The Spirituality of Abundance & Scarcity – Part 1

— Andy Wade —

The US culture seems to primarily measure the abundant life by the accumulation of stuff, and the sustainable life by the accumulation of assets in our retirement portfolio. Sure, there have been pockets of revolution and, of course, many who would never measure up to the American Dream, but at our core, the American Dream still reigns supreme. (for an interesting assessment of the roots of the American Dream, check out this recent article from YES Magazine).

One would hope that the recent economic crisis would encourage us to re-evaluate our priorities. On some levels, it has. But if the economy returns to the boom times (and that’s a BIG “if”), are many of our life-style changes likely to stick?

This past year I finally got around to finishing my small greenhouse-toolshed. One of the reason it took so long was that

Some of the 2010 harvest

the majority of the materials were scrounged, or purchased as they became available from our local “Re-build-it Center”. I scoured seed stores for organic and heirloom variety seeds and quickly set about filling up my 42 square-feet of greenhouse space with trays of seed starts. Yes, I do have a habit of going a bit overboard at times, and this was no exception. I began giving away starts to family and friends and still had an overabundance. So I expanded the garden.

When we moved back to the US after 12 years with Mennonite Mission Network in Hong Kong, we managed to buy a house in my hometown of Hood River, Oregon. It’s a pretty typical rambler-style house with a pretty average backyard. I set my boys to helping me mark out and till up half the back yard for our organic garden. Even that first year our yields were impressive. Last year, after a very cold and wet spring, the harvest was adequate, but not prolific. A similar spring this year has meant a slow start to the growing season. But by keeping my starts in the greenhouse until the weather warmed, I was able to get a jump-start on the planting season.

As I planted more and more vegetable starts into the ever-expanding garden it occurred to me, this is so much like life. We do, indeed, have seasons of abundance and seasons of scarcity, situations often out of our control. But how do we live into every situation with both contentment and zeal? Another lesson I learned was that abundance expands our ability to share. Because I planned ahead I ended up with abundance in the greenhouse and abundance in the garden. Family, friends, and neighbors were blessed by our abundance which, in turn, was a blessing to us.

As a family, we’ve also been learning how to live in scarcity. Following our return from Hong Kong we discovered that Hood River had become a very expensive place to live with jobs (if you could find one) that paid just above minimum wage – hardly economically sustainable for a family of four! For the first time in our 25 years of married life, we had to really trust God to provide and humbly allow others to help us out. That was a difficult lesson for me to learn (and still is), but is also a big part of living as part of the Kingdom of God: the provision is always there, but we must be willing, as God’s family, to both give and receive in humility, love, patience, and understanding.

sm_garden-saladWe need to become more celebrative during both seasons of plenty and seasons of want. I could have approached gardening as work, a necessary evil to provide clean, healthy food for my family. But instead it’s a glorious adventure! The garden has become my sanctuary — a place for worship, meditation, and celebration, a place to encounter the wonders of God’s good creation, a place to share ideas and good food with friends, and to rediscover ancient plants filled with nutrients and flavor! One of my favorite garden celebrations I’m elevating to an art-form, creating bright, colorful salads using a variety of vegetables and edible flowers!

And finally, we need to embrace humility, recognizing that there are often circumstances outside ourselves that can dramatically influence whether we live in a season of abundance or a season of scarcity. This is where our community of faith is so important; we all need to recognize that we are in this life together. The American Dream, along with its various expressions we’ve exported around the globe, is one of “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” self-sufficiency. It promotes rugged individualism while looking down its nose at those unable to provide for themselves. It is, in short, the antithesis Organics from our garden – of the Kingdom of God. The Apostle Paul reminded the church in Corinth (1 Cor. 16) to set aside from their abundance so that they could give to the churches (in this case, the Jerusalem church) in need. But we are called not to just give to Christians in need, but to all who are in need.

This post first appeared in 2011