Last week on a flight to South America I was upgraded to first class. That doesn’t happen very much in my life, so when it does it is a big deal. Unfortunately it was a pretty short flight, but still nice with a hot meal that the ones in the back didn’t get. Getting perks like that is always nice, but there’s a dangerous attitude that can creep in. Here it is: actually I deserve this. I’m working hard, serving long, whatever. Therefore, I’m entitled to these things. It is my right.
When a leader, or anyone, begins to use statements like, I’m entitled, I deserve this, it is my right, or even thinks them regularly, there is a problem developing. A few years ago, a friend and colleague of mine was speaking at a training center of the group I serve with. When he arrived in the city, he was taken to his room, but virtually nothing had been done for him by way of hospitality. I remember how he grumbled about that for months, thinking that somehow as a speaker he was somehow entitled to receive better treatment.
One definition of entitlement is “the belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges, or special treatment.” There is a great danger of developing a habit of feeling entitled. It causes us to compare the treatment we get with the treatment of others. Instead of learning to have low to no expectations in how we should be treated, we hold on tightly to pre-conceived ideas that we should receive the best seat in the house. Leaders who exude an attitude of entitlement are poor models and even poorer mentors.
I would love to live in the freedom of never feeling entitled. To have no sense of rights to anything. To live life where whatever I receive is pure gift to be reveled in and constantly grateful for. To never feel sullen because I was forgotten or mistreated. I am not there yet, are you?
Many years ago as a 19 year old, I had a good opportunity to live this way, and failed again, not for the first or last time. I had been leading a vacation Bible school in my church with a friend. We had worked very hard and come to the last night where we would have a dinner and final thanks for those involved. My youth pastor was leading the evening, and it was a fun time and great dinner.
I waited with humble expectation for my name to be called and people to clap exuberantly, while I triumphantly yet meekly walked to the front to receive some special gift. Person after person was called to receive thanks from the pastor, and of course I knew my name would be saved for last. Even some of the parents were being thanked, and it was getting long. Finally my co-worker was called, and she went to the front to receive a card with long applause.
It was finally my turn. All my hard work over the summer would now be rewarded with suitable acclaim. It was my right. I was entitled to it, wasn’t I? So I sat on the edge of my seat, waiting for that moment. But it never came. My pastor not only didn’t say my name, instead he said, “We’ve had a wonderful evening, and it was a great summer Bible school for our kids. Now I will ask Sister Whatshername to close our evening in prayer.”
That was it. Sister prayed a prayer I certainly don’t remember, and wasn’t listening to anyway. I was too mad and hurt to listen. Somehow my youth pastor had completely forgotten to call my name and thank me. He said later that it just slipped his mind. Maybe he was really hungry and wanted to eat dinner. Whatever. But he forgot.
I had worked so hard. It wasn’t fair. He should have remembered me. He should have thanked me. There should have been thunderous applause for a very humble servant who just wanted to have some moments of rapturous victory. Nope. Nothing like that for me. I slunk home with my pride hurt, forgetting completely why I had served those kids in the first place.
Entitlement is a hungry monster that is never fully fed. If we allow it to grow in our life, it will rob us of peace and joy. We will live a life of always comparing, always competitive, never fully grateful for the gift we did receive that we are are not attentive to.
Feeling that we deserve special treatment or have rights that others do not have will lead us to be prickly inside and out, instead of unguarded and undefended as a child. I have been learning in recent years to practice the spiritual discipline of gratefulness. It has been a wonderful journey for me that I keep growing in. A precious book my daughter recommended to me is by Ann Voskamp, and it is titled One Thousand Gifts. I loved the way the writer describes her own developing habit of gratefulness, and how it has changed her life.
When we see every day, every experience, as a gift of some sort, even the difficult times, we are transformed. It is a practice, a discipline, a habit, so doesn’t happen overnight. We have to work at it, like so much in life that is worth anything at all.