A Sense of Entitlement

About three weeks ago my wife Carol and I hosted Gordon and Cheryl Roedding, missionaries to Mali, in our home. They are experienced, wise, humble, and engaging. So I asked them question after question. Here’s one of them:

Q: “What is different about missionary candidates today than when you first went out on the field?

A: “A sense of entitlement.” 

The Roeddings went on to explain how they had very little input regarding their first assignment. They were asked to go to a place they had not anticipated (rural Mali). There would be no electricity from the utility grid for ten years. Education for their son would be at boarding school in a different country. And their choice was basically “take it or leave it.” They took it and quickly realized the joy of effective ministry and recognized their life calling. Gordon and Cheryl have served in Mali over twenty-five years.

Missionary candidates today choose where they will serve and enjoy options for their children’s education. The Roeddings certainly weren’t complaining about that improvement. But it reflects a generational change.

When the Roeddings first arrived on the mission field, they were called “junior missionaries” for the first two years. They were expected to learn from those who had experience. Gordon told me that would never fly today. Now rookie missionaries expect a full voice in team leadership decisions.

Former NBA great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar recently lamented what he called “youth’s age-old insistence on their Entitlement to Ignorance” (Time Magazine, October 5, 2015, p. 30). He laid the blame largely on one end of the political spectrum, but I suspect conservatives and liberals alike face the same challenge of a sense of entitlement among their youth.

Youths aren’t the only ones with a sense of entitlement. Those in middle life have it, too. The hardest adjustment we faced in our move to Clarkfield was an unanticipated downsizing from a newer house to an older house which was about half the size with a tuck-under garage that’s death defying in winter. We’re used to it now and I call the house a blessing in disguise, but the sense of entitlement remains a challenge. There’s still too much stuff in the basement we feel entitled to keep.

Several days ago I tested our furnace to make sure it would fire when needed. It didn’t fire. So I called a repairman. He said it would take a few days to look at it. That’s perfectly reasonable for October in Minnesota. And the weather was still warm. But I wanted immediate action. Why? A sense of entitlement. Privilege. A feeling of prominence.

When the repairman came, he quickly determined the furnace would need a new part. By then we also had learned that the basement zone would heat, just not the main level where we live. He said we could heat the house through the basement. I didn’t believe him. However, I didn’t say it out loud.

He ordered the part, but it didn’t arrive on the day promised. Or the next. We’re still waiting. It’s getting colder and our grand-kids arrived last night to visit for a few days. I felt heat. Or rather, we didn’t feel heat. So I called the repairman again to urge him to come as soon as possible when the part arrived. Again he said we could heat the house from the basement. Again I didn’t believe him.

But it got chilly last night. So we turned up the heat in the basement, which we had rarely done before. Within minutes the entire house was toasty. We were amazed. I had to go to the basement and turn the thermostat back down! Experience trumps entitlement.

Unfortunately, that repairman has to face a sense of entitlement in nearly every phone call he receives. So do teachers, doctors, grocers, bankers…, and even pastors. People expect a full-service church with excellent programs based on their personal preferences. I’m not complaining about that. It’s just reality. I want excellence in the church, too.

A sense of entitlement was a challenge in Jesus’ time, too. It was rare for the Savior to meet someone without a claim to privilege. The outcome was always delightful when he did meet such a person. This Sunday we’ll talk about one such encounter in the Gospel of Mark.

The Apostle Paul offered a radical antidote to a sense of entitlement. It’s called contentment. He wrote: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:11-13)

Through Christ we can be content in any circumstance, but we learn contentment only when we experience discomfort, such as downsizing. God knows what he’s doing when he squeezes our comfort zone. He’s adjusting our sense of entitlement. That famous verse about doing all things through Christ is about learning contentment, not about winning a contest or acing a history test. Come to think of it, contentment is one of the biggest lessons in life after high school. But we won’t learn contentment if we hold on to a sense of entitlement.

Update: Just as I completed this entry, Carol called to say the repairman had come with the new part for the furnace. The house is now warm. The grand-kids are playing with Legos. All is well. We’re content.