“The problem with these kids today is that everybody gets a trophy!”
I’ve heard that gripe over and over again. I heard it just last week in the locker room at the gym. Last December, the University of Louisville Women’s Basketball coach went off on a highly publicized rant, complaining about the “everybody gets a trophy” mentality. I hear it from people in my congregation all the time.
I confess – I’m really tired of hearing people kvetch about trophies. The last I checked, Jesus didn’t die to make us kvetch. He died to make us holy. He rose to make us free. He rules even now that we might have abundant life.
Anyway, trophies are not the problem. I’ve been around youth sports for a long time: I played YMCA youth soccer and church league basketball back in the 80s. I ran track and cross country for my high school. I volunteered as a youth basketball coach. Both my daughters swim competitively. And I can tell you this: every kid knows the difference between a souvineer memento and an award of merit. Every kid knows that if they want the real recognition, they need to work really hard for it. I guarantee you that every kid who plays youth sports knows that there are winners and there are losers – and that winning feels really good.
Like I said, trophies are not the problem.
The real problem is the mentality of entitlement.
This is the mentality that I deserve something more than I’ve been given. It is the mentality that fails to recognize all the other people who have contributed to my success. Jesus told a fascinating parable that warned his disciples against the entitlement mentality. It’s found in Matthew’s gospel:
For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.
“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ ‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’ The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’
But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last. (Matthew 20:1-16)
What’s really clear in this parable?
1) Everyone who joined Jesus’ team got a trophy (note – they did have to join the team, they did have to put in the effort, but still, everyone got a trophy)
2) Some people felt entitled to more and complained.
3) The response from the vineyard owner (God) is basically “I have the right to dispose of my goods as I will.”
This is the scandal of grace. You didn’t earn anything you have. Everything, ultimately, finds its source in God’s grace. All your talent comes from God. All your skill, all your drive, all your energy. All of it. It’s a blessing that has been given. You’re not entitled to any of it.
That’s the scandal. Now here’s the secret.
The joy, the abundant life, the greatest thing in the world is simply being on the team. You’ve been chosen; you were a draft pick; you were cast in the show; you made the team. Whatever analogy you want to make, the joy comes simply in being asked to play. For that privilege, we are grateful.
You see, the polar opposite of the entitlement mentality is heartfelt gratitude.
Gratitude is the proper response to all that we’ve received. Gratitude is the antidote to kvetching. Gratitude pulls our attention away from “them” and our thoughts about what they have received and it fixes our attention on the Father of heavenly lights who sends every good and perfect gift (go look it up in James 1:17)
So, what are we to do with all this?
1) Stop kvetching! No-one likes to hear it. It does’t make you any more joyful or faithful or useful. All it does is make you cranky.
2) If you’re really concerned about the attitude the rising generation, then volunteer with them. Teach Sunday School or help with a youth event. Pick your sport (or endeavor – if you’re artistic, volunteer with music or theater or dance). You cannot shape youth if you don’t spend time with them.
3) Practice being grateful every day. It’s really simple. Just spend time at the end of the day and reflect on things you’re grateful for. If your mind wanders all the time, then buy a little notebook and write down a list of 3-5 things from the day for which you are grateful. They don’t have to be big. Thank God for a tasty meal or a funny joke or a conversation with a friend. Trust me, this one habit will dramatically transform your days.