Do you ever get tired of reading articles in your news feed that slam millennials? There are so many critiques. We are lazy and feel entitled. We are narcissistic. We are addicted to our phones. We cannot go five minutes without checking social media. We cannot commit to anything. We mooch off our parents, prolonging our adolescence. In the words of Louis CK, millennials are the crappiest generation ever.
Many of the things out there being said about us are broad, sweeping, and inaccurate generalizations. But honestly, our generation struggles with some of these areas. Sometimes the critiques we receive are warranted.
I’m starting to wonder: What if we were conditioned to feel entitled? Every time we competed, we earned a trophy or an award. We grew up in a world where everyone had cable TV and internet. We attended college at a time when owning laptops was typical and cell phone ownership was already universal. I mean, by the time we got to college we had graduated five times! Think about it—preschool, kindergarten, 5th grade, 8th grade, and high school. There is a reason we think we are awesome!
While our sense of entitlement has been honestly developed, it quickly becomes a major barrier to our future. Entitlement produces a demanding nature in our interactions. Entitlement makes it more difficult to endure the challenging and painful seasons life inevitably sends our way. When we feel entitled, we easily default to passivity and laziness, expecting things to come our way without hard work and perseverance.
Entitlement confuses many of us. We focus on the outcome we experience and ignore the process that produced it. We love using our iPhones but forget the long, painful, failure-ridden road Steve Jobs took before he created this amazing piece of technology. When we become entitled to enjoying the outcomes of other people’s hard work, we fail to pursue paths ourselves that include the icky, messy struggles.
My sense of entitlement nearly cost me my future. Entitlement produced a lack of teachability in me that a supervisor would later critique. Entitlement prevented me from appreciating the good things I had, the advantages I enjoyed that others envied. This sense of entitlement left me unprepared for the struggle of leadership. I could not comprehend how necessary difficult seasons and painful moments would be to my personal growth and transformation. I failed to realize what James, the brother of Jesus, knew when he wrote, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance”.
While in that season, I discovered gratitude as an antidote to entitlement. In a blog post on the power of gratitude and the danger of entitlement, pastor Steven Furtick writes, “Your sense of gratitude ends where entitlement begins…You cannot be grateful for something you feel entitled to.”
Gratitude reminds our hearts that everything we have is a gift. When we begin to look at what we have—possessions, relationships, opportunities, positions, and experiences—as the gift of God’s provision or the gift that came after a hard season of work and waiting, their status as gifts shifts our experience of them. Many of us do not use the word very often, but we begin to “treasure” what we have when gratitude is our posture toward life as we experience it.
If gratitude is so important, how do we cultivate it in our lives?
1. Exercise your gratitude muscle. In his book Today We Are Rich, Tim Sanders shares how his grandmother, Billye, taught him to think of gratitude as a muscle and not a feeling. Sanders teaches that a daily discipline of giving thanks builds a strong muscle, just like a daily trip to the weight room. This idea echoes the writing of the apostle Paul, when he said to “give thanks in all circumstances.”
2. Understand that gratitude does not change your experiences; instead, gratitude changes your perception of your experience. The difference between gratitude and entitlement is not found in what happens to us, but rather our response to and perception of what happens. When we exercise our gratitude muscle, we accept the information and assessments that fit the gratitude grid instead of the entitlement grid. We can try to force change in our circumstances or we can work to shift our perception and attitude regardless of our circumstances.
3. Stick with gratitude long enough for it to build generosity and contentment. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus describes the growth and development of a disciple using agricultural terms. By locating his illustrations in this context, Jesus communicated an important truth—development comes slowly, requiring a plodding, patient perspective. Instead of being patient and letting gratitude do its slow work in us, most of us treat gratitude like a can of Red Bull. Rather than building gratitude consistently and faithfully in our lives, we look for quick fixes. While gratitude is not a quick fix, its lasting power far exceeds any “buzz” we might get from other paths. (For more on this, check out my favorite book by Eugene Peterson).
I think entitlement is as dangerous as cancer. Like cancer, it can cost us our future. If entitlement has the potential to steal our future in that kind of scenario, our relationship with gratitude could be a life-saving proposition. Do all you can to cultivate a grateful heart, allowing God to shape your perception of your past, present, and future.