The Negative Power of Scarcity Thinking

Sometimes, I wonder just how many of the world’s ills are attributable to the ‘not enough’ syndrome?

You know the thinking — it shows up in all its various permutations:

“I don’t have enough”
“I can’t get enough”
You’re not enough”
I’m not enough.”

All tolled, I reckon the answer is . . . a fair amount. 

We’ve been looking at the parables of Jesus in Matthew 18 and 20 the past few weeks, the ones about forgiveness and generosity, about the many ways we tend to keep score in this life and how truly pointless it is. 

Think back to our story about beginnings and you can see it even there. Adam and Eve figured they didn’t have enough and that they themselves were not quite enough, either. They listened to the sinuous voice of the Tempter and allowed it to rule over their better selves, the selves that knew and were known, the selves that saw all that God had made and knew it to be GOOD, the selves that assumed abundance.

That same thread can be seen weaving its sharp-edged, ugly way through so many of the stories of the Old Testament and so many of the word pictures that Jesus drew as he told his stories along the dusty roads of ancient Palestine.

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Right in the middle of some of those stories is where we find ourselves in the lectionary readings as we move toward the end of Ordinary Time this month. 

A couple of weeks ago, we talked about settling conflicts in the community, about how important it is to face into the hard things faithfully, openly, honestly. We followed that up last week with Peter’s question about forgiveness. “How many times, Lord?”

And the answer zinged back at him: “More times than you can count, my friend. An infinite number.” And to underscore that truth, Jesus told that story of forgiveness and generosity, the one that is paired with an equally powerful picture of what can happen if we are not forgiving and generous. 

Look at our altar pieces for that week and see if you can tell which story I mean. Yeah, that’s the one — the dramatically contrasting story of the steward who is forgiven much and then turns around and refuses to forgive a debt less than 1/10th the size of the one from which he had just been freed.

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I love that our artists chose to use the image of breaking down a wall to picture this disparity. A giant mallet, contrasted with a tiny hammer.

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A massive pile of bricks juxtaposed with one tiny half-brick.

We get it so backwards, don’t we? The man in the story had received the gracious gift of a lifetime – he owed an incalculable debt. Huge. And yet he couldn’t spread the goodness, he was unable to ‘forgive’ the small amount owed to him, choosing instead to cast his debtor into prison, breaking up his family, destroying his life.

This story always makes me wonder where my own stinginess lies, where my fears about not having enough, about balancing the scales, about making sure everyone is paid up — where that ugliness hides itself in me. Because it’s there, I know it is.

Hanging onto hurt feelings over a casual remark when so many have forgiven my thoughtlessness over the years. Worrying that someone else will do it better or collect more friends or receive more invitations to fun events. Yeah, I’ve been in those judgmental, keep-the-upper-hand shoes.

Yesterday, the Jesus-story once again cut right through to the place I live, the one I hide inside my spirit. That score-keeping, compare-and-contrast, watch-out-that-you-don’t-get-cheated place that I must regularly pray my way out of.

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The story of the generous master, the crew-boss who goes out at regular intervals to hire workers for the field and then pays them all exactly the same wage. Exactly the same. Whether they started at nine in the morning or five in the afternoon, everybody got exactly the same pay.

Now, what, pray tell, is fair about that? Yes, that is exactly what I would have been saying. Grumble, grumble. “Say what? I’ve been sweating away all day long and that clown who came during the cool of the evening and didn’t even work up a sheen — they’re getting the same pay I got??”

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Envy is like that, isn’t it? Constantly keeping a mental tally of how much everybody else is getting and comparing it to what I have. Wanting to keep all things even. JUSTICE! 

Well, maybe not.

Because the landowner in this story is completely just, if you read it carefully and if you think about it at all. He promises the early workers a fair day’s wage. And he pays them exactly what was agreed upon. But by that time, they’ve seen that he’s given the late-comers that same wage and have convinced themselves they’ll get more.

No dice. They got exactly what was agreed upon before they began the job. And also? A small, kindly lecture from the landowner.

And you gotta love this lecture:

‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

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Now think about that for a minute. “Are you envious because I am generous?” Oh, ouch.

Oh, Lord, help me to celebrate your generosity at every turn, to recognize its beauty, to see your grace in every lovely gift bestowed by your hand. . . even when it doesn’t exactly match what I think I should have gotten!

Help me to cease this struggle for enough, for what is ‘fair,’ for what I think is rightfully mine. Remind me that every good and perfect gift comes from your hand and that whatever I have and whoever I am — is enough. Because you are so much more.

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To stop asking the incessant “Why?” and “Why not?” questions and to start paying attention to what is right in front of me.

To see the beautiful in the everyday, to look for the grace in every difficulty, to remember the loveliness of the small.

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To whisper, “Thank you” thousands of times more often than I cry out, “Fix this!”

To look for the color, the glorious color of generosity wherever I find my feet planted, and to stop living as though there is a scarcity of everything or anything.
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And help me to reflect your heart, to make space for cheerleading instead of comparison, for gratitude instead of grumbling.

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In the good, strong name of Jesus, whose generosity amazes and astounds me, day after day.

Amen.

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Comments

  1. Love this Diana – and love those beautiful roses!
    God has been speaking this very thing to my own heart over the last week. I have been finally admitting the hurt that I have felt over a great lack in my own life, and wondering what the point was of God bringing the hurt to my attention…. until last week my eyes were suddenly opened to the provision that God has made all this time, in the midst of the lack! I had been seeing the provision as evidence of the lack, because it didn’t appear in the way I wanted it to, or in the time I wanted it to, and it wasn’t until my eyes were opened that I saw the provision in the midst of the lack.
    I have realised that although the provision of God has come in different ways than I was looking for, it HAS come, and instead of panicking over how the need will be met tomorrow and next month and next year, all I need to do is trust the God will continue to be faithful to meet these needs in His own way and in His own time. The Israelites didn’t get enough manna to last them the week, they had to keep trusting each day that God would provide again for them – and as much as I want to be sure ahead of time of the provision of God, I have to keep trusting each day, too.
    Sorry, I seem to have written a blog post in your comments… 🙂

    • I love that you wrote a blog post, Donna! Because that tells me your heart is pricked, too. These small,, simple stories of Jesus can do such work in us, if we’re open to it. Thanks for sharing your heart here, my friend. Always happy to see you.

  2. This is so beautiful, Diana. I had not thought of the story of the generous crew-boss, when I shared the story about my grandson Gavin rejoicing at the gifts his cousins received when he received none, but that’s it exactly. Thank you so much for this. xox

    • Yup, that boy got it right! That’s the sweetness I want to live in naturally, without effort. Thanks for reading, my friend, and for sharing, too.

  3. Oh… I lived in the land of not enough for far too long… and if some one would have asked me if I was more of a positive or negative person… I would have said positive…but oh how are hearts can deceive us… but thanks be to God we have an Abba who is always coming to bring us truth and grace… He opened my eyes and changed the lens of which I read my life and the world around me. One big way He did this was Ann V’s book and me hammering out over 5,000 ways He loves me.
    I also saw… we give and love out of our relationship with God… so in this not enough land… I saw God as exacting and miserly… and this is how I interacted with the world around me…yes… Doesn’t He generosity just amaze us… abundant and overflowing…. never lacking!!!!

    • It does require changing the that lens, doesn’t it? And I know that Ann’s book has helped thousands of people, all around the world, to look at things through new eyes, new lenses. Thanks for reading, Ro, and for leaving encouraging words.

  4. Goodness Diana – on fire you are! This seems like a sermon to me. And much needed word. Thank you. I especially love:

    “Help me to cease this struggle for enough, for what is ‘fair,’ for what I think is rightfully mine.
    To see the beautiful in the everyday, to look for the grace in every difficulty, to remember the loveliness of the small. To whisper, “Thank you” thousands of times more often than I cry out, “Fix this!”
    To look for the color, the glorious color of generosity wherever I find my feet planted, and to stop living as though there is a scarcity of everything or anything.”
    Sooo apt, helpful and full of goodness.

    • Well, preaching seems to be an occupational hazard! I was moved by my own pastor’s preaching before I wrote this, a distillation of a couple of sermons, actually. Thanks for the kind words. Glad you found it helpful.

  5. I’ve always looked at the parable of the wages as God giving to all of us, no matter when we finally decide to turn to him, equal love, grace and forgiveness. I didn’t accept Jesus until I was 30 – Thirty years of missing out on the greatest relationship there is, yet He welcomed me to Him with open arms. Thinking back to that day, I still get all choked up. Lord, thank You for loving me, for loving all of us!
    Blessings, Diana, for this beautiful, honest post!

    • Indeed, Martha. That’s how most of us look at it. I’m so glad that you found Jesus (or Jesus found you!), no matter what age you were. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  6. I found myself sighing as I read you words. Sighing in agreement with what you were saying. Sighing in recognition of myself in your words. “In the good, strong name of Jesus, whose generosity amazes and astounds me, day after day.” Amen and Amen

  7. Yep, this hit home, Diana. I’ve been struggling with the ‘not-enoughs’ mostly in my writing. I hate the comparison game, and yet I find myself sucked in time and again, as I watch so many of my writer friends taking off. Your words, so beautiful and clear, remind me not to despise small things. Even if – especially for me, if – those small things are my blog, my following, the time I have to invest in writing. I love how you speak of cheerleading here. It’s something I want to grow into, more and more as a writer, without secretly hoping for reciprocation. To have more and more that mentality of, “Look at YOU!” It’s so painful to admit these things, for they feel so petty, so ugly, so beside the point. And yet there is freedom, too, in confessing and in remembering the great Grace from which we have come. I’m so very grateful for your words of wisdom.

    • Thank you so much for reading, Amber, and for leaving such a thoughtful comment. And believe me, I get that comparison in this interesting place called blogland. I’m learning to settle into being little and trusting that whatever God gives me to say in the online place I inhabit, it will be . . . enough. Thanks for coming by today.

  8. So often if I remove my eyes from myself (and my own score-sheet) I am able to much more easily rejoice in the abundance that is always present – even when it lands in someone else’s lap. You are right, Diana, there is ALWAYS enough for me, and when someone seems to receive a greater portion, instead of translating that according to the faulty measurement of scarcity thinking, I benefit so much by recognizing it as a sign of the goodness and richness of the Giver. One I am learning to trust.

    Thank you for joining us at Unforced Rhythms. As always, your words have a way of walking me home.

  9. Diana, Loved this. Always a good reminder to be grateful for the generosity of God, the absolute lavishness of His love. Thank you, too, for those photos of the roses. The up-close of the pink one reminded me of a Georgia O’Keefe painting 🙂 Lovely.

  10. Diana, it took me all week to get to this. So glad I came back to it! Can you hear me shouting ‘amen!’ from Seattle? I wrote a little poem about this scarcity mindset a few weeks ago and it turned out to be therapeutic–self-talk reminding me of God’s more-than-enough abundance.
    Thank you for sharing your words and beautiful photos here–the altar pieces are astonishing object lessons.

    I so appreciate your voice.

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