On Wednesday, I wrote a post about the entitlement I felt while being stranded in airports for 24 hours. It sparked a great conversation, one I’d like to continue today.
I’ll define entitlement as the subtle, mostly subconscious belief that I deserve to receive preferential treatment – from God and others. This includes getting what I want, when I want it, but also not having to suffer. Entitlement makes two statements: “I deserve it” and “That’s not fair!”
I deserve to get on this flight; I have children at home waiting for me.
I deserve to have children; I want them so badly.
We deserve to rights as Christians in this country; we were founded to be one nation under God.
I deserve this piece of chocolate cake; I had a bad day.
That’s not fair! I am much better at my job, and she got the promotion.
That’s not fair! Why is that teenager pregnant, when I’d do anything to have babies?
That’s not fair! I just replaced the hot water heater, and now my furnace is broken, too.
Entitlement is a tight fisted, grasping way to live that ends up killing everything around it. Like weeds in a garden, it chokes out the good things that can spring up, which would bring beauty and joy. When we actually see our sense of entitlement, most of us are repelled by it.
So we make bold decisions about not being entitled.
We declare: I will ask for nothing, expect nothing, and want nothing! It becomes our pious chant, and we become insufferable about it, demanding that everyone be as un-entitled as we are. We become entitled to being the person who is seen as not entitled. You have twenty pairs of shoes? You consumeristic sinner. I get by with two.
That is a cold, hard, grasping way to live. It’s not being free from entitlement, it’s just another form of entitlement. You become entitled to not being entitled, and you look down on all the other pathetic bastards that demand so much. You have nothing, and you also lack compassion. Worse, you begin to expect nothing from the good God that loves to give good gifts. Imagine giving your child a gift and them rebuffing you? Imagine your child never asking you for anything again?
So, what is the way out of entitlement? How can we let go of it, and open ourselves up to something nourishing and life giving?
Paula D’Arcy was in her twenties when a terrible car accident (due to a drunk driver) took her husband and 21 month old child, leaving her pregnant and alone. She railed against God, she cried, she despaired. Almost everything she knew about life died in that car crash. But she gave birth to her second daughter, and slowly, she returned to life. This tragedy sent her on a slow journey towards a life and ministry centered on the things that emerged out of that tragedy. She calls these bedrock beliefs “The Things I Know For Certain.” Because they flow out of deep pain and loss, as I read them, they strike me as invitations into a different way of living, beyond entitlement and into gratefulness. I’ll list them below.
1. I am certain everything is a gift.
2. I am certain we are entitled to nothing.
3. I am certain the wells for joy and pain are not separate.
4. I am certain bitterness and healing are a choice.
5. I am certain that running from darkness only leads to greater darkness.
6. I am certain the darkness is held ultimately by light.
7. I am certain that the words from Scripture, ‘In Him we live and move and have our being’ are not poetic; they are actual physical reality.
I’ll write more in my next post, but for a moment, look at that list. Everything is a gift? Really? That’s not fair! Even getting stranded in an airport? Even losing my baby? Even cancer? If it were not Paula D’Arcy writing these things, I’d pass them off as pathetic and unbelievable. You can agree or not agree. But it’s an invitation into a great conversation with God.
Bitterness and healing are a choice. That one rings true right away for me. I know what it means to take perverse delight in holding onto bitterness, the acrid aftertaste sustaining my sense of entitlement like a life preserver. There is something about it that feels good, that even feels noble, authentic. But it doesn’t lead to healing. If healing is a choice, too, that is a different life preserver, one that gets thrown in exactly the same moment I realize the bitterness isn’t saving me, it’s drowning me.
That’s enough for today. More next week. Comments? Questions? Additions? What would you like to take further?
Read Paula’s great book Gift of the Red Bird: The Story of a Divine Encounter for more on her story, and how she came to believe what she does.