The other day on Facebook, in response to a news story that all students at some Idaho schools will be receiving free lunches, an elected Idaho official made this comment:

goldthorpeOf course, the funding for this program comes from Federal money and not from a local school bond. And of course, parents are in no way kept from teaching their children any important principles.

He made a few other comments on the thread about “taking responsibility and paying my own way” and about “entitlement thinking”.

And it all made me sad. Seeing someone live in that kind of scarcity–where parents would not be able to teach their kids something because the kids had been exposed to another idea. The scarcity of thinking that if you help someone once, you’ll be helping them forever.

When I was a kid my dad went blind. He had multiple detachments of both of his retinas. Over the course of a few years, he went from being a respiratory therapist at the hospital to being home with the kids. My mom went back to work, and they survived the reversals of their chosen roles. We went from being a stable middle class income family to not having much money at all.

My brother and I got reduced price lunches at school. And the money my family saved through that program made a real difference in our lives. I don’t know if any of my classmates knew I received reduced priced lunches. I don’t remember that ever coming up. I didn’t particularly like it. It felt a little embarrassing and shameful as a kid. But I was also grateful for it, and grateful for the teachers and administrators who didn’t judge me for it.

You know what those lunches did for me? They “entitled” me to have the energy to focus on my education, which “entitled” me to work hard and go to college. They “entitled” me to treat all people with dignity and respect, helping them get a leg up so they can have a chance to succeed as I did.  Those free lunches “entitled” me to work for a better community, so all children, no matter the situations in which they find themselves, can have a chance to succeed.

As Christians, we believe there is, actually, such thing as a free lunch. It’s called GRACE. The free and unearned blessing of God. Every time we scream at others that there is no such thing as a free lunch, we deny grace. Every time we pretend we succeeded in life all by ourselves, without the help and kindness of others along the way, we deny grace. Every time we expect others to do what we have not been able to do ourselves, we deny grace.

Instead of denying grace, what if we participated in grace? In her exquisite novel, Gilead, Marilynne Robinson describes it this way:

“When you encounter another person, when you have dealings with anyone at all, it is as if a question is being put to you. So you must think, What is the Lord asking of me in this moment, in this situation? If you confront insult or antagonism, your first impulse will be to respond in kind. But if you think, as it were, This is an emissary sent from the Lord, and some benefit is intended for me, first of all the occasion to demonstrate my faithfulness, the chance to show that I do in some small degree participate in the grace that saved me, you are free to act otherwise than as circumstances would seem to dictate. You are free to act by your own lights. You are freed at the same time of the impulse to hate or resent that person. He would probably laugh at the thought that the Lord sent him to you for your benefit (and his), but that is the perfection of the disguise, his own ignorance of it.”

How different would the world be if we lived in the abundance of grace instead of the scarcity of self interest? I’m grateful for the grace I have received in my life, from all of those emissaries sent from the Lord to care for me and equip me for the journey. I’m grateful for free lunches and the entitlement to make the world a better place.

How different would the world be if kids grew up thinking that, sometimes, there is free lunch?

17 thoughts on “Entitlement–Sometimes There is a Free Lunch

  1. Wonderful reflection. It got me thinking of how even the saying ‘no such thing as a free lunch’ has shifted in meaning. I always thought it meant that when someone gives you something that supposedly has no obligation attached, look closely, because there actually is (or will be) some expectation of reciprocity. This interpretation, on the other hand, just sounds mean-spirited.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. My family had a eerily similar situation to yours due to my father developing multiple sclerosis. Around 45 years later, I mentioned the need for gov’t assistance to my husband’s step-father, who promptly went ballistic. “I would rather my kids starve than take help!” Surely he didn’t mean that, but it kind of explained why 2 of his 3 grown children had nothing to do with him.


        1. Isn’t that an interesting thing?
          Often many of the people who are opposed to government help for hungry children have no problems with much more expensive government help to corporations who receive huge tax breaks.


  2. Thank you for this message. I help manage a program that sends a backpack of food home with low income kids over the weekend. I am so tired of hearing “good Christians” tell me that if parents weren’t lazy then their kids would have food. THANK YOU for this message.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Yes. Stacey, I helped start a backpack program in two communities. In a third, the ministerial association would not support it at all and saw no need for it.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. In a former life, I was an educator. It actually pleased me to read that you didn’t know if other kids knew you were receiving a reduced-price lunch and that it never came up. I do not know if things have changed so significantly from your days at school and more recent days, but whether I was in the classroom teaching or in the office principaling, our kids new. The children who received free or reduced lunch might as well have had an enormous scarlett ‘F’ for free branded on their poor foreheads. I remember hearing children being jeered at, snickered at, talked about behind their backs, and segregated from the group who could afford to lob such venom in the direction of a another kid who had absolutely nothing to do with the reason that their free or reduced lunch was necessary. I’ve only been in ministry a little over five years, but I suspect that has not changed much. Sadly, many adults are not much better at finding purchase in the soil of kindness as their children. Quite often, the parents foster this attitude and seemed to reflect pride that their children would grow up so as not to be “fleeced” by the great unwashed. I have lived a middle class life for all of my life. I have witnessed the struggle and humiliation of children who found themselves in a family that dealt with poverty, but I have never been there. So, my experience with poverty is from the outside in. I thank God and my parents for an upbringing that taught me to empathize with others rather than deride them. As an adult and a pastor, I am daily challenged to find ways to support the struggle of those who need those “free” lunches without humiliating or embarrassing them. 98% of the people in need that I come into contact with are quite unhappy that they are having to ask for help. Were it my child in the lunch line, waiting for her free or reduced lunch, I would hope that the kids around her would have the ethos and the pathos to be kind or say nothing at all. Perhaps what we need is a class on nonjudgmental interaction with others called “How to Play Nice with the Other Kids.” I’d probably need to go as much as anyone else. But at least I’d know I needed to. I hope. There is a culture of prejudice in our country that reaches beyond color, creed, or origin. And it’s fostered with pride without even a scintilla of guilt or regret or even cognizance among many. It has everything to do with money, who’s got it and who’s not. When I’m in conversation with God, and I’ve asked for all the social justices I can think of, at some point I just have to take a deep breath and sigh, “Lord, in your mercy.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We lived in one community where there was such a high poverty rate, every child got free breakfast and free lunch at school. I thought it was great, for it eliminated any possibility for stigma or teasing.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. When / where I was in school, the lunch program was federally subsidized, period. I think some kids paid and some got the lunch free or reduced, but everyone ate “government cheese” due to the federal milk surplus and that was a free benefit to all of us. And speaking more broadly, most staple food prices in the US are subsidized due to federal intervention in the food market and the farm bill, so everyone is getting a bit of a “free lunch.”

    re: lunch in general — there’s SO much food in this country and SO much food waste. It’s astounding to me everything I hear someone propose that we don’t have enough food (or money) to feed every hunger person. I don’t see the point in creating scarcity in a land of abundance.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is interesting what we choose to subsidize, isn’t it?
      With a kid in high school, and in a state that prides itself on cutting taxes, every time I have to pay for my child to participate in school activities, I remember the tax cut they are so proud of passing just got passed to the parents of students.
      We can afford to pay $6 to attend every soccer game and pay for the uniform and pay for the other various fees.
      When I volunteer at high school registration, where the average fees (between gym locker rental, regular locker rental, class materials costs, yearbooks, activity cards, etc) is over $100, I see the anxiety on the faces of some parents who want to give their kids the good high school experience–all while they are struggling to afford it.

      Maybe the corollary to the idea there’s no free lunch is the idea that there’s no true tax cut either. We pay it one way or another.

      Liked by 1 person

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