It seems to me that one of snares of 21st century living is the increase around us, and sometimes in us, of a culture of entitlement. Of course this has always been there in human nature. As a child you get a wonderful present at Christmas from an aunt or a grandparent and you are thrilled and grateful. It’s a beautiful gift. Next year another comes and again you are thrilled and grateful. And so it goes on for several years and soon your are not just looking forward happily to the gift at Christmas but you are expecting it. Then Christmas comes and there is just a small gift. Instead of being grateful for what you did receive, you are disappointed. This is natural, but it can go further, the gift was expected and you felt entitled to a good gift from that Aunt and now you are miserable, maybe even a little cross.
Back in 1948, after the war, I think many people were thrilled with the gift of free health care in the new NHS and the gradually improved availability of butter, meat and sugar etc. Many years on we can feel entitled to these things as our right, and gratitude can slip away and be replaced by something much less healthy for our souls, emotions and spirits. We can feel we are entitled to a centrally heated house, a good balanced diet, a wide variety of food in the shops, public services that provide so many of our needs, and much more. Yet many in our world don’t have these “necessities.”
In the 1970’s I worked for a year in Uganda as a doctor. Idi Amin was in power. There were many shortages. What we could offer people was very limited. But it was better than nothing. What I noticed was how quite a few people were grateful. Back in England, there was so much more in the way of services, equipment and medicine available in the NHS, but people were not always that grateful. Sometimes those with little were more grateful than those with much.
Had expectation developed into a sort of entitlement and too much emphasis on ‘my rights’? Had expectation tarnished, or even soured hearts and minds for some, with a loss of gratitude and thankfulness? Even more troubling can a loss of gratitude and thankfulness, coupled with a strong sense of expectation, entitlement and ‘my rights,’ lead me towards feeling a victim of others, the system or circumstances. Worse could I end up feeling a victim of God? “He hasn’t done what He ought to have done”. I wonder if Job felt a little of that? Gratitude and thanksgiving are like powerful cleansing, health giving streams and rivers washing out any of that threatening poison from my heart, mind and attitudes.
It is great that we have ‘rights’ that we can and do rightly exercise, such as access to health care, a pension when we reach a certain age, freedom from accepting bullying or abuse in life and much more. And it is good to see these benefits extended to more people across the globe. But in the spirit of Proverbs 4:23 “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life”, it is important that our rights and privileges do not diminish having a heart bursting with thankfulness and gratitude for all the goodness, kindness and mercy of God to me daily. It may be ‘my right’ to have my hernia repaired by the NHS free. But let me not fail to be filled with gratitude and thanksgiving to God that I have received that major blessing to my health, well being and life.
If the saying that ‘my attitude affects the altitude at which I fly in life’ then I think an ‘attitude of gratitude’ manifested in a life of thanksgiving is likely to make me a high flyer!