A doctor died and went to heaven. As he stood in a very long line at the pearly gates, he decided that because of his service to humanity he should not have to wait in line. He left the line and approached the gate. Upon arrival at the gate St. Peter explained that all are equal in the eyes of the Lord and he should wait in line. This made the doctor unhappy. “All of my service to humanity the lives I have saved. The quality of life I’ve restored.” He continued to mutter as he returned to his place in line.
A few minutes later a man in a white lab coat with a doctor’s bag rushed past the M.D., nodded to St. Peter, the gates flew open, in went the man and the gates closed.
Well this was too much for the doctor and he went to speak again with St. Peter. He again explained to St. Peter that he had been in practice on earth for many years and he felt he had made more contributions than the young doctor that had just entered heaven. St. Peter said, “Please understand the young doctor that just entered was God. Sometimes he likes to play doctor.”
Entitlement is an attitude of “I’m owed.” It is apparent in beliefs such as these: “I’m a college graduate, so I deserve a high-paying job.” “I’ve been good to my friends, so they owe me their loyalty.” “I am a senior citizen, so I deserve younger people’s respect.” “We weren’t put on this earth to suffer, so life owes me a break.” “I took care of my kids when they were young, so I am entitled to some special care from them when I grow old.”
To some degree, we all have entitlement feelings. We carry around a sense of being owed for something we have done or for some wonderful trait we have. When we feel entitled, we focus on what we are owed, not what we might need to give to others.
When these feelings are strong and people don’t meet our expectations, we often find ourselves bitter, resentful, and angry. Relationships can be (and often are) destroyed by feelings of entitlement.
Society continues to bombard us with the message that we are such fantastic people, we are entitled to an equally fantastic way of living. We are fed this belief through visual media such as television, movies and all forms of the internet. It comes across our radio stations and packaged on the products we purchase. Honestly, there is no getting around it. We are confronted daily with its message.
I’m not interested in discussing broad business and governmental entitlements. I am focusing on what I see as the entitlement attitude each of us carries inside of her or him that may be sucking a good life out of you like a parasite.
Do you remember this old jingle from McDonalds? “You deserve a break today, so get up and get away to McDonalds.” You don’t need to remember it. Let’s watch the original commercial.
How things have changed, right? But what has stayed the same is the idea that we deserve some kind of a break.
One of my favorite teachers in elementary school was my third grade teacher, Mrs. Carreon, a really good teacher who maintained a strong sense of order in class but who genuinely cared about each of us.
On the first day of school she asked us to line up for lunch and there was a mad scramble to get to the front of the line. After we had lined up, Mrs. Carreon went to the back of the line, smiled and said, “This is the front of the line,” and led the class to lunch. I still remember the surprised grin on the face of the kid who suddenly found herself in the front of the line, as well as the angry response from someone at the back of the line: “This is so annoying!”
The next day when we lined up for lunch we all scrambled to be last in line, so Mrs. Carreon went to the middle of the line and said, “Today this is the front of the line.” Eventually we all got the message and the scrambling to be first stopped. No more trying to express one’s sense of entitlement.
Easy lesson to learn in school—hard lesson to learn in life.
I like what one mom said was the way she parented her child. “Instead of communicating “I love you, so let me make life easy for you,” I decided that my message needed to be something more along these lines, “I love you. I believe in you. I know what you’re capable of. So I’m going to make you work.” Kay Wills Wyma
Gotta start early to get that right message in there.
Feeling entitled obviously does something to our view of God. From this viewpoint, God is reduced to the Someone who helps me get what I believe I am entitled to, which leads us to believe God owes us what it is the real king or queen of the hill ought to have. In our world, this often means we have a right to material abundance, comfort, zero-problems, the nice house and all the other things our society tells us we deserve.
Too often people believe this because of churches where the Bible is read from this direction. Pastors and preachers have contributed to this by telling people that God will meet all their needs and give them all that they want or desire if they give their lives to Jesus.
Though I believe God gives us gifts and wants to meet our needs, this is not the heart of the gospel of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. The really sad truth is that many people leave this type of supposed Christian faith because “God didn’t work.” The Lord was a means to get what they feel they were entitled to. When this didn’t happen it was a simple decision to move on to the next thing.
It’s obvious this is wrong because if I were to be blunt—and I will—God owes us nothing, except to be God. God gives because of who the Lord is—not because of us. God’s the center of all things and we are not.
And if I am going to bring you all the way up to the heights of Christian theology I have to tell you the final piece, the highest truth that you simply don’t hear often, or often enough: All things exist for God’s good pleasure.
The Good News is that even though God owes us nothing, out of God’s great love the Lord will give us what we need and even things we desire. From the freedom of purest love and power God gives.
Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Thank God for what you have and are today. Pursue contentment. Enjoy life as it is rather than longing for a day when things will be better. Count the number of “whiners” you encounter in a day. Notice their sense of entitlement and be determined to be different.
Our challenge is to stop living our lives feeling we have been cheated or deprived. Too many have come to believe they deserve something more and that life owes them more than they have.
It’s an incredibly difficult feeling or perception to let go of, but it’s such a debilitating way of looking at things. There are all different ways in which we feel we’re being cheated and deprived of what is rightfully ours.
In our parable Jesus talks about a landowner who needs workers for his vineyard and one day goes into town multiple times and hires workers for his vineyard.
At the end of the day the landowner does three things that reveal this isn’t just any old landowner. First, he pays the last people he hired before anyone else; second, he pays them a full days’ wages. He then proceeds to
pay everyone else the exact same amount, including those who had worked all day long.
While apparently those who worked less than a full day responded gratefully, there was an angry, visceral response by those who were paid last. Jesus says, “They grumbled against the landowner.”
At the parable’s conclusion, the full-day workers don’t moan they have been cheated out of money. They’ve been cheated out of something else. They complain to the landowner, “You have made them (the one-hour workers) equal to us.”
It’s not the generosity or the extravagance that makes them angry. It’s being made equal to people who weren’t their equal before this that gets them embittered. They’re caustic because by dealing generously with “those” people, a group of people no other manager in town considered worth the trouble of hiring, the landowner made a clear declaration about “those” people’s value, their worth—and of course the entitled workers value and worth.
The landowner’s undue kindness thus denies the full-day laborers the bonus they think they can claim—a sense of privilege or superiority. There are no longer those who are better and those who are worse.
God refuses to justify our sense that we are more than others or that others are less than us, that we are entitled to the more we have because of how much better we are. Nobody is such a nobody or too good that they aren’t equal to everyone else. Nobody is such a nobody or too good that they don’t need to work and contribute.
The truth is the parable asserts only one essential truth, whether you came first and got what you agreed to or came late and got more than you expected: God is doing no wrong.
God is doing no wrong, no matter how much we want it to be otherwise; no matter how much we believe somehow something must be wrong for me not to be the king of the hill or the queen of the castle. The Lord remains free and clear of all charges against him, because God has given us the two things he agreed to give us: Life and the unalterable sense from the beginning that you are worthy and lovable.
Let go of the entitlement mentality. It binds us to unhappiness because of unfulfillable expectations. Place yourself where you belong, within God’s will and grace for your life.
Can anybody say Amen?