Among the varying names given to the generation born between the 1980s and the 2000s, some sociologists have called today’s 20 and 30-somethings the “Entitlement Generation.” I barely missed the early cutoff of this generation; then again, depending on who one reads, I might be included in the far end of the Millenials. But regardless of generational groupings, one of the distinctive features of anyone born after the 1970s is a demanding, “I deserve this” attitude. Ask managers who interview young candidates for job openings and they’ll tell you the first question most commonly asked in interviews is “how much vacation does this job offer?” We’re thinking about ourselves before we consider who we will serve.
Entitlement has been flowing in the bloodstream of my generation and it seems we’re quickly influencing the conversational tone in our culture. Now that we have become adults and are taking our turn in shaping culture, an entitlement attitude has become the spirit of the age. We’ve taken the notion of “inalienable rights” to another level. No longer limited to Gen-Xers or Millenials, entitlement speech is commonplace these days among people of all ages. Advertising, mass media and political campaigns aren’t going to challenge these assumptions; the public square and its market will only aim to appease the desires of their constituencies. But what they won’t tell you is that satisfying our every desire is a trap. Entitlement only produces restlessness, fracturing both our relationships and our souls. Should we be surprised that anxiety is the most common psychological condition in our culture? Not at all. It travels the same channel with an entitlement spirit.
The truth about an Entitlement Age is that it isn’t limited to a singular generation or era. There’s nothing new about people who dig in their heels about what they deserve based on their “rights.” It’s as old as Cain, who believed God owed him favor based on his offering. They’re ain’t nothing new under the sun. Still, a question arises: what is the remedy for this entitlement spirit?
It’s an urgent question with a simple answer, a remedy as old as the hills: gratitude. If you’ve read some other recent posts, you may have noticed the influence that the Book of Common Prayer has been having on my thinking lately, particularly from the morning prayer service. The architecture of the morning prayer service offers a different framework and vision for our daily lives. Gratitude is both the threshold entering the morning devotional and the doorway one crosses out into the world as prayers are ended. Psalm 100 is placed on my lips early in morning prayer: “Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise; give thanks to him and call upon His Name.”
After Scriptures are read, intercessions are made, gratitude again concludes the time in morning prayer with these words: “Give us, we pray, such an awareness of your mercies, that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days…” An entitled spirit is a hidden menace in our hearts and minds, but daily gratitude shines a gentle light into the eyes of our hearts, revealing that we have been blind to the mercies of God all around us. “Give us, we pray such an awareness of your mercies…” Both confession and thanksgiving, this prayer orients us to life in the world that is sheer gift. With the desecrated speech of rights abandoned, we learn to speak eucharistically, which means “giving thanks.”
Speaking in a eucharistic spirit, the demanding speech of what we “deserve” becomes profanity. Instead of speaking profanely, we learn the language of blessing. The language of blessing brings levity and wonder into our hearts as we enter the day: “We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for your immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.” This prayer reminds us that the blessing we have received–the blessing that shapes our vision for the day–is spoken from the memory that we have been redeemed in Christ. We have been redeemed and restored when, like Esau, we forfeited our inheritance, our birthright, for a mess of pottage. We have been redeemed and embraced when we squandered our inheritance, like the prodigal son. What more could we ask for? In Christ, we have all we ever needed or wanted. That is both the memory and the mercy that greets us every morning, a remedy to save us from the spirit of this age. How can we enter the world each day in any other way?