More than twenty years have past since that breezy June afternoon in my junior year of high school, but to this day it remains one of the most painful (and unfortunately most vividly remembered) moments of my life.
The weeks leading up to that moment were filled with anxiety and anticipation as I, along with dozens of other choir members from my school, awaited the results for who had been accepted into our school’s most prestigious show choir. I’d been told by everyone around me that I was a shoo-in. I had the look, the voice, the experience, and—more than anyone else who had auditioned—the desire to be accepted into the group. Despite this confidence, I was nervous as I approached the posted list and scanned the names for my own.
My heart plummeted and blood drained from my face when I realized my name was not on the list. I read the list again and again, but no amount of scrutiny or wishful imagining could conjure my name onto the paper that was plastered agianst the wall. Most of my friends’ names were there, but mine was absent.
Refusing to accept the results and certain there must have been some mistake, I tremblingly and tearfully approached our choir director to ask whether my missing name was an issue of a clerical error. Compassion filled his eyes as he gently yet firmly told me that it was not a mistake; I had not been accepted into the group. I just hadn’t made the cut.
The grief cycle continued as my denial gave way to anger, depression, and bargaining. It would be years before I was able to fully accept that this thing I had so desperately desired had ultimately been beyond my reach.
The devastating disappointment nearly led me to drop out of choir altogether. I chose to stay, and my senior year (in the slightly less prestigious all-women’s show choir) was filled with wonderful moments, but none fully redeemed the pain of having missed out on something I wanted so badly. Throughout that year, and for years afterwards, I struggled to make sense of why my choir director (and, in my mind, God) had said no to giving me an experience I passionately wanted and genuinely felt I deserved. There were countless blessings birthed from the alternate path of my choir career that year, but those paled in comparison to the joys I assumed I would have experienced as a member of the top choir.
Looking back, I can see now that the choir wasn’t the issue. In grappling with what had happened and attempting to see how “God’s path” (the one I was experiencing) was better than the one I had wanted, I was focused on my own enjoyment and ego boosting. While my year may have been more enjoyable or fulfilling had I been accepted into the elite choir, and I certainly would have gained confidence from having been deemed worthy of acceptance into that group, I would have missed out on the important life lessons and character work that were birthed from that experience: lessons about humility and pride, about graciously accepting hard news, about seeking joy in the midst of disappointment, and perhaps most importantly (and most painfully)—about my own tendency toward entitlement.
As embarrassing as it is to admit this, that moment of rejection was one of the first times in my life that I did not receive something I desperately wanted and felt I deserved. In the years leading up to that mortifying day, I nearly always received the things I desired—whether through my own hard work and persistence or, more often, through the kindness and generosity of my parents, teachers, and other adults. My life was one marked by privilege and good fortune, and I had grown entitled, certain I would be granted my every desire—if not easily, than of course through grit and determination.
It would take years for me to recognize the entitlement exposed by my reaction to the choir disappointment. I wish that experience had warned me against feeling entitled to receiving things simply because I desired them. Spoiler: it did not.
Through years of spiritual and emotional maturity, God has worked wonders in many areas of my heart, but entitlement continues to be a prominent sin issue for me. I feel entitled to good health, a peaceful mind, a happy life and circumstances that go my way. I have no basis on which to lay claim to these things other than that I want them and therefore feel I must deserve them.
It does not help that I am working against culture in a desire to combat this entitlement. Media, advertising, and even our well-meaning friends feed us messages about how we deserve . . . (fill in the blank: time to ourselves, to be happy, to be taken care of, to have it all, etc.). We are surrounded by abundance and rather than being grateful for all we have, we are led to believe that we should want more—and that our wanting justifies our deserving.
In my current quest to root out lies and replace them with truth, I am realizing the lies I believe around this issue of entitlement are some of the most insidious and prevalent, and also some of the most harmful. Entitlement blinds me from the good around me because I’m always wanting more. Entitlement keeps me from putting sweat equity into things because I feel I shouldn’t have to, that they should be given to me on a silver platter.
Conversely, entitlement also pushes me to work hard for things I want, assuming my efforts will earn a positive outcome; this sets me up for pride when things do go my way, or shame when my work doesn’t yield the results I wanted. Entitlement invites me into a dangerous game of favors, where I serve others out of a selfish desire to earn their favors in return. This plays out in friendship, my marriage, and even with God, as life devolves into a never-ending game of quid pro pro that leaves me resentful when my good works are not reciprocated, or struggling to play catchup when others bless me in ways I cannot easily repay.
Entitlement is built on the lie that I deserve to have things come easily to me. Or, at the very least, that I can earn my way into deserving such things. But the truth is that all good things come from God, including the best and most important thing—the gift of salvation, and unity with Him. This is not something any of us could ever earn or deserve. It is the gift we absolutely are NOT entitled to, and yet in His overwhelming mercy and kindness, He has offered it to each of us.
God’s math does not add up, and if it did it would tilt against our favor. In sending His son, He shattered everything we thought we knew about justice and rewards. He replaced our need to earn salvation with a gift that we could never hope to achieve on our own. We are not entitled to His love, but He offers it freely—this gift we could never repay.
When I remember the beauty and mercy embedded in the gift of salvation, I can recognize the pettiness of my entitlement towards earthly longings. I am set free from the pressure I’ve put upon myself to earn my way into good things, and from the resentment I feel when life doesn’t look the way I feel it should. Gratitude for every good and perfect blessing that has come from above releases me from bitterness and striving and empowers me to bless others—no strings attached. I am invited to bless as I have been blessed, and to love because He first loved me.
I have been falling for the lie that I deserve all the things. But if I truly want to play that game, my life would be in a very sorry state indeed. I have not deserved all the GOOD things that have come my way. Each and every one of them is a blessing, and when I embrace this truth, entitlement gives way to gratitude for every excellent and bountiful gift that has come from Heaven.