I WONDER AS I WANDER . . . When Is Enough "Enough?"

They were about to finish breakfast and prepare to go out for the day, when 3-year-old Ben stretched out of his seat, leaned on the table, and reached across to take the last piece of bacon on the plate.  The look on the faces of his brother and sister showed dismay.  I suspect they had wanted to do the same thing and hadn’t.  Ben’s mother quietly asked him to sit in his seat, and she asked him if he would want to see if anyone else might want to share that last piece.  Ben reluctantly pulled back, piece of bacon in his hand, and watched as his brother and sister both raised their hands and said simultaneously said, “Me.” After that final piece had been broken into three pieces and shared, all three faces wore smiles of satisfaction.  Ben seemed to, after some struggle, enjoy sharing that last piece with the others. 

That experience led me to wonder what had been coming to mind over the past several weeks: “When is enough ‘enough?’” Our North American culture has adopted a view that “more is better,” and that accumulating, hoarding, and gaining are values many espouse.  The effect of that cultural worldview has brought our society to a crisis point. 

Seeking to purchase more space for our homes than we can afford to borrow has been one of the bases for the housing crisis.  Lenders have contributed to that crisis by seeking to gain interest from loan practices that have been financially unsound.  Always feeling that we need to buy one more item of clothing, another pair of shoes, one more electronic gadget, has led to what Adam Hamilton calls the disease of “credititis” – “enjoy something now and pay for it later.” (Adam Hamilton, Enough: Discovering Joy through Simplicity and Generosity, Abingdon Press, 2009) 

Persons who have lost their jobs and struggle to find alternative employment deal with this question in other ways.  Where once a paycheck was regularly expected to cover monthly needs, now the unemployment check must do, and at some point that resource runs out.  Persons are looking to find work in these troubled times, not necessarily to pay at the same rate as their previous jobs, but just to cover the basic needs. 

“Enough” is not just a financial issue.  It has to do with the way we eat.  Many of our children are overweight not just because of the quantities of food available to most of us, but because the kinds of food they eat often add more calories and fat than needed.  It also has to do with the resources we use.  We in the United States consume far more of our share of the resources than is just.  Our use of fossil fuels contributes to the global warming which affects all of earth’s population.  Our use of other resources means that children in other parts of the world are looking with strained faces as they wonder if the last of the goods from the natural resources of their land will be gone before they become adults. 

The question of what is enough has affected our churches as well.  In some cases, the cost of maintaining and heating our buildings is more than can be carried well by the size of the congregation that currently exists.  The costs of just survival mean that congregations have chosen not to share with others or reach out in mission – essential parts of what it means to be a Christian community. 

At the core of the question “When is enough “enough”?” is a spiritual matter.  Our diseases of affluenza and credititis as well as our practices of accumulating and hoarding evidence our lack of trust in a God of abundance.  We seem to see scarcity rather than abundance.  Over and over in our scriptures, however, God is seen as one who provides in abundance for God’s people, if they trust God. 

Lynne Twist, in her book The Soul of Money: Reclaiming the Wealth of Our Inner Resources (W.W. Norton & Company, 2003), suggests that perhaps it is important for us to think in terms not of abundance but in terms of “sufficiency.” She writes, “Sufficiency isn’t an amount at all.  It is an experience, a context we generate, a declaration, a knowing that there is enough, and that we are enough.” (p. 74) 

The story of God’s providing manna for the people of Israel wandering in the wilderness is a story of sufficiency.  God provided just enough for each day.  If they gathered more and hoarded it, the manna would spoil.  The story of the early church in the book of Acts is a story of a community founded on the concept of sufficiency: among them they had all that they needed – and so they shared it all. It was sufficient. 

John Wesley advised those who became part of the Methodist societies to gain all they could, save all they could, and give all they could.  Perhaps we need to recover Wesley’s advice today.  The familiar Wesley covenant prayer is one we might turn to in these days:

I am no longer my own, but yours.  Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will.  Put me to doing, put me to suffering.  Let me be employed by you or laid aside for you, exalted for you or brought low by you.  Let me be full, let me be empty.  Let me have all things, let me have nothing.  I freely and heartily yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.  And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you are mine, and I am yours.  So be it.  And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.  Amen. 

That is prayer that suggests that in the midst of all our struggles, God is sufficient, and God will guide us through.

By: Bishop Susan Hassinger On 7/22/2009
Topics: I Wonder as I Wander...