Former law student Anna Alaburda of Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, California, sued the school because, though she successfully graduated in the top tier of her class, and passed the bar exam on her first attempt, she has been unsuccessful in landing full-time employment that is to her liking. Though she has had offers, none of them have been deemed worthy of her acceptance. Naturally, she has concluded that the fault lies not within herself, but rather with the school.
Steven Miner and his sister, Kathryn Miner sued their mother for $50,000, claiming that she had been negligent as a parent, causing them significant emotional distress. The mother’s crimes? She did not send care packages, or a birthday card with money enclosed to her son while he was at the university, and refused to buy her daughter a new dress to wear to homecoming.
With a hurricane looming on the horizon, David McDuff dropped $500 dollars on a new generator just in case he lost power. Following the hurricane, when it did not perform as advertised, McDuff reasoned that he no longer needed a generator, returned the generator to the retailer, and demanded a full refund.
Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’ – Luke 17:7-10, ESV
The Entitlement Mindset
Few things are more repugnant to me than displays of ingratitude and attitudes of entitlement. One of the most alluring, and yet seditious lies Satan whispers to us is the lie that we are owed anything at all, much less that we are entitled to abundance, comfort, and ease. The resulting ingratitude is what leads to asinine behaviors similar to those in the opening of this blog posting.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to carry an attitude of thankfulness without pausing to recognize the bountiful fortune that has been undeservedly poured into our lives. It is for this reason that I have a deeper appreciation for the Thanksgiving holiday than I do for Christmas.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, ESV
The entitlement mentality rages like a wildfire in contemporary culture, telling us that we deserve better, deserve more, and are not responsible for any aspect of our own care or well-being. When we allow this cancerous mentality to invade our spiritual core, we make repentance and growth impossible because we refuse to acknowledge that the primary offender in the challenges of our lives is our own granite heart. At this point, we convince ourselves that God owes us blessing and goodness when the reality is he owes us nothing, but gives us everything gratis. If indeed we are owed anything, it is our own death. (Romans 6:23)
Jesus tells a fascinating story in the gospel of Matthew. In Chapter 20, we find a house master who needed workers for his vineyard, an agricultural metaphor for the kingdom of heaven. The master ventured into the city, early in the morning to find workers, and hired some, agreeing to pay them a denarius. He repeated this at the third hour, the sixth hour, ninth hour and the eleventh hour. When the day’s work was complete, the master ordered payment to be made to all, beginning with the late hires, and continuing backward to the earliest hires.
As payment was made, the earliest hires became excited because they saw that the late arrivers were paid the full denarius. Surely, we will be paid more, they reasoned, since we put in a full-day’s work.
Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ – Matthew 20:10-12, ESV
In this response, we see the ugliness of ingratitude and comparison. It reminds me of current-generation sports figures who sign contracts for astonishing amounts, and later refuse to honor those contracts because some other athlete signed a contract for more. Rather than be satisfied with the eye-popping contractual amount they negotiated, they become envious and begrudging because someone negotiated an even more lucrative deal than they did.
Almost two decades ago, I negotiated a contract to do software development for a major medical insurance firm. I had specific things I wanted in that contract, and I negotiated those conditions into it. Some time later, a few of my coworkers began grumbling to our manager that I was able to do things they were not allowed to do. They wanted to know why! The answer he gave was simple and abrupt. “He negotiated for those things. You didn’t.”
Rather than be satisfied and grateful for what they received and agreed to, they chose to become envious and dissatisfied. They saw their own compensation and benefits as an injustice. Such comparisons can do nothing but drag us into covetousness, jealousy, envy, grumbling, and resentment.
The resentment of the workers in Jesus’ story is unfair and inappropriate. Though they received what they were promised and what they agreed to, they presumed upon the master, raising their own expectations when they saw his generosity. Their own act of making comparison resulted in the bitterness that consumed them.
Getting a Clearer Vision of Reality
This Thanksgiving, I encourage you to jettison any bitterness, or sense of entitlement and rights. Focus rather on the goodness and gracious generosity of our God who lovingly receives the likes of us into his vineyard, to dine at his table, to serve in his kingdom. Refuse the shallow comparison to those who are added to the kingdom at later hours, and rather rejoice that they are added to the same glorious kingdom of which you are a citizen.
Whether we are added early in the day, or late in the day, the fact that we are added at all is a grace beyond what we deserve. The valid question is not one of why Persons Y and Z got paid the same as Persons A and B, but rather why any of us get paid at all.
Rather than grousing about why some rot in poverty while others bathe in opulence, the better question is, “Why does blessing come to any of us?” When objecting to the reality that God would allow good men and women to die, I’m fighting my astonishment that he lets me live.
Let this Thanksgiving Day be the day you permanently take off the glasses of comparison. Look no longer at others or at yourself, but gaze upon the grace of God. Plunge deep into the pool of gratitude that we are allowed to be his children at all.