April 13, 2018
This twenty-first-century generation is the most creative, innovative and inventive generation ever to have graced this planet. They will cure cancer, eradicate poverty and create a global community that embraces and perpetuates peace . . . or they will utterly fail. I have a sense that if this generation (and if you’re reading this that includes you) doesn’t inoculate against entitlement, it will sabotage our potential success. You may think that’s a bit extreme but allow me to explain my thoughts with a personal story.
Christmas in the Vallotton Home
Christmas has always been the most celebrated holiday in our family. We did not have a lot of money when our kids were growing up, but we always did our best to make sure that each of our children had at least one really great gift under the Christmas tree. Now, we have eight grandchildren, and our financial situation has improved dramatically. Our celebrations have taken on sort of an air-of-prosperity that at times seemed a little overboard and dysfunctional to me.
The whole thing came to a climax at Christmas 2012. That year, each of our children and grandchildren gave Kathy a “Christmas want list,” as has been our tradition for more than three decades. But unlike most years, where Kathy would sift through the list and choose a few things for each person, she instead decided to get them everything on all their lists.
By the time Christmas Day arrived, the tree had literally disappeared beneath the gifts that were stacked to the ceiling. Morning came early and we gathered around the Christmas tree and began to tell the Baby Jesus story. The narrative concluded and I began to give out the gifts. Nearly two hours passed as wrapping paper slowly filled every empty spot on the floor. Suddenly, a whimper to my left broke ranks with our laughter…
Seeds of Entitlement
…the room grew strangely silent. I noticed that my daughter was whispering a strong correction to one of her children. This child got up from the floor, cheeks streaming with tears, mumbling defiantly all the way to the bedroom. I immediately questioned the child’s mother to determine what had caused the outburst, and I learned that “Grandma missed one gift” from the child’s Christmas list.
“But we bought the kid fifteen presents!” I protested.
“I know, Dad. Don’t worry about it,” my daughter responded.
Kathy retreated to our office and a minute later re-emerged with her Christmas lists in her hand. “I did forget one gift,” she said with compassion. “I’m so sorry,” she explained, while choking back tears. Trying to smooth the situation over, she added, “I’ll go tomorrow and buy the gift I missed.”
The rest of the family joined in on my protest, reassuring her that the child needed to get over it.
I was furious inside but I kept my mouth shut, not wanting to ruin Christmas for everyone else. However, Christmas was wrecked for me! I could not go to sleep that night. I just lay there reflecting on my grandchild’s attitude and musing over our failure to instill gratitude in them.
In our quest to bless our family, we had unknowingly sown seeds of entitlement into the soil of their little hearts for years. I determined to fix the problem. I wanted no part in raising spoiled brats who would grow up to become monetary monsters!
Gratitude over Entitlement
Kathy and I decided that Christmas 2013 was going to be different. We would atone for the transgressions of the past holidays and begin to instill gratitude into our beautiful, young, ungrateful creatures.
Our plan was to buy them each one great gift. But most importantly, we decided to choose some extremely poor families with children and have our grandkids buy gifts for them (with our money), and then deliver them on Christmas Day.
When Christmas Day finally arrived, we loaded up the gifts and drove to the apartment complex to give the presents to the children. All seven of the grandkids we had at the time stood silently at the front door of the first apartment. I lined up all the grandkids facing the door, gifts in hand, and knocked. The door opened and smoke poured out over the threshold as a maybe forty-year-old woman emerged from a dark, smoky room.
“Merry Christmas!” we all shouted in unison. Suddenly, eight little kids rushed the door from the inside, fighting for who was going to get out first. Our kids sheepishly handed them their gifts, and all of us watched with our hearts in our throats as they hurried back into the front room, where the floor was covered in wall-to-wall mattresses. They ripped the wrapping paper off their gifts, laughing and screaming as each present was unveiled.
We just stood there speechless, trying to wrap our brains around the intense pain, which was somehow intermingled with this peculiar joy our hearts were experiencing.The scene repeated itself two more times that afternoon as we completed our Christmas mission. It is hard to explain my grandchildren’s moods as we got in our cars and headed back to the house to finish our own gift exchange. But it should suffice to say that they never complained about their gifts again!
The Fine Line Between Entitlement and Inheritance
This story played out in my family, but I see it playing out all over society and even in the Church. The challenge with each generation building on the next generation’s accomplishments is that we often forget the sacrifice it took to give us such an amazing inheritance. We tend not to value it because we did not work for it, and consequently, we don’t do what is necessary to sustain it. Just as we had to remind our grandkids to be thankful, and remember that our family didn’t always have so much, we as a Church family have to remind ourselves of the same.
The Power of Thanksgiving
An attitude of thanksgiving is the only effective inoculation against entitlement and pride. So how do you inoculate yourself? Take time to proactively remember and recount the perseverance and sacrifice of others. The moment we lose sight of the historic exploits of our forefathers and foremothers, we begin to digress into “privileged thinking,” and inheritance becomes entitlement.
Today I want to challenge you practice tangible gratitude and write down 5 things about the generation before you that you’re thankful for. What challenges did they overcome so that you don’t have to? What life lessons did they instill in you that you’re still benefiting from today? Share these with the young people in your life!
If you’re a parent, then I want to encourage you to make sure your children hear the stories of the generations before you. Beyond that, expose them to people who are different from them. Help them experience the world bigger than the four walls of your house.
What aspects about the generation before you do you want to carry into your own legacy? What are you thankful for regarding those who built before you? I’d love for you to share about this in the comments below! Let’s get thankful!
Topics: All TopicsIdentityLeadershipWealth