On a short stretch of Main Street in Harrisonburg, Va., it’s possible to hit red lights at four consecutive intersections. It doesn’t seem logical. It wastes my time. It makes me angry.
My indignation reveals a sense of entitlement I can do without.
Such anger is common and accepted: The Internet’s too slow. Someone’s using the best treadmill. There’s no good food in this town. It’s anger rooted in an unjustified sense of entitlement. And it’s a poor use of emotional energy. It introduces negativity that can affect interactions with others.
Unjustified entitlement is commonplace even for Christians. We think we deserve all the great stuff we have — or wish we had. It’s acceptable to demand the nicest food choices, the best travel opportunities, higher salaries, superior education, cutting-edge technology and state-of-the-art facilities.
Whether these expectations will be met is beyond one’s control. Yet our feeling of entitlement causes undue distress and conflict.
Is entitlement ever justifiable? Millard Fuller, co-founder of Habitat for Humanity, said, “Everyone who gets sleepy at night should have a simple, decent place to lay their heads, on terms they can afford to pay.”
He believed each person is entitled to an affordable home. The belief drove him to action, and in his lifetime he saw the problem of inadequate housing dramatically eased throughout the world.
His belief was rooted in a different sense of entitlement. One that came from Jesus. Through Jesus all people are made new, are granted peace and experience wholeness. We are all entitled to this.
Putting that sense of entitlement first helps avoid less productive kinds. Jesus’ teachings provide further tools. In Matthew, Jesus calls his followers to see himself in others. When Jesus is the neighbor with no food, our own “right” to extensive or exotic food options is less important.
When Fuller put God first, he found no use for his millions of dollars or earthly possessions. He gave it all away. Looking back at the success of his housing ministry, he once said: “While people had been building houses for thousands of years, and often with the help of neighbors, no one seemed to be building houses as an expression of God’s love.”
Great good can come from the blessings of food, shelter and education. But seeing entitlement as Jesus did can curb our selfishness.
People do not all receive the same physical blessings in life. But God offers spiritual peace to everyone. And God has given many of us the resources to help others attain the physical necessities to which they truly are entitled. Letting go of our entitlement, wholeness found through Jesus remains.