God indulges His children occasionally. In fact, He does so more often than we deserve. Feast days are special times when such indulgences are encouraged. “And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household” (Deut. 14:26-27). We also do this with birthdays, Christmas, and a variety of other holidays and celebrations. Special occasions should be special. They afford us privileges.
There is a danger, however, that comes with the privilege of indulgence: a privilege once granted easily becomes a “right” in the mind of the recipient. If that “right” is withheld it will not be gratitude for past gifts that is evoked but rather outrage. Professor Brené Brown observed that “What separates privilege from entitlement is gratitude.” This is why privileges should be handed out sparingly and irregularly when possible. You might grant the privilege to a younger child to stay up past their normal bedtime but if that happens about three times in one week I can assure you that in the mind of the child the later bedtime has now become his “right,” and if you try to rescind that “right” there will likely be some tears involved.
When I headed off to college, over forty years ago, my parents had the wisdom to not send me a regular check in the mail. They did help out but they didn’t put me on a monthly payment plan. I knew better than to run to the mailbox on the first of the month looking for “my check.” An occasional check of irregular amounts (some a little disappointing and some very generous), were always welcomed gifts and never expected as entitlements. I carried this practice over to my own children’s college years and I think it served me and them very well. Such privileges or gifts should be surprises that are met with thankfulness and appreciation.
This principle can and should be applied in many areas of our lives, especially when it comes to our children e.g., what they eat, what they spend, gifts given to them, curfews, bedtimes, cell phones, Facebook (and other social media), games, entertainment, time with friends, chores, and a thousand other areas of life. Gratitude is the central thing; gratitude to you and gratitude to God. When gratitude disappears then the thing is no longer a privilege; it has become an entitlement. The entitlement class will never know happiness.
We live in world full of people who think they are entitled to a whole bunch of things they haven’t earned and do not deserve. When we receive something we perceive we didn’t deserve, we’re grateful. When we don’t receive that which we think we are entitled to we’re mad at the one whose job we think it was to give it to us. Economist Thomas Sowell noted: “One of the consequences of such notions as ‘entitlements’ is that people who have contributed nothing to society feel that society owes them something, apparently just for being nice enough to grace us with their presence.”