Mild exasperation, disproportionate discouragement, and sheepishness collided in me when my husband called from the other room that power had died again, after twenty-four hours off the day before.
My sheepishness was mostly because I knew that hey, 85% of the country has no electricity to speak of, period. (I am frequently embarrassed by of my luxurious privileges.) My grandparents lived without indoor power for a decent portion of their lives. So I felt lame that my life was so stinkin’ dependent on it, and that not having electricity manages to peck at me like a duck all day—when I go to use the microwave (aww…), forego buying milk because I can’t put it in the fridge (shoot!), or try to remember I gotta send that e-mail when I can charge my laptop again (dang it!).
Sometimes I just want to be in a place where things work.
As I made the bed and tried to talk some sense into my irritated brain, the image of Jonah’s plant crawled up the walls of my mind: Jonah, peering in the simmering heat at Nineveh, hoping he’ll get a front-row seat at its obliteration. He first basks beneath the lush shade plant God provides. Then simmers himself in raging melodrama when the plant’s consumed by a worm: It is better for me to die than to live. Jonah seems oblivious of the metaphor he’s playing out over the city, his leering entitlement to grace.
Wish I could say my electricity supply was the only way I identified with the guy. But living in a developing country, while weeding out a bit of my entitlement to privilege, also peels back the paper-thin veneer of my demands. It only takes my water and internet flaking out to transform me into a bit of a pouty martyr for Jesus inside –despite that my grandparents flourished having neither. Or however I outwardly exhort my children: “This helps us to live with open hands!” Mind-numbing traffic in poorly-engineered streets, sluggish internet services, dangerous drivers who pull stunts in front of my kid-loaded minivan, cold showers, sweat trickling down my back in lieu of climate control—they so easily morph my throughts from I wish to I demand.
I do think God is honored when our societies turn back the curse, when we do excellent work, when we are safe and orderly and not suffering. Unquestionably, so many of these inconveniences hold back the developing world from becoming thriving countries where justice and culture and health thrive.
But it’s just a little too easy, frankly, for me to forget I literally deserve hell. Not wi-fi at the speed of sound or soft, clean feet.
I remember a woman speaking to my mom about the lunch Mom packed daily for a young male long-term guest at my parents’ home. Be careful, the friend counseled. He may be spoiled for his future wife someday.
This startled my mom, as it did me when she brought it up. My mom’s always taken such labor to care for (not hover over) us: notes in the lunchboxes, birthdays packed with memories, gifts to fit our desires and our talents.
I suppose this is where I am puzzled at how to incorporate my thoughts on entitlement into my parenting; where I may present you with more of a question than an answer today. Where’s the line between spoiling with privilege and simply loving generously?
Because I don’t think loving well sets my kids up for failure.
Perhaps the line lies in whether or not I’m honoring God with my love for and delight in them–or just cementing my kids at the center of my existence, and teaching them they belong there. Whether I care more about what their character needs, or what they want.
Perhaps it’s whether or not my kids see themselves as deserving kindnesses, or if they’re simply acknowledging the grace they are receiving, and accepting it with a grateful heart. (Most normal kids will need a pretty firm, repeated nudge in this direction. If not a shove.)
Maybe the difference is like the neighbor kid who keeps popping in lately, ramming my kids’ toys into the concrete with his crazy tricks, pedaling their bikes around the neighborhood without asking, disrespecting the rules in place. Then he’s angry when he’s not permitted inside yet. As if this were his house, his rules, as if he were invited; as if this were not a gift. (Entitlement, I have seen, is not restricted by economic class.)
The danger with grace, I know, is always entitlement; abuse. And yet God, while drawing clear boundaries, still keeps pourin’ it on.
On the opposite end, I recall the advice page I read in a parenting magazine. The mom writing in suggested that to eliminate conflict with kids at breakfast, parents could simply present their kids with a menu the night before. Did I read that right? The answer to conflict with your kids is letting them call the shots?
What I don’t need to do, I’m pretty sure, is make my kids and their happiness the center of my Pinterest-garlanded world. What I can do is gently lead them to thanks, to a little less self-focus, a little more self-forgetfulness and laying down of their quite advantaged lives. Of course, that would require my own gratitude, my own non-demanding worship, first.
Thankfully, I don’t think it requires electricity.
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