There was a time when much of humanity thought the world was flat and that the earth was set at the center with the sun revolving around it. People actually murdered people as heretics for suggesting that the sun was at the center and the earth revolved around it. Humanity seems to have this inclination that “I” am at the center of the universe and everything must therefore revolve around “me,” and we can get downright violent defending this great fallacy. If we feed that idea at all, it grows up big and strong and deeply rooted in our lives … and we’ve done a good job feeding it in our kids.
There is a lot of talk today about how this generation is wholly given over to an attitude of entitlement. The older generation looks and shakes their head at the myopic, self-centered attitude of the younger generation who seem to discount and dishonor anything old, traditional, or not focused on their ideas, beliefs, wants, or needs. It’s not just the younger generation, by the way. One of the curses of technology and the social media explosion is that it makes anyone feel like everyone needs to hear their opinion. However, when we look at an entitled generation, we have to ask, “where did they get that idea from?” Yes, it is an inherited human trait, but who fed it so that it came to define a generation, or a culture? You did.
When we structure our lives around the wants and whims of our kids, we are training them that they are more important than anything, or anyone, else. When we utterly spend ourselves running them to soccer, dance, art class, friends’ houses, and filling our schedule with everything they want to do, so that we can’t seem to be on time for anything because we’re trying to do everything, we are teaching our kids that they can, and should, have it all without having to sacrifice anything to get it. We are setting them at the center of the universe and encouraging that entitled, self-centered mindset that we say we can’t stand.
My wife and daughter teach piano and run a pretty tight schedule. They spend a lot of time and effort drawing up lesson plans for each student and mapping out their teaching days to give each student the highest quality instruction they possibly can. It never ceases to amaze me, however, that parents bring their kids unprepared, having not practiced, without their books and very often late (which now affects and offends the teaching time of following students), or just don’t show up. Some are very good about coming prepared and on time, but too many of them are late for class, and, regrettably, late on paying tuition … and most of them are Christian families. What kind of witness is that? We over-commit and fail to fulfill our “vows” and gain a reputation of being flakey, irresponsible, and uncaring. Is that who Jesus is? Is that the kind of witness we are called to present to the world, or to our kids? Is that how we are commanded to treat each other? We do so and respond as if it’s just a natural way of life and that there’s nothing wrong with it, and our kids are watching, and learning. And no matter what they hear you say about being a man or a woman of your word, nor what they hear preached at church, your actions and leadership teach a much stronger lesson.
In this way, we teach them that other people’s time doesn’t matter. We teach them that it’s okay to have a negative affect in the world as long as you can justify it. When we overload our schedules with stuff for the kids without making them choose what to focus on and invest themselves in, we train them to be lazy and lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of righteousness. We teach them that a job half-done is good enough, and subsequently, that shotty work should be good enough … good enough for others, and good enough for God.
When you sign up to attend a class, be part of a ministry or group, when you volunteer for something, you are making a commitment–you are giving your word. In reference to making oaths (giving your word), Jesus said, “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘No,’ ‘no;’ anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37, emphasis mine). This is a consistent message from God who said in Ecclesiastes 5:4-6, “When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to make a vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it. Do not let your mouth lead you to sin.” Anytime we make a commitment, we make a vow–as a Christian, we make that vow before God and need to be honoring and glorifying his name in that vow–we give our word that we can be counted on to fulfill all the obligations of that commitment. If we allow our mouth to overcommit so that we cannot fulfill our commitments, we break our word, defile our witness, and sin against God and the one to whom made the commitment … who we essentially lied to. We’ve trained ourselves to see our failure to fulfill our commitments as no big deal. After all, “I’m paying for the lessons,” or “I’m just a volunteer,” or “my life is just so busy, they should understand,” or “I didn’t know how hard it was going to be,” or “something came up.” All our excuses are just the foul stench of sin rather than the pleasing aroma of faithfulness.
We need to train up our children to count the cost–not just the cost to them, but what their failure to fulfill a commitment will cost others. We need to train them to honor God by doing everything: soccer, piano, school, friendships … everything for the glory of God. That means making the time to do it, to do it right, completely, and to do it well. If we keep giving our kids everything they want, they will wind up with nothing that they need and far from God. We blame the current generation for their self-centered sense of entitlement, but they got there by our betrayal as we chose to make them happy over making them holy. We taught them to think about their wants rather than their obligations–the outstanding debt to love one another and honor one another above ourselves. We need to make a change, sooner rather than later. We need to prune, getting rid of some of those things that hinder our ability to be faithful in our commitments, and we need to make the time to honor our commitments in full … especially when it isn’t easy. In the event we need to let something go (like a ministry or participation in a group), then we need to leave well by working with our leaders to develop an exit strategy in order to fill the void we’ll leave behind, rather than leaving them holding the bag. That faithfulness brings honor to God, broadens our kids’ view of their place in a bigger picture, and fosters the respect that we say is so sorely lacking in our culture.