“There are two ways to get enough: one is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.” —G. K. Chesterton
Today, I am seated in church. I am distracted, thinking of an upcoming business trip I am taking during which I am to lead a panel about blogging. I have recently been declared an expert in the field, a highly acclaimed resource for writers interested in design or art or living a more beautiful life. The internet said so, so it must be true. The London Times said it. Lucky Magazine said it. I had not yet said it.
I did not—I do not—think of my life as beautiful. It is just life. And so I worked hard for the charade. I considered the costume. Should I wear the faux fur vest? Would that be too distracting? Would I spend the day interrupting every introduction with an explanation—It was my grandmother’s! No, really! Don’t worry; it’s faux. Should I go with heels or wedges? It’s harder to run in heels. Did I have time to get the wedges resoled before Thursday? Could I drop them off after tomorrow’s manicure?
I am surveying my cuticles when our pastor, Jon—he is a soft-spoken man in beach sandals, a bit similar to Matthew Perry, perhaps a brother, a distant cousin, a friend?—snaps me back to the sermon, and I hear one line and one line only:
“But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort” (Luke 6:24).
Yes, it does hurt, this truth. It does hurt very much.
The truth is that blogging has shifted my view. You do not see view shifts until after they have shifted, and so it is only now, only today in church, only after being smacked with a verse from the book of Luke that I notice I am here, surveying my cuticles, my faux, my wedges. My comfort, my prize.
Growing popularity offers more opportunities for products, items, comforts I could never afford before, and I find that the more I receive, the more I say yes—ping—the more I am in want. A lion’s hunger is insatiable.
Of note: my husband, Ken, and I do not think ourselves rich. Our mortgage is still outlandishly large, and we consider ourselves, on most days, to be house poor. Only in writing this now do I realize house poor to be an oxymoron.
Poor, I thought, was eating Ramen for dinner in a viewless rental without cable. Poor, I thought, was shopping at Goodwill for new shoes.
It was years before I understood the negative effects of my far-reaching consumerism, before I realized that the stick by which I measured wealth and status was heavily skewed. I cannot now conceptualize a more accurate miscalculation of rich and poor. As I am thinking of it, just blocks from this same church, there are groups of children eating ketchup packets for dinner.
I am here, living with one eye on my belongings and another on my soul.
“Would you like to receive our new Espadrille wedges?” yesterday’s email read. I would, very much, and I do, very much, and now they are en route to my doorstep, wrapped in tissue with a lovely note of encouragement, of kindness, of praise.
I have no true need for Espadrille wedges. It is a perk, yes, a lovely perk, and yet some perks become so regular, you come to see them as ordinary blessings, and then you come to see those ordinary blessings as daily expectations.
Have I been working for more perks, more accolades, more of the Espadrille wedges, the pink blazers, the conference panels?
Do you know the difference, grammatically, between more and many? I learned it in college from a professor who had burned her bra in the throes of feminism, who had adopted and raised a thirteen-year-old son alone, who, when her partner had left her for another woman, when she and her son slept on cardboard for a time, had turned to grammar, to education, to self-reliance for her worth.
Many, she explained, is measurable. We owed many large sums of money. We missed many meals. We did not have many items in our care.
And I see it now: the blazer, the manicure. The cappuccino, the conference. The many. Yes, I was measuring it. All the time.
But more, she explained, is immeasurable. We wanted more. (How much?) We needed more. (How much?) We would never, ever, I feared, have more. (But how much?)
More, she said, is a never-ending immeasurable. It can’t be counted or valued or summed or justified. More is always, by definition, just ahead at the horizon. That’s why we never stop chasing it.
More is never enough.
There are two catchphrases I have used, many of us have used, to justify the stress of busy lives spent amassing.
1.) God will not give you more than you can handle. (Or the rhyming version: If God brought you to it, he’ll bring you through it!)
I think this one to be true. But I also wonder if God has given us a few things—an aging parent, some mouths to feed, a recent job loss—and we have given ourselves many more things—the Target credit card bill, a yard to mow, a bigger house with an extra bedroom for guests, three dinner parties to host, and the inability to say no to serving the animal crackers in Sunday school twice this month. Between God’s giving and our own giving, there is excess.
How many, how much?
There are the gifts we thank God for—the opportunity that brings the promotion, the promotion that brings the Target credit card, the Target credit card that brings the new credenza in the new guest room in the new house with the bigger yard where the flatware will need to be polished before Friday night and Where’d we leave those peppermint candles? and Kids, is that a blueberry on the new white couch?! and suddenly, we’ve tipped the scale. We’re stressed. We pray for deliverance, for peace, for our joy to return.
We call this a test. Can we handle this? Can we handle the busy? Can we handle a quicker pace, a heftier load?
Perhaps we were never intended to.
God will not give us more than we can handle, the saying goes.
But what does it say about what we give ourselves? What then?
2.) God helps those who help themselves.
This one, to be clear, is not in the Bible. Ben Franklin said it, and although I’m grateful for bifocals, Mr. Franklin, I believe this to be ill advice.
I used to hint for gifts from Ken—“How great does this book look?!”—and he would, amazingly, remember the hint, and I would, amazingly, forget the hint, until weeks later, on Christmas or a birthday, I’d unwrap from him the very book I’d impatiently bought myself (and already read). Only his would be inscribed.
Here he was, wanting mostly to give me something lovely and meaningful, and here I was, giving a lesser version to myself because it was immediate. Is it our doing the helping ourselves, and God’s wanting to do the helping, but only if we would just get out of the way already? Move over? Quit buying our own books? Stop choosing our gifts based on our own idea of adequate timing?
Oh, but it sounds so tidy. It sounds like if God helps those who help themselves, we get to stomach long hours in cubicles under fluorescent lights; we get to praise the arrival of Monday morning donuts. We get to pack our schedules with another kids’ soccer game, another dance lesson, another playdate. We get to check our email under the dinner table. We get to amass money, experience, knowledge. We get to reward our volunteer shift at the homeless shelter with a venti iced mocha latte on the drive home. We get to be the yes-man, the make-it-happen girl, the busy bees. We get to interchange good works with any works.
We get to answer What do you do for a living? without umm. We get to slurp our red-pepper bisques with a smile.
We get to nearly guarantee that this God we believe in, this God who helps those who help themselves, will flood down our due blessings as long as they’re earned.
Yes, I’ll be on that conference call, in the name of our Lord Jesus, amen.
(Last year, for Christmas, Ken gave me twenty dollars and a smile and told me to go pick out my own book.)
Pastor Jon is offering his closing prayer. I am offering my own.
God, teach me what it means to forgo the riches of this life. Change me. I am spent.
Copyright Erin Loechner 2016. Excerpted from Chasing Slow: Courage to Journey Off the Beaten Path published by Zondervan Publishing.