Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Enough, Already

When I was growing up, my dad immensely enjoyed character-building.  Sometimes I remember his attempts to that end and figure you could almost squeeze character juice out of me by now.  

Usually twice a year, we traveled by second class (read: not air-conditioned) train for twenty-two hours across India.  He didn't like spending much on hotels, which meant bathrooms were not usually attached, air conditioning existed only in our dreams (if we got to sleep), and sometimes, we had roommates of the four- and six-legged variety.

The summer I turned thirteen, though, we were moving back to the States for a year, from our home in Thailand.  En route, my dad planned a six-week adventure through Egypt and Jordan, which would be followed by a month of travel all over America, and then the first two months of school in California. I was incredibly excited.  There was just one issue: everything we were taking for those four months had to fit into a carry-on.  

It seemed impossible to prepare adequately.  But part of my dad's "stretching the dollar" policy included traveling over land from Amman, across the Sinai peninsula, to Cairo (where my cousins were living).  We took a ferry from Aqaba, Jordan to Nuweiba, Egypt.  Aqaba is a small town tucked in close to Egypt, Israel, and Saudi Arabia.  We had to carry our bags about a mile at noon under the mid-June sun.  Everything I had packed in my carry-on, my one bag, suddenly seemed like far too much. 

Fast forward about twenty years, and I stood in another new-to-us house, surrounded by cardboard boxes filled with all our belongings, wondering where to put it all.  I'd gotten in an argument with my husband about, basically, stuff, and I was feeling disgusted by it, wondering why.  Why did I have all this?  Did we need it?

I spent the next year and a half or so lamenting everything that was wrong with the house -- not enough storage! poor lay-out! etc. But as I began to anticipate yet another move, I suddenly realized that it wasn't just the house. I felt like I was lugging that carry-on under a Jordanian desert's midsummer sun every time I looked around.  I started asking myself a question that was pretty uncomfortable, to tell the truth: What do we actually need?

I grew up saying the Lord's Prayer: "Give us this day our daily bread", but to be honest, it's only been in the past few years that I really started to think about what it meant.  There are multiple references to "daily bread" and God providing what we need (both in spiritually and physically).  For instance, God provided manna -- bread from heaven -- to the Israelites as they wandered in the desert.  It was on the ground every  morning, and He told them to take just what they needed for that day, except the day before the Sabbath so that they could rest.  If they took more, it would spoil.  (Exodus 16) 

And then there's Proverbs 30: 7-9 which I'd read before, but somehow "missed" until recently.
"Two things I ask of you, O LORD... Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise I may have too much and disown you and say, 'Who is the LORD?"  Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God."

Wait... What?  Someone who is not asking to supersize or get rich quick?  Who specifically asks that that not happen?  It's the antithesis to the (vastly misunderstood) Prayer of Jabez craze that swept America a decade or so ago, or the Prosperity Gospel. He doesn't want to be poor, either -- and with good reason -- but he asks for "just what I need."  

Enough, no more or less.

I didn't grow up with lots; there was plenty I didn't have.  At the same time, I had so much more than my neighbors.  The first house I remember living in was just across a pothole-riddled road from a Bengali village where the houses were made of mud walls with thatched roofs, and the children ran around without any clothes at all.  

I grew up and justified my belongings and longings for more as being part of the culture I live in now -- while at the same time, there was a constant ache in my heart for those kids I'd grown up with who had so little but smiled so much.  How was it okay for me to have so much and crave more, when I knew the faces and names of so many who have so little?

I started looking around and realizing I didn't love much of what we had. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't doing us any good.  So I got rid of it. 

What I found was, I liked the space we had more than I'd enjoyed the belongings.  I liked feeling lighter.  We didn't know where we would move next, but I wanted to be ready for it.  I kept taking more and more to donate.

When we moved here to Hawaii, we moved into a much smaller house (that was terrible and falling apart), and we felt lucky to have it after two months of very difficult house-hunting.  We downsized more. 

Then last year, when we moved into our current house, which is HUGE, we realized we had experienced a paradigm shift.  Filling space like this didn't feel sustainable to us -- especially knowing we will move again, and it's just a matter of when.  We wanted less. 

I know I would have to get rid of pretty much everything if this was just a matter of fully empathizing with my former neighbors and others who live in poverty.  But that's not the point, or what I think we're supposed to do, either.  

It's about not taking as much as I can just because it's there, and thinking more deliberately about what I actually need for my life.  It's about curbing shopaholic tendencies, carefully selecting according to what we truly love and need and suits our lifestyle, rather than buying something just because it's "cute" or on sale. 

I hesitate to use the word minimalism, because it sounds kind of monastic.  Still, let me tell you about the picture at the top of the post.  I took it while standing in front of my house last evening. When we moved into this house, the view didn't look anything like this.  In fact, we didn't even know that the water was so close.  There was just a crazy, thick jungle of plants and trees.  A few months ago, all that was cleared away.  Suddenly, we had an amazing view.  We saw breathtaking sunsets, almost every night.

In the same vein, I'm trying to figure out what "enough" is, or my "daily bread."  I'm hoping to clear away what I don't need so that I can be a better steward of what I have, and therefore more generous with my time and resources.  I'm hoping to become a mother and wife who isn't pulled into frequent battles over stupid "stuff" but focusing more on what is important.  And I want to be ready for whatever comes next, not weighed down by my belongings and attachments to them.

In other words, I want to clear all the extra and unnecessary to be able to see all the things that truly take your breath away.


  1. I really enjoyed reading this, Joy. The question of "what is enough" has been on my mind, too. More specifically, I'm wondering when I feel I can say I have enough work (clients) and don't need to take on any more. Somehow I think whether it's work or possessions, we endow so much meaning and value to them that it's hard for us to say we don't need anymore. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this! I'm definitely keeping it in mind.

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed it. And yes, that's so very true. It's about much more than possessions. I even think it applies to our health and body image! I'm planning many more posts about all this. Thanks for reading! :-)

  3. Love it, Joy!! You are an awesome, godly woman! Thank you for sharing what the Lord is doing in you in such an eloquent manner!! I always love reading about you and the family!

  4. Sandra, you are so encouraging!! Thank you! I also love reading about you and your family, and what God is doing in and through all of you -- makes me thankful for social media because for so many years, I wondered what you were up to or got snippets of news through other people. I'm so glad I don't have to do that any more! :-)


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