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June 23, 2009

Why Don't We Feel Like We Have Enough?

In late winter, a new Salvation Army store opened with surprising fanfare in my mid-Michigan hometown. At the Grand Opening, bargain shoppers started lining up outside in 30 degree weather at 7 a.m. and patiently waited two hours for the manager to unlock the doors. When he did, it took 20 minutes for the crowd to file inside.

Throughout the day, shoppers again waited in lines to purchase the goods that filled their carts to overflowing. The lines wrapped around the perimeter of the store while hundreds of cars clogged the once deserted parking lot.

By closing time, the store that offers items with the average sale price of $2.09 had made $30,000. Twirling lights from a sky tracker sliced through the darkened skies, signaling to the world that a new business had successfully launched.

It's tempting to believe that shoppers who sifted through the carefully sorted clothing and household goods did so out of dire need. But I'm afraid my local Salvation Army's slammin' success is more indicative of the downward slide of the American shopper. Sometime in the past year, Macy's shoppers became J.C. Penney shoppers who became Wal-Mart shoppers who became Salvation Army shoppers.

We may be experiencing a paradigm shift, but the paradigm itself (shop till you drop) has remained the same. And so has our bottom line. We're still looking for a bargain. We're still seduced by the thrill of the hunt. And, even at the Salvation Army, we're still spending money as though it were our social responsibility to do so.

The rhetoric regarding the cause and effect of our economic downturn continues to swirl, but I don't believe it reflects the whole truth of our circumstances. The reality that we don't seem to want to face is that we have bought into the scarcity mentality that permeates the culture. Our closets, garages and cupboards overflow with possessions, but we act like our stuff evaporated with our 401Ks.

Certainly, there are legitimate needs. I live just outside of Flint where unemployment rate hovers above 14 percent due to the auto industry's failure. Economic tensions and uncertainties dominate every conversation and fill the very air we breathe.

Still, many people here have homes, cars, snowmobiles, cottages Up North and wardrobes that could easily clothe a small African village. America is still the richest country in the world, but our desire for more stuff remains unsatiated.

Marketers have apparently won the battle. We have come to believe we do not have enough. We look on our belongings with disdain rather than gratitude and have listened to the message that loudly insists, WE NEED MORE! And we're buying it. We may not be buying it at our preferred outlets, but that doesn't mean we're not hauling it home.

Perhaps the question we need to be asking ourselves is not, How can I get more? but, Why don't I feel like I have enough?

G. K. Chesterton said, "There are two ways to get enough. One is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less."Jesus himself said, "A man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." Such ideology is viewed as absurd by our consumer-driven culture that has entertained, comforted and numbed itself for decades by heading to the mall.

While it may seem counterintuitive, perhaps the best way to experience a sense of abundance rather than scarcity is to give some of our stuff away. Most of us have more than we're capable of caring for anyway. Certainly, we have more than we can truly enjoy. It's time to sort through all those sweaters, dishes, toys and furniture and do what the experts say: keep what you love, let go of the rest.

Once you've accumulated a pile of good stuff to share, be sure to donate it to your local Salvation Army. If your store is experiencing a boon like mine, their stock might need a little replenishing.


Thanks, Eileen, for your insight. You illustrated well the reality that even in this downturn, our hearts remain as hungry for material possessions and stuff as ever before. I see this in myself, always justifying purchases that cost less than others; I still hunger to get more as I wrestle with covetousness and greed. This is often a subtle struggle - it may not look like a hungry pack of shoppers bursting into store doors, but this root runs deep in us and needs to be extracted.

Contentment with what I have and even willingness to give stuff away is truly a most refreshing freedom.

I come from Barbados in the West Indies, a small but fairly developed island . What Eileen just described is not an American problem, but a human problem. The heart of it is this: thou shalt not covet. the apostle Paul said that he had learned in which ever situation he found himself in to be content. I also agree with Sarah, this human struggle to always want more than we have or even need, stops us from enjoying what God has already given to us, both spiritually and materially. so we live in a state of what I call 'wantingness' instead of thankfulness. We have to constantly examine ourselves to see how far we are on the thankful meter today.

I am a 56 year old church leader from Ghana and I got on this newsletter to understand the concerns of women in ministry.
See what I get - insights into life-changing issues!
Indeed just as Debbie says, "wantingness" is a human condition - not just affecting Americans or women only. Recently, my godly wife talked me out of purchasing a new TV set when what we needed was a small serving which was even done free for us by a Christian brother who told me the purchase was unnecessary. I think we must have around us people we are accountable to shake us up as the Holy Spirit convicts us to be content with what God has given to us.
I'm sure blessed. Thanks.

Thank you Eileen for your very insightful and well-written article.

My family and I recently went through a house fire and while everyone is physically safe, most of our possessions were lost. God has kept us in amazingly good spirits through the whole ordeal and has taught us some insights similar to the ones in your article. For example, are staying in a very comfortable yet sparsely furnished, rented home. When the restoration company finally delivered the things that were salvageable (mostly things from our basement) my gut reaction surprised me so. As boxes and boxes of neatly washed and folded clothes, trinkets, etc. came pouring in, I abhored it. "My old things" which I thought I would treasure and thrill at seeing again, disgusted me. I hated the clutter, the excess, the utter uselessness of most of those things. Now, when I shop (and starting with nothing for a family of 5, we have had to do a lot of that) I only buy what we really want or need. I am GRATEFUL for my things but even more so for the understanding of what is essential and what is waste.

Again, thank you for your article.

Powerful! thanks... it's helped me along a journey I'm already beginning to walk.

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