Ownership, Entitlement, and Letting Go

The requirement of all summer vacations is to spend some time entertaining the idea of one day buying a place nearby…of becoming a local.  Whether it is a real possibility or not, you dream.  Perhaps you even pick up a local realtor magazine.  Maybe you could rent it out during the year…make some extra income.  The conversation usually ends somewhere along the ride back home as reality sets in.

I have had this issue of ownership in other areas of my life.  If I like a place…well, then I want to work there.  I remember my first trip to the Children’s Discovery Museum.  I was in college, working part time at a group home for mentally disabled children.  We loaded up the residents and drove them to the museum for a field trip.  I fell in love with that place…with the children and the life and creativity.  Before I left I went upstairs and found an application to volunteer…which never happened.

Earlier in college I adored a coffee shop down the street from my university.  It epitomized cool to my 18-year-old self and rather than just enjoy a good cup of coffee once or twice a week, I got a job pulling shots of espresso.  Working or volunteering at a place became a way to have some sort of ownership in something I enjoyed or thought was very cool.

We like to own things and I am learning that money is not the only way we make the “purchase”.  We spend our time, our resources, our energy, and, perhaps our money, too, and then we feel a sense that it is ours.  It may be a person, an organization, a job, a project, a group, a ministry, our church…whatever it is, if we have “invested” ourselves in some manner, we develop a sense of ownership.

And, that in and of itself is not a bad thing.  Ownership can be a very good thing.  It is a well-known idea that, in general, homeowners seem to take better care of their residence than those who are merely renting.  People who volunteer at church typically feel a greater sense of belonging in the faith community than those who do not.

The dangerous tendency is for ownership to become entitlement and for that entitlement to turn into the drive to control, to…(eww)…manipulate.

We’ve all done this.  We’ve done it with our jobs, with our family, with our church…with our friends.  I’ve done it and have some painful, icky memories as souvenirs.  I wish I could blot those memories out of existence, but I am thankful.  I am thankful for the warning system those yucky experiences instilled in me.  I learned to recognize some warning signs very early.  Here are my “red flags”:

Caring too much about what people think. 

When you start to care too much about what people are thinking you can do some pretty crazy things to keep all of the balls in the air.  You talk to too many people.  You do too much.  You post innocuous things (or maybe downright silly things) on Facebook or Twitter that you know have a hidden message.  You run that little hamster wheel to gain some semblance of control that is a complete figment of your imagination.  You aren’t going anywhere.  You are left exhausted and looking a little silly…with a rut in the ground from where you have been mentally pacing back and forth.  You find yourself investing large chunks of your time wondering what “so and so” is thinking about you.

Here is a wonderful reality check: People just aren’t thinking about you as much as you think they are.  They are too wrapped up in themselves just like you and everyone else.

Working too hard with the wrong motives (usually without realizing it)

If you feel an urge to work harder for something or someone, take a good long moment to ask yourself “why?”  What are you hoping to achieve?  What are your expectations in regards to the outcome?  Hard work is certainly not a bad thing.  Good grief, my name means “hard worker” and I love to put my shoulder to the grindstone as much as any other high energy, Type A, over achiever (Lord help us).  But, I am learning to ask myself “why?”  What is this for?  What am I hoping to accomplish?

Then the harder question: What (or who) am I hoping to control?

A desire to check out.

Let’s say you have invested a great deal of time and energy into an organization or to a group.  The next thing you know, they do not want to follow your advice or get on board with your ideas.  Nothing personal on their end (so they think)…they just want to try something else.  So, you check out.  You back off.  You may not say it out loud to anyone else, but you think to yourself: “Well, fine, let’s see how you do without my help.”  Oh, man…yuck.  So ugly.  You can be fairly certain that your ownership has become entitlement and a drive to control.

Two year olds yell: “mine!”  They yank and scream and can be quite devious to gain control of an object of desire.  And, you know what usually happens?  Sure you do.  As soon as the playmate shows no interest, the two year old who “owns” the object loses interest.  He or she drops it completely.

It is all about the game to control.  Too often I have seen adults play this “two year old” game…myself included.

Entitlement and the game to control is a complete farce.  We really do not have complete control over anything or anyone…not even our children.  Like Chinese handcuffs, the more you struggle to gain the upper hand, the tighter and more strangling a situation becomes.

Stop.  Just stop it.  Let go.  Stop taking yourself so seriously.  Take a deep breath and back off without checking out.  Give it over to Who does have control…while having the maturity to stay present.

Work hard.  Invest that time, energy, and, perhaps, money.  And, know that it’s not yours.  I don’t care how far up the ladder you are.

“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” Psalm 24:1.