In searching for the meaning of the word abundant online, I found a chart that maps the use of the word abundant in literature. While I cannot confirm its accuracy, it says that when abundant was at an all time high, around 1863 from my best reading of this chart, it was used in literature to describe agriculture, when speaking of faith, and in one article I found, to talk about butterflies. I find it fascinating and incredibly sad that we are at all time low for the use of the word abundant. The chart showed it is a world-wide epidemic; abundance is not a part of our commonly used vocabulary.
This week I read an article about Marrisa Mayer, the yahoo! ceo, who said in her early days at Google, she and her colleagues regularly worked 130 hours a week and slept at their desks. She said they would even schedule bathroom breaks for most efficiency and went on to say that she can now predict the success of start up companies by whether they are working these kinds of schedules.
We were supposed to have more than previous generations. Our technology and world wide ways of doing things were supposed to lead to more abundance: abundance of money, time, energies, agriculture. When did we get to a world where we need to schedule bathroom breaks and sleep at desks in order to work enough to be successful? It seems to me that we need to redefine success and redefine abundance.
I think we define abundance as having everything we could think of. Unlimited finances, unlimited resources, unlimited time.
Do you remember Garfield and his dream in the opening of the Christmas special? John gave him this chair that when you sat in it and put the head piece on, it would give you anything you could dream of. We believe we should have that chair; that it should be given to us by God, by our country. And in our most honest parts, I think many times we believe that we are owed that chair. Anything that has limits is not abundant and when we focus on the limits, on what we do not have, on what is missing, our mindset becomes scarcity.
Parker Palmer said, “True abundance comes not to those intent on securing wealth, but to those who are willing to share a life of apparent scarcity. Those who seek well-being, who grasp for more than their share, will find life pinched and fearful. They will reap only the anxiety of needing more, and the fear that someday it will all be taken away.”
Too many of us are living lives that are pinched and fearful. We are so busy running from one thing to another, trying to do it all, feeling compelled to always do more with less, we wind up depleted. I had a coaching client, an incredibly talented, intelligent person, who would come to each call with a new time management tool. She was just sure that this new tool was going to allow her to do everything she wanted to do, everything she felt she needed to do. Having everything was just out of reach and if she could just get herself organized enough, she could get reach it.
Too many churches are living lives that are pinched and fearful. I have spoken with countless ministers whose biggest problem is helping their church to move from a mindset of scarcity. They cannot see their assets, they can only see their deficits and their deficits cause them to focus inward. Thom Rainer says that the most common factor in declining churches is an inward focus. They believe there is not enough to give and so they focus on themselves, surviving, and how to make sure they are taken care of and how they can get more. We focus on the lack of volunteers to keep everything running, the lack of finances to have a big staff, the lack of being able to fund our buildings by ourselves. In each of these is the possibility to dream a new dream.
Abundance does not equal unlimited. Things may not be unlimited but they can still be abundant. We may not be abundant in the things we use to be abundant in. Perhaps we need to redefine abundance. What are the worlds greatest needs and where does that intersect with what we have to offer? That is living in the spirit of true abundance.
Limits actually serve as great filters. In order to really say yes to some things, we have to say no to others. We have to make smart choices about what we agree to, what we say yes to, where our resources are used. We decide what is most important and we invest there. This is true for family, work, church and the gift of your talents to the world. We become clear about what is most important and we realize how many wonderful things we do have in this life. We focus on where we want to say yes and there we find abundance. We find an openness to this life that comes from feeling that we have more than enough.
For organizations, if you don’t have someone willing to lead something, let it go. It may be time for something entirely new to be birthed, or the same ministry may spring back to life in a new way. So many churches find themselves with the albatross of big buildings. Instead of looking at them as “our buildings”/”our churches”, what if we opened them up to others. Let go of some of the control and watched new ministries and non-profits being birthed in our spaces. Suddenly there could be more ministry happening than we could have ever done ourselves.
I think sometimes we don’t want to live in abundance. It is easier to feel that we have no time or money. We are victim to the world we live in. It takes work to make intentional choices. We are not able to please everyone. It is easier for an organization to focus on trivial matters, like the operations of the church kitchen, than to focus on letting it be used to do good in the world. Living in abundance is often messy and we are the ones responsible for discernment. It takes courage to move beyond being a victim of circumstance, focusing on what is not.
Jesus said in John 10:10 says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
Are you living life all the way to full? In a world that is driven by fear and negativity, let’s live as people with open hearts, open hands and bring the word abundant back into vogue.