Fears are insidious. It’s so easy to list your fears out loud when they look like spiders, mice, snakes, heights, and small spaces. It’s harder to speak about fears like abandonment, missing out, driving a car, being laughed at, looking like an idiot, hospitals. Physical danger is always the easiest to bring up. It’s the social and emotional dangers we fear that stick in our throat while we share our latest snake horror story.
I’m not going to list for you all of my fears. Honestly, we don’t have that kind of time together, and I’d like to sleep well tonight. You can safely assume I share most of your fears, plus a few oddballs (heights aren’t a problem for me, but even a low swinging bridge is a problem, for instance; spiders are horrible but please, oh please, let’s not even talk about ticks). My imagination is vivid, so my fears have left me frozen, shaking, and running at various points in my life. I appeared to even have learned to teleport during one particular encounter with a snake.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about a subset of fears I hadn’t even noticed for most of my life. It’s a type of fear that seems common as I look around, and it is subtle. It’s the fear of “not enough.”
Not enough clothes to wear.
Not enough food to eat.
Not enough money.
Not enough time.
Not enough space.
Not enough love.
Not enough freedom.
Not enough influence.
Not enough ________.
You’ve got some of these on the list, maybe even others that are similar. I’ve got them in spades. Some of the things on the list make me feel petty. I spent years packing my cabinets full of food that would end up going to waste because I was afraid I wouldn’t have it on hand in a time of need. I wasted money purchasing it, I wasted goods throwing it away, I wasted time seeking it out and dealing with its aftermath. Maybe you haven’t had this issue or don’t think you have and I sound like a hoarder to you. These were not massive amounts of food at one time. I didn’t recognize it as a fear. But week after week, I was throwing away things I shouldn’t need to.
I started to consciously stop buying for the invisible people in my house I needed to please — the company I would buy something for if they were actually coming, the doomsday prepper that is certain I might starve to death before a pizza could be delivered to my door in case of emergency. My fridge looks plain sometimes, but there are some weeks I’m just not going to have time to eat at home, so I don’t grocery shop. Milk, cheese, and neatly stacked towers of yogurt are the foods I actually use daily, so sometimes that’s all I buy. Meal planning is definitely the way to go, and someday I will actually master it. Right now I just keep falling off that particular wagon and getting back in, but there’s still no need to make myself a safety net of expiring food “just in case.”
Another example: clothes. This one was a major surprise to me when I realized it, because I barely get by in the fashion department. I value what’s comfortable and easy while I admire at a distance the seemingly effortless styles other women put together. I like pretty things, but I can’t bring myself to work very hard at putting them together. I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up in the fall, and while I have no desire to go to the extremes Marie Kondo does, it got me thinking. I am drowning in stuff. Yes, I’m lazy when it comes to clothes. But how many t-shirts does one person need? My laundry piles up until you would think I’m washing for a family of four, yet I live alone. How, how, how do I have so much stuff that I don’t even use? Even if I only kept the clothes I wear often, that’s still so. much. stuff.
I’ve been working on that too. Garbage bag after garbage bag full of stuff has made its way to Goodwill, the Bethany House, etc. this year from me. The number of them has been shamefully high. I promise you that I’m not a hoarder, though. I have a fairly normal amount of possessions. But it is still so much more than I need.
Why fill my house with clothes I’m not wearing, with food I’m not eating? It seems insane, and it is. But I’d bet money you’re victim to the same tendency, if not the same thing. (Marie Kondo, if you’re reading this, you’re probably excluded from this. But sometimes I do wonder, how clean is your fridge?) I’m not actively afraid I’m going to starve to death or not have sufficient clothes to wear. I am, like so many, afraid of being uncomfortable. I just previously thought that mostly entailed not being late for an event or avoiding social gatherings with strangers.
My examples, as I’ve already admitted, seem petty. They are. I live a life of abundance. I have never done without in a way that is truly scarring. I haven’t been without a home, without food, without clothing. I haven’t been without freedom or influence. It feels like I never have enough time, but the problem is usually that I need to prioritize a little harder what is a valuable use of my time. And on and on.
I have enough. I bet you do, too. So why don’t we see it?
We’re afraid of what it would mean to not have enough of _______. When we are afraid of not having enough of whatever belongs in that blank, we try to pad our nest with it. Not enough time? We jealously throw fits over whatever tries to take it. Not enough love? We cling so hard to the people that we want to love us that we strangle them. We’re like people constantly falling off our individual and various cliffs, hanging on for dear life to the things we’re afraid that we’ll lose.
What does the Bible say about this particular fear? A lot, actually. Read this from Matthew 6:25-30 (NIV)
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?"
So what are we supposed to do? “Don’t worry” by itself is an unhelpful phrase. “Trust God” is helpful. Not “Trust that God will fix it,” but simply trust. If you can learn to look at what you have through the lens of faith, life looks different than it does through the lens of worry. This isn’t a magic fix, either. Nothing is. But cultivating faith helps you approach life with hands less quick to grasp at things in desperation and more likely to hold on with care to the things already in your life. You don’t have to be saved from your circumstances; sometimes you can be saved even in the middle of them. God’s version of “enough” doesn’t always look like we want it to, but it is nevertheless, “enough.” We just have to learn what “enough” actually looks like.
This last part is the hard part. It’s the part I don’t have a list of things to try. Dumping your clothes is easy. Buying only the food you will use is easy. Finding the proper perspective when you feel like you’re trapped in your circumstances is the work of a lifetime. I can tell you to spend time with God, use the Bible as your roadmap, find friends to help you on your way. Really, though, the first thing you have to do is want that perspective. You have to want “less” to be “enough” before you find that it is. Explore the landscape of “enough” as fast or slow as you need to. Be gentle and kind with yourself along the way.
Trust that trusting is a constructive thing; that the more you open yourself up to trust, the more you can trust. You’ll find you can build a ladder from that trust, climb high enough on it so you see your circumstances from a different angle even while you’re still in the middle of them. I think you’ll also see that they’re just circumstances, after all, and what defines you instead is how much God loves you and what you choose to do with that love.
Get the audiobook version of Jen Hatmaker’s book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. If that doesn’t inspire your
spring summer cleaning, I don’t know what will. Or I can loan you my copy of the paperback.
Read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, but with a grain of salt. There are a lot of concepts that I find liberating, even if I don’t want to dump most of what I own in one weekend.
Watch Moana, if you haven’t. It’s not about getting by with less, but it is about—at least in part— the freedom letting go of the things that you’ve let define you. Also, the music is just so good. They have stolen the heart from inside you / but this does not define you.
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