So we’ve been talking about entitlement.
Entitlement is the filter that screams “That’s not fair!” and whispers “I deserve it.”
Entitlement is a zero sum game with limited resources, where those who deserve to get things, get things, and where those who don’t deserve them, well, they just suffer. In silence or otherwise.
So who deserves what? Who deserves cancer, or a great job? Who deserves a baby, and who doesn’t? Who deserves to get on the last flight home? Who deserves to be homeless? Who deserves good health care?
And who decides? If God decides all those things, if God is like a teacher doling out candy to the good kids and harsh reprimands to the bad ones, let’s imagine for a moment why it feels almost impossible for many people to believe in that kind of God.
And we’ve also been talking about the shame that surrounds those of us who become aware of our entitlement, which then sometimes boomerangs us from entitlement to unworthiness, where we can’t enjoy anything, and we become insufferable killjoys who stand in judgment on everybody else who does enjoy, say, a pair of really great shoes or a fabulous dinner.
When that happens, we’ve simply moved from the person who deserves the good things in life to the person who doesn’t deserve those good things, and it’s still a zero sum game, where everybody loses.
Last week, I wrote about Paula D’Arcy’s seven core convictions, the first of which is “I am certain that everything is a gift.” Paula D’Arcy was in her twenties when a drunk driver killed her husband and daughter, leaving her pregnant and alone. So she has some credibility.
How can someone come to believe that everything is a gift?
I believe it’s inextricably bound to her second core conviction, which is “I am certain I’m entitled to nothing.”
These two core convictions walk in lock step together on the journey of someone who is learning that rain falls on the good and the bad, regardless of whether they deserve it or not.
Years into our long journey of infertility, Mary and I visited an older couple whose house is a refuge for people in need of rest. Their house is big and rambling, and they live on a farm, so we spent a lot of the day alone, walking in the woods, or in our respective rooms. At night, we gathered for a delicious dinner and conversation, after which we moved to the living room. They wanted to pray for us, surrounding our infertility.
What they prayed was startling and freeing.
“I’m not comfortable praying for outcomes,” the husband said. “But I will pray that God would find you exactly where you are and give you gifts that you need.” And so he did not pray that we would have a baby. But he did pray that God would meet us where we were, and give us what we need.
I do not think it’s wrong to pray for something you want. Please, that would be missing the point. I think God wants us to come as free as we can come, and if that means lamenting, awesome. If that means making a list of things you want, awesome. But the way this man prayed for us that night invited us into to something deeper, and more fundamental about how God wants to meet us – in our pain and in our joy. How God wants to meet us in all of the moments of life, big and small.
What if God wants to meet you in your pain, and what if when God did, it was enough for you? Is that even possible? That God might be enough? What if God also wants to meet you in your joy?
Last night, before the dishes were done, Mary got up and turned on some music. She wanted to dance. Ben and Elijah immediately joined her, while Isaac and I stayed at the table. Isaac is a lot of things, but for now, he’s definitely not a dancer. I looked up at my wife, whose body has been in quite a lot of pain lately, and I saw her dancing.
And it was a gift.
Are we entitled to dance with our children? Are we entitled to dance at all?
Or can we begin to see our life as gifts, because God meets us in the dancing and God meets us in the pain. I can’t explain how I know this is true, but I’ve had enough of both to know that it is true. Actually true.
So maybe everything really is a gift, and maybe I’m really not entitled to anything.
So, perhaps the alternative to entitlement is simply to be with what actually is, the joy and the pain, inviting God all the way in, to meet you there.