It snuck up on me slowly, like a ninja or a stealth aircraft, or a ninja on a stealth aircraft. It ambushed me successfully as I sat down for lunch yesterday at work. The day was busy and stressful, and it was nearly three o'clock when I finally found myself in the break room placing my tupperware in the microwave. When the microwave beeped, I grabbed my food and suddenly realized how hungry and worn out I was.
I deserve this.
I glanced at the numbers on my watch, nerves still wound up from the craziness on the floor. After all my hard work, not taking lunch until three, taking care of all our patients, two of whom had been transferred to the ICU. Finally, lunch. I deserve this.
Right behind this sense of entitlement came shock, and then humility. I deserve this?
The term "deserve" jumped out like a red flag waving in front of my face. I exhaled and lowered myself into a black plastic chair and forked baked spaghetti into my mouth while reliving an afternoon in Cambodia:
It was hot. I was tired. Sweat ran down my face and dripped off my chin. I parked my bike by the landlord's house and walked around to the stairs to my apartment. They were steep, but today they seemed steeper than normal. Longer than normal. Why was it so far up to my apartment? Why did I have to climb such steep steps to get to a home that didn't even have air conditioning? I hoped the electricity was working so I could at least stand in front of the fan.
As I climbed the stairs I marveled about how different life was in America. The air conditioning. The refrigerators (sometimes two) in every home. The ability to control the climate inside, and our practice of sleeping with blankets because we keep it so cold. Elevators, escalators. Ice-cold Dr. Pepper. I marveled at how my students and friends in Cambodia didn't long for such things because either they didn't know they existed or they had never lived with these things before. They didn't even know to miss these things.
I was nearly at the top of the staircase, grasping the rail and gazing out over rooftops to inspect the Mekong's appearance that day, when I recognized it. There it was, bold and blaring in front of me, as clear as the coconut trees by the river.
Each day when I felt tired and worn out, hot and sweaty, I would think about American comforts. I couldn't not think about them; they're the context in which I was raised. I would think about how much I missed them and how difficult it was to adjust to life without them.
For some reason though, on this day, as I willed my legs to bring me up those steep, brown stairs, I realized just because I am from America does not mean I am entitled to American comforts. Having lived with air conditioning and my own car and wifi for so many years did not entitle me to that way of life. Until that moment, I had been holding the American standard of living as the standard to which I was entitled. Subconsciously, my thinking was, "Cambodians have never lived that way, so of course they don't miss it, but I do. Life is harder for me in their country than it is for them. They are not entitled to comforts like air conditioning in their homes because they never had it in the first place."
Wham! Reality check.
I am not entitled to any of those things. My background doesn't entitle me to air conditioning, my childhood doesn't entitle me to refrigerators and ovens, and the country listed on my passport doesn't mean I deserve to have access to Dr. Pepper. I am not entitled to anything the people in Cambodia are not entitled to.
Furthermore, I am not even entitled to what I may think Cambodians are entitled to. We, as humans, Cambodian or American, are entitled to very little. Cambodians aren't entitled to wealth or healthy families or homes or farms or jobs. Neither am I. Neither are any of us.
Truthfully, we aren't even entitled to life. We've done nothing to earn it, to deserve it, to pay for it.
Recently, I heard a woman talk about how she realized she didn't deserve anything but death, and as a Christian she didn't even get that. We get so much we have no right to, and we don't even get the one thing we do deserve because Jesus is merciful.
I don't deserve any of this.
As I finished lunch yesterday, I stared out the window at the river of cars on I-35, and both my complaints and my entitlement were cut short. I thought about how I didn't deserve the oxygen I was breathing or the food I was eating. I thought about the thousands, perhaps millions, of people who didn't eat that day, and I remembered I was no more entitled to this hot meal - one of three meals I was eating in a day - than they were.
To clarify, I don't mean we shouldn't have food and life and clean water as human rights or the ability to vote and express opinions as civil rights. I mean the idea I (or you), as an individual, am entitled to comfort, an easy life, a good work day, a happy marriage, and a healthy body, when the rest of the world is dealing with all of those problems and more. Because all of those issues simply come along with being human.
Discomfort is part of the deal on Earth. I am no more entitled to comfort - even if what I would call comfort is different from what a Cambodian would call comfort - than the person who lives down the street from my apartment in Cambodia.
Hardship is part of the deal on Earth. I am no more entitled to access to clean water than those who walk miles to fetch murky water from a river.
Physical death is part of the deal on Earth. I am no more entitled to life than the patient dying in a developing country's hospital from a condition which is easily curable in the States.
Sickness, pain, depression, death. They are all part of the deal here on Earth.
We have been gifted so many things. Our every breath, our ability to move our limbs and function today, our meals and beverages and hot showers and cold-aired houses.
Spiritually, we have been gifted the offer of eternal life.
We accept all these other gifts so easily, mostly without consciously receiving them. Here, though, is a gift of another caliber. The gift of not receiving the one thing we do indeed deserve: Death, eternally. Separation from the One who loves us most. The gift of an offer of Life, eternally. Being in the presence of the One who loves us most, who did receive for us the one thing we deserved, who created and hears and cares for us.
We receive all these other gifts so passively, and we begin to believe we are entitled to them. But this gift of Life - this takes a conscious thought to receive because it isn't a thing but a Person. A relationship. The greatest gift of all given out of the greatest love of all. He offers the grand gift of salvation and the daily offer to abide in Him - to sit in His presence and live and walk and breathe with Him. The very exact opposite thing we are entitled to.
All we have to say to Him is yes.