Too much is never enough.
God created us to be satisfied with enough. When we have the right amount, when we have our needs met, then we are working the way we are designed. We are built to have “enough.”
Too much is never enough. When we hear this, we usually think it means, “Even when we have too much, we still want (and believe we need) more; having ‘too much’ still does not fill us to the level of ‘enough,’ still does not satisfy us.” But in fact, too much is never enough because we have gone past “enough.” We have overfilled the tank, overinflated the tires, overwhelmed the mechanism. “Too much” is not good for us. We think we want “too much.” We think “Big Gulps” will make us happy, and we’re thrilled when we find that we can buy “Double Big Gulps.” Our new cars have larger cupholders so that we can carry sixty-four or one hundred twenty-eight ounces with us. We build bigger homes with more rooms than we need. We have more cars sitting in our garages and driveways than drivers in the home to drive them. We have overwhelmed our systems.
Target ran an ad campaign. They hung huge banners from their ceiling with pictures of all the great stuff you could buy in their store, and the banners randomly said, “WANT” or “NEED.” The Target marketing department was not trying to help us discern between our wants and needs. Quite the opposite. I walked around looking at the banners, with a bicycle helmet shouting “WANT” and a television set saying, “NEED.” I believe they were actually trying to muddle the line between the two categories. One Sunday in church, a precocious girl prayed after the children’s sermon, “God, give us what we want. Because what we want is what we need.” We all laughed and clapped when she finished praying. But I keep thinking about how untrue that is for us. What we have come to want is most definitely not what we need. I suspect most of us have lost track of what our actual needs are. God has blessed us by meeting our needs; we receive that blessing and want more.
Scripture tells us that wanting more than we need is bad for us. Do we believe that? The Biblical writers use words like “greed” and “gluttony.” Proverbs: “Human eyes are never satisfied.” When I discussed this with my young adult group, one of them suggested that this goes back to Adam and Eve, desiring what they cannot have. Maybe all sinful hearts desire more than they need, but we are a people who often can indulge this desire. When God gives us more than we need, he intends for us to share. Repeatedly we hear that there is enough food in the world for everyone if it were distributed properly.
We’ve traveled so far down the road of having too much, we now have a hard time believing that it’s bad for us. Doctors tell us that obesity in the US, especially in children, has reached epidemic levels. But we still want the oversized indulgence, be it a vacation home larger than our family needs for our full-time dwelling or an iPhone that has more apps than we could use in a lifetime. We have acquired a taste for gluttony and we simply don’t believe when God tells us that it’s bad for us and can never make us happy.
Another young adult suggested we’re like unrooted plants that thirst for more and more water, because no matter how much gets poured on us, we have nothing with which to hold it in so it just flows away. Plants don’t want too much water; too much water kills plants. Plants want enough water. Too much is never enough for plants and it is never enough for us. Enough is enough. Too much kills. We won’t believe this until we have acquired the taste for “enough.”
In his space fantasy novel Perelandra, C.S. Lewis creates a scene which has stuck in my mind since I read it as a teen. His protagonist, Ransom, has just tasted a new fruit for the first time:
As he let the empty gourd fall from his hand and was about to pluck a second one, it came into his head that he was now neither hungry nor thirsty. And yet to repeat a pleasure so intense and almost so spiritual seemed an obvious thing to do. His reason, or what we commonly take to be reason in our own world, was all in favour of tasting this miracle again; the child-like innocence of fruit, the labours he had undergone, the uncertainty of the future, all seemed to commend the action. Yet something seemed opposed to this “reason.” It is difficult to suppose that this opposition came from desire, for what desire would turn from so much deliciousness? But for whatever cause, it appeared to him better not to taste again. Perhaps the experience had been so complete that repetition would be a vulgarity–like asking to hear the same symphony twice in a day.
As he stood pondering over this and wondering how often in his life on earth he had reiterated pleasures not through desire, but in the teeth of desire and in obedience to a spurious rationalism, he noticed that the light was changing.
When we enjoy something, we “automatically” want more of it. But is seeking more furthering our pleasure or diminishing it? Is our desire for more simply our inability (or refusal) to be satisfied when we’ve had enough? Or are we satisfied but refuse to acknoweldge it? Perhaps refusing to acknowledge when we are satisfied is a good working definition of gluttony.
Ice cream is a want, not a need. It is a luxury by any reasonable human standard. It is a wonderful, delicious, refreshing treat for many people, especially when eaten in hot weather. Having seconds and thirds of ice cream does not increase our pleasure of eating ice cream; it does the opposite. Our taste buds get choked with the refined sugar (which isn’t good for us in the first place) and we actually lose our ability to taste the flavors as vividly. Most of us will begin to feel sick to our stomachs eventually. Feeling bloated is not satisfying nor pleasurable, but many of us associate being stuffed, even to the point of discomfort, with satisfaction.
I’ve struggled with this. When I eat ice cream, I want to taste more ice cream. Most of my life, I’ve been very poor at practicing moderation. I’m finally making progress. Anne Lamott describes a revolutionary challenge to her eating habits when a friend suggests that she eat only when she is actually hungry. Food tastes better and satisfies more when our bodies need it. We can develop the taste for enough just as we’ve developed the taste for too much. In fact, when we come to realize that we feel well—that this is how feeling well feels—we begin to lose the desire to overconsume.
Our eating habits serve as one example of our lifestyle of desiring too much. We learn to want more from seeing advertising, from watching others who have more than we do,* and from failing to seek our satisfaction in God. In the oft-quoted passage from Philippians, Paul states, “I have learned the secret of having plenty and of being in want. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Can I really? Can I really be satisfied with less, less than the neighbors or my friends have, less than I think I desire? If I were in a position of being in want, could I trust God and feel satisfied in Him nonetheless? How would that ever be possible if I have trained my heart always to want more?
Finally, yet again from one of my young adults, “If God blesses us with ample goods so that we have enough for ourselves and enough to share with others, we are stealing from them if we do not share.” I John: “How can you have this world’s goods and see another in need and not share and say God’s love is in you?” You can’t. It isn’t. There aren’t two possible answers for that rhetorical question. We could a)share what we have and feel God’s satisfaction or b)make ourselves sick by overindulging and ignoring those in need and not have God’s love dwell in us. Gosh, it feels like a no-brainer when I put it that way. Yet our daily choices are not for our own good. We act against our own best self-interest.
We are sinners. Sin is that which God forbids us to do because it goes against our design and harms us. God loves us and tells us not to destroy ourselves. We don’t trust God, so we do what harms us. Then we get mad at God. This isn’t a new story. Our innovation is that we’ve lost track of why greed and gluttony are bad for us and we’ve become so myopic we can’t recognize how we are disobeying God or why we’re in pain. If we have too much, we need less. If we’re doing harm to ourselves, we need to stop! Buying more won’t make us happy—it hasn’t worked so far and it won’t suddenly start now.
Being part of God’s work, aligning ourselves with Jesus’ purposes for good in the world, living according to our design by seeking our true satisfaction in God and receiving every good gift with gratitude, these will make us happy. Even better and deeper than happiness, they will lead us into contentment and joy.
Enough is always enough. Any more than enough is too much. In His love for us, God desires to bless us with enough.