Children, Entitlement and God
“Setting the alarm on Sunday mornings is inhuman…..God should know that!” Those were my adolescent thoughts every weekend when my parents forced me to church. “I can get more out of my headphones and the Beatles.” It was this way as far back as I can remember. Early Sunday school, then later Bible studies, liturgies in another language, all culminating in a weekly teen rebellion against God and my parents. I really hated my parents (especially my Mother) for forcing religion on me. “Besides, I don’t think the Smothers Brothers forced their kids, and they are political giants!” I would brood the entire hour’s drive to church just to make my parents as miserable as I felt. It never changed in all those years.
I look back thirty-five years to those times now and bless my parents in every prayer I pray for the gift they gave me. I no longer practice their religion, but I live with every pore in my body believing in something greater than myself. My faith is as easy as a breath in, and during times of great challenge, I don’t have to search for God or strength. Everything I need is already there and will always be.
I have seen my peers dedicate themselves to never raising a child that way. “I will never force my child into religion the way my parents did,” became a mantra. “I will wait until they are old enough and let them choose for themselves.” Those choices, along with the “feel good” experiments of the seventies, have been a dismal failure. The result is an ever increasing growth of what I call “entitlement fixated” people. It is so pervasive that, had I the power, I would make it a new personality disorder designation.
When children are raised to never know failure, they can’t savior the delicacy of success nor can they appreciate the hunger that second place instills. If they don’t learn that we must, at times, do things we abhor for a greater good, they don’t learn self-discipline. If we don’t instill empathy early on, they don’t ever know the complete joy in giving. And if we neglect their spiritual natures, they may never truly trust God.
I see behind me a generation largely of lost souls looking for God under every rock and crystal believing they are so special that all of life’s challenges are someone else’s fault and someone else’s duty to resolve. They are spoiled, arrogant and have no sense of healthy boundaries or respectfulness. How can they when they themselves have replaced God as the center of all worlds? This is the legacy we have given them. We have absolved them of all failures, and endowed them with unlimited special ness and therefore, tragically, they cannot arrive at the simple truth that there is something greater than themselves.
My early spiritual training was a little “rough around the edges”. Yet, at least there was something there – something to offer me a foundation on which to build my spiritual life. I was given s sense of divinity and an eye for all things sacred. I am not the center, but rather, a necessary part of a great whole. My participation in goodness and love and acting on what is right furthers my sense of self and God more than all the awards, accolades and accomplishments I could ever accumulate in a lifetime.
Those who are entitlement fixated are trapped in lonely, fearful, winning-is-everything world. Their sense of self is so exaggerated that true intimacy and love are replaced by control and manipulation. I can’t even imagine the aloneness of a “self only” existence. Arrogance replaces confidence and expectations replace caring. All sense of community is buried in an extreme need for gratification that can never be satisfied for more than a few fleeting moments. And, this personality can be either flagrantly overt, or seductively, manipulatively, covert. But the goal is always the same: to fulfill the needs of the self, first and always. This differs from narcissism in that all empathic responses and attempts at spiritual connection are based on an outcome, rather than an open heart. A true narcissist is capable of empathy and connection so long as they are not momentarily threatened. A person with entitlement fixation doesn’t ever experience the feelings though they will often vehemently deny this.
I feel tremendous compassion for the entitlement-fixated souls on our world. They must be among the loneliest and the most unsure. I have given great thought to the antidote for this affliction and I believe that the answer lies partly in one simple concept: humility.
Humility is a forgotten lesson. We have confused humility with humiliation and have fought hard to protect our young from its pain. Humility is the concept Mother Theresa tried to convey when she said, “I am just God’s little pencil.” It is an exquisite feeling of surrender and openness all in one glorious, spiritual moment. I am humbled when enveloped in a magenta sunset, or when caught in seizures of belly laughs. I feel humbled by the unswerving loyalty and joyous antics of my dogs. I am humbled by the amount of overwhelming talent in my small town and in the awesome devotion of all the volunteers to service I meet. I live my life in an unassuming, understated kind of way. I am inspired by the vastness and intimate knowledge of all things greater than I, yet I am confident and competent in meeting the challenges of my life.
Children need to know that the knowledge gained in failure can outweigh the feelings of being first. There can be true rejoicing in another’s success. Being a part of something greater is better than being noticed. Giving is it’s own peace. God is not a concept, but a sense that needs to be nurtured and developed before it can be experienced. It is our humility that allows us to be happy for others and foster their highest good. My parents were clumsy, at times, in their lessons and they didn’t dote on me. Instead, they gave me something I can cherish.
Don’t neglect your child’s spiritual development. Any foundation is better than none. The lessons of self-discipline, humility, community, and God are all worth any resistance you may encounter. This is our job as parents and role models. This legacy is our best.