Entitlement. Just hearing the word gets my back up.
If you’re like me, you cringe when your kids act entitled. Like, they deserve the newest and best, just because. When they complain about the tablet they don’t have just days after you bought a new iPad for the family.
The insult! The ingratitude!
Worse, I see the same discontent in myself. The two hour break that was a wonderful gift last week is no longer enough. I need more. I deserve more.
Long before tablets were a thing, Peter wrote that, as followers of Jesus, God’s “divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3).
I have enough for this life I am living today. God has given me enough.
And, I can even be godly in my attitude and interactions. Imagine that.
There is no room for entitlement here. So, how do we kick it to the curb?
A group called Acapella harmonized these words so well that I still hum the tune every time I read the verse.
“His divine power has given us everything we need for life…” Clearly, you and I don’t always act like this is true. I don’t face every crisis with certainty that God’s grace is enough.
“…and godliness” Some days spilled Legos are enough to derail my best attempts at godliness.
So, why the disconnect?
Thankfully, Peter gives us the missing link.
He lists specific qualities, character traits, that we can work on. He instructs us to”make every effort to add to [our] faith” goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. (verses 5-7)
When these character traits are growing in us, we “… will never be ineffective of unproductive in [our] relationship with our Lord Jesus”. (verse 8) In short, God can use us.
“Without these qualities you can’t see what’s right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books.” (verse 9, the Message)
Oblivious. Nearsighted. Blind.
Forgetting that I have been given much. That I have been forgiven much.
That sounds a lot like ingratitude, the root of entitlement.
As long as I am ungrateful, I will never be godly. I’ll also be less likely to be happy or successful in relationships, as in life.
When attitudes of entitlement creep in, what can we do about? Rather than rant about how easy our kids have it, rather than piling guilt on ourselves for our own ingratitude, let’s be proactive.
Let’s do the slow, important work of building strong character.
Building character is like building muscle. Exertion makes them stronger. Repetition establishes muscle memory. With enough practice, the reps that seemed impossible become almost automatic.
Any new skill is learned best by breaking it down into its components. Character is no different. Peter’s list does that for us: goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. These are the character muscles we need to work. And here are some exercises we can try.
Practice goodness. Help someone today. Be generous.
Add knowledge. Read or listen to the bible on audio. Ask God what he wants to show you today. Try a sermon podcast, or one on business, fashion, books. Keep learning.
Train to be self-controlled. Jan Johnson suggests practicing self-denial each day. This helps us learn to be kind even when we don’t get what we want. Find some small way to say no to yourself today. Pass up that second helping. Challenge your kids to do the same and all report back. (This idea is from Robert Wolgemuth’s book.)
Persevere. Discipline or perseverance, is about staying the course. Don’t overhaul your life here. Introduce one new routine or challenge, or reinstate a good habit that that has gone off the rails. Everyone has a challenge or program you can start right now: bible reading, exercise, writing, eating.
Choose a goal that feels attainable and stick with it.
Enlist someone to hold you accountable. If you’re already feeling overwhelmed, choose to decline any new feats. Reset some goals that you’ve been struggling with. For me, this is a writing challenge and planning meals, something I’ve failed at time and again.
Think about godliness. That term just feels huge. All I am and think and do.
Again, let’s narrow in on one area, our thought life. Are there ruts in your neuropathways where your brain has gotten stuck spinning its wheels on the same false message, over and over? “I’ll never…” or “He is so…”
Ask God to shine truth into that place where you know your thinking is off.
Search for truth as you read and learn. When you find it, write it on your mirror, your cell phone case, your steering wheel, someplace where you will see it and remember.
Be kind. Brotherly kindness is also translated as affection. Give your full attention when listening to your spouse. Point out something you appreciate about your friend. Hug your mom.
Love more today than yesterday. The greatest love is selfless and puts others first. Asserting my wants comes naturally. Every toddler knows how to do that. “No!” “Mine!” Putting others first is godly. God-like. Practice putting another first. Defer to someone else’s preference in TV show or food selection. Wait to feed yourself until others are cared for. Listen when you’d rather look at Facebook.
Don’t worry about tackling it all at once. Intentionally working on just one of these qualities will keep us mindful and moving forward in growing stronger character. And that may well be our best defense against entitlement. Growing in kindness, self-control, godliness.
We can build character in confidence because we have all we need for life and godliness. And our kids – as they get to know Jesus more – they too, have ALL they need. We can trust HIM and trust his promise.
So, let’s start building those character muscles. It will take thought and intentional effort. And, like any skill – walking and talking, piano scales and layups – it will get easier with practice.
How are you encouraging your kids to build character? What practices do you find helpful? I’d love to hear from you.