“If some is good, more is better.” That message echoes all around us, calling us to pursue more money, more things, more recognition, more power. Money is seen as the key to all the “more” we can imagine. At some level, this insatiable desire taps into a primal instinct on our parts: making sure we have enough of whatever we need to survive.
Our God is a God of incredible abundance! This includes the abundance of God’s creation and of the partnership to which God calls us. But God’s abundance is not the same as our excess. That’s the problem with talking about scarcity versus abundance: we can confuse God’s overflowing blessings with the accumulated things in our lives. For years now, I have taught about moving from a scarcity mentality to a sense of abundance. But the opposite of scarcity is not abundance; it is contentment, our sense of “enough-ness” or sufficiency with what God has provided us.
This is the surprise we find in Paul’s words to the Corinthian Christians: “God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.” (2 Cor. 9:8) The purpose of God’s abundant gifts to us is not for us to have an excess or even just enough, but rather that our “contentment” or “enough-ness” (aturkeia) leads to our sharing abundantly with others by the way that we live.
Paul refers to this same reciprocal dynamic in 1 Timothy, as well. He says to those of us who in the present age are rich – which is all of us in this Northern nation compared to the rest of the globe – not to set our hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but “rather on God, Who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” Our enjoyment is good in itself and also is linked to doing good, being “rich in good works, generous, and ready to share.”
So sufficiency is good. But on the other hand, self-sufficiency is a real trap, whenever we think we have “come up by our own bootstraps.” That’s when we forget about God’s initiative and grace in our lives. But when we realize that whatever we have is sufficient for us – that we can live with the money we have earned, the assets and skills we have to use, or the time we have been given – then we can be fully present to this moment’s opportunities and the joys of our living.
“In our culture we’ve all learned that money means security, choices and power,” says author Lynn Miller. But “contentment is found in knowing that what things mean has nothing to do with who you are.”
Miller’s book, The Power of Enough: Finding Contentment by Putting Stuff In Its Place, makes a great study. His challenge to distinguish between wants and needs and to assess things according to their “inherent usefulness” is worth the whole book. I confess his “What Stuff Means” exercises gave me a few “Aha!” moments. And his discussion of our “surplus economy” helps us connect our personal struggles over possessions with a Big Picture understanding.
Or pick up Adam Hamilton’s book Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity. In it, he offers practical ideas, including five steps for simplifying your life (and related personal reflection questions); fifteen financial management tips, and six principles for financial planning. Or just read it for the down-to-earth Wesleyan theology and discuss it with a group of friends.
God does not call us to spiritual anorexia, as if starving our dreams of fullness were a virtue. Jesus says, “I came that (you) might have life, and that abundantly!” (Jn. 10:10) In response to such graciousness on God’s part, we find we have more than enough. We are content.
Betsy Schwarzentraub, consultant
Written 4/2013 for Yellowstone Conference UM Foundation
Moving from Scarcity to Contentment by Betsy Schwarzentraub is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.