Gratitude and entitlement cannot coexist. Parents know this. There are two opposing phrases we often hear when raising kids. We love to hear one and bristle at the other: “Thank you,” and “It’s not fair.” Parents love to hear “Thank you” from a child because it shows the child realizes a gift has been received from the good and gracious hand of the parent. But then there is the dreaded…“Her pancake is bigger than mine, it’s not fair,” or “He got to watch TV longer than me. It’s not fair.” “Thank you” and “It’s not fair” are never uttered at the same time because these two phrases come from two different postures. The first comes from a posture of gratitude; the second comes from a posture of entitlement.
According to research, entitlement fights against enjoyment in our lives. Two researchers, Grubbs and Exline, have found that “people higher in entitlement often do not attain their exaggerated expectations. This may lead to distress and dissatisfaction.” Entitlement lowers happiness because you are perpetually disappointed. Whatever you feel owed, you are not grateful for. If you feel entitled to the meal in front of you, you are not grateful for the food. If you feel entitled to a promotion, you are not grateful when you receive it. If you feel entitled to being honored, you are not grateful when you are treated honorably. If you feel entitled for the relationship, you are not grateful for the relationship.
G. K. Chesterton said: “When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” We are wise to fight entitlement because entitlement is fighting our enjoyment in our careers, our relationships, our homes, and our lives. Entitlement is hard to spot because all of us struggle with feeling we are owed something or believing we have earned it.
God knows entitlement will ruin us so He graciously reminds us that everything we have is a gift from Him. “…What do you have that you didn’t receive?” (1 Corinthians 4:7) The meal, the job, the kindness we receive, the relationship with others, and the clothes we are wearing are all gifts from God. And even greater than those is the mercy from our Father, the new identity we have received, and being clothed in His righteousness. All are gifts of His grace. Following Jesus increases our joy because He reminds us that everything is a gift from Him.
So, when we feel entitled, it is good to remind ourselves that God has been gracious to us.
When my daughters have said, “It is not fair,” I have responded, “I love you so much and because I love you, you don’t want fair. You want grace. Fair means you get what you deserve. If we make this a fair house, you are going to start paying rent for your room and buying all your clothes and your food. That is fair. Do you want fair, or do you want grace?”
We are thankful that our God is not fair because we don’t get what we deserve. Jesus received what we deserve in our place on the cross. God is just and gracious, and our hearts are filled with gratitude when we remember that. As we are grateful, we can wage war with the entitlement that is fighting our enjoyment.