has changed.
About how I see the same tendencies in my own children and in the next generation.
About how far so many are from these pure, holy words:
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility
consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should not look
to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”
Philippians 2:3 & 4
I sat over a meal with my children on this very subject. It’s been bothering me.
Their young minds were able to wrap a small morsel of the truth I was trying to share, but I’m afraid much of this entitlement tendency is ingrained within our highfaluting culture.
There is so much pressure to be significant…to amount to something…to succeed…and as parents we are the guiltiest because of how much we brag on the seeming significance of our children.
I could barely stomach our daughter’s previous night’s choir concert, not for the fabulous singing and the joy of watching her perform, but for the over-abundant praise I witnessed. Call me callous but since when does singing six songs on middle school bleachers constitute a standing ovation? I might have been the only one who remained seated and felt like a schmuck for doing so.
If we really believe in the greatness and potential of our children shouldn’t we save the standing ovation for the PhD, or at least graduation (and I don’t mean kindegarten)?
What else do they have to look forward to? Work toward? Good job, Suzy! You’ve sung in the choir two straight years! Can we take you out for a treat?
So, while sharing forty-five hot Swedish meatballs with all of my children in Ikea, I think the truth of Jesus’ words written in Philippians and what he really did with his time on earth slapped each of us silently across the face.
I asked each of them, “Of all people, who deserves entitlement?”
“The President of the United States,” their quick reply.
After guiding the conversation back to our Savior, I continued reading from Philippians, chapter 2:
“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God
something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very
nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found
in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient-
even death on a cross.”
The Beatitudes speak nothing of entitlement. Quite the opposite. They speak about poverty, meekness, and humility because Jesus knew how life should work, not just in the kingdom of heaven, but in the kingdom of this world.
We’ve done well in getting it all wrong.
Philip Yancy in his book, The Jesus I Never Knew says this about the Beatitudes, “What meaning can the Beatitudes have for a society that honors the self-assertive, confident, and rich? Blessed are the happy and the strong, we believe. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for a good time, who look out for Number One.”
Not that I would ever try to add or improve on the words of Jesus, but might an added line for the likes of our current society be…
Blessed are those who know they are entitled to nothing.
I’m so far from this as I pause to sip from my plastic, Grande sized iced latte. Forgive me, Lord. Help me. Help us all…
Photo credit: Flickr (Creative Commons)