Abundance or Excess?

DH = Dear Husband

“where free, abundant living stops and addictive, wasteful excess begins”

I remember a guy I dated when I was 19 saying that his mother, on a recent business trip, had been in a restaurant where people paid $50 for lunch – which would be $125 in today’s dollars. It was clear that he wanted to be in a position some day to buy that kind of lunch. I suggested it was a bit of a shallow ambition, but he defended it. “That’s freedom!” he said.

Two of my favourite Bible verses are Galatians 5:1 and John 10:10. Here they are:

  • It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)
  • The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)

The words”freedom” and “abundant life” sum up what I ultimately want. But I haven’t always been clear on where free, abundant living stops and addictive, wasteful excess begins. Marketing machines are brilliant at confusing us with manipulative messages of what it is to live a full, free life. I have often thought of freedom in terms of the freedom to indulge – whether in food, drink, entertainment, shopping or travel.

In the past while, I have heard a message from three different pastors that relates to the line between abundance and excess – freedom and bondage. When I hear the same message from three different sources within a fairly short period of time, I pay close attention. The first two, I heard via YouTube, the third in church this past Sunday:

  • Andy Stanley: “Your appetites aren’t meant to be satisfied.”
  • Ravi Zacharias: “Daniel was setting himself up to have limits on his appetites.” (Daniel would not eat meat or other rich foods when he was in captivity in Babylon, and he would not drink wine.)
  • Pastor Ian: “When God gives you something, it’s to fulfill the desires of your heart. When the enemy gives you something, it’s to put you in bondage to it.”

Avoiding “appetites” in disguise

I had a conversation with DH about Mrs. Frugalwoods a couple of  months ago. I find her to be a marvel. Early on in life, she made the connection between frugality and abundant living, and now, in her very early 30s, she’s financially free and living in the homestead of her her dreams, raising a family in a two-stay-at-home-parents scenario. “She didn’t have to overcome any bad spending habits or debts because she never went there in the first place,” I said to DH. “If she had ever got a taste for buying on credit that she couldn’t pay off, it might have been a different story.”

I don’t know if Mrs. Frugalwoods intentionally avoided an “appetite” that might have led to “bondage”, but I have a friend who did. In her family, there is a history of alcoholism, and so she chose from the get-go never to drink a drop of alcohol. She says that she thinks she has an addictive personality, but she’s not living with an addiction. She set herself up for that freedom

Both alcohol and over-spending can be seen as appetites in disguise. They both give the appearance of abundant living.

The role of “starvation”

Food

In January of this year, I went completely off desserts. Like many people starting off the new year, I had a resolution to shed some pounds. The first week and a bit were tough. My cravings for a muffin or a cookie or left-over Christmas baking were intense. I had to fight my own slick sabotaging line of thinking that I could have “just one” – because it was never just one. That’s why I had the excess pounds to lose. But part way into the month, it wasn’t hard anymore. I had effectively “starved” my appetite for desserts.

Finances

I believe our appetites to spend can be starved too. DH has always loved cars. He bought his first car at age 17 – a used junker that he could afford and that he enjoyed fixing up. Ever since he started working though, he has always bought new. I remember the day he drove up to our house last summer in a brand new Dodge Journey. I knew that was the vehicle he wanted to get at some point – whenever our ’99 Dodge Caravan dies – but I didn’t understand why he was driving one now. “I’m taking it for a test drive,” he said. He had gone to a dealership to take a look. “Want a ride?”

It was definitely a nice vehicle, but I didn’t enjoy that test drive. We had just paid off all debt besides the mortgage, and I thought that DH’s old temptation to splurge was happening – that his own slick sabotaging line of thinking would convince him that we “needed” to replace the van. I let DH know what I was thinking, but he denied it. As it turns out, we didn’t buy a new Journey then, and in the past few months, DH has been saying that when we do replace the van, we should buy used. I never would have guessed that his appetite for new cars could be starved, but it looks like it has been.

Fruclassity

On the other hand, I think we all know people who are too highly controlled to enjoy a free, full life. Their avoidance of excess has morphed into something unhealthy – like avoiding nourishment. They don’t only “starve” their unhealthy appetites; they starve the life out of life. I think that many people link this type of life-starvation with the word “frugality”. Fruclassity is all about balancing frugality – and its “starvation” of life-sucking appetites – with “class” – or a permission to spend on what truly is life-giving for us – to feed with healthy nourishment what should flourish.

Finding the line

The line between abundant, free living and wasteful, addictive excess can be hard to identify, but I can think of three questions to ask that might help:

  • Are you able to have “just one”? If so, have one. If not, don’t have any.
  • Are you counting on this to give you that freedom of abundant life? Then don’t. Or are you choosing it as a nourishing expression of the abundance and freedom you already have? Then go for it.
  •  Wait. Is what you are left with a cranky craving? Then don’t. Is what you are left with a genuine desire of your heart? Then make a plan to go for it.

I wonder if my old boyfriend is now “free” to eat lunches for $125? I hope not. For his sake, I hope he’s found abundant freedom of much better value.


Can you relate to this idea of being confused about the line between abundance and excess? Have you ever “starved” an unhealthy appetite? Your comments are welcome.


*Image courtesy of Flickr.

16 comments on “Abundance or Excess?

  1. So powerful, Ruth! I think the line is often crossed when our priorities are crossed. When I held money in too high esteem, I felt like I should be able to spend whenever and on whatever I wanted and got cranky when I couldn’t. When I stopped putting money on such a high pedestal, the cravings for excess spending went away! Now when I have a craving for something (last night it was a trip to the local coffee shop for a soothing cup of hot chocolate with whipped cream on top – YUM!), I work to listen to what might be driving it, since I know it’s probably no longer my demand to spend as I wish. Last night I realized it was that I really needed some time alone. We’ve had a crazy busy fall and a dear, dear friend of mine is going through some serious stuff right now.

    That time alone with my Bible and my hot chocolate was rejuvenating and calming, because it was about healing my mind, and not about the “right” to give into fleshly cravings and demands. SO COOL!

  2. Wow, Ruth! What a thought-provoking post! I have done this with sugar. Completely. I found that I couldn’t have “just one” cookie. Ever. So, I quit sugar altogether about 7 years ago. People couldn’t believe I could sit there at the table and watch everyone else eat dessert. But, like you, after a few weeks of not eating sugar, I didn’t really “want” it any more. In the past couple of years, I have tried eating sugar on on occasional basis. It is easier now to stop eating it than it was before the sugar fast, but I do have to pay attention to keep it in check. Just having the awareness that it could be an issue again (and I don’t want it to be) is a huge factor here.

    A question I tend to ask myself with spending is “Is this in line with my priorities, values, and goals?”. If it isn’t, it gets cut (at least as much as I can). Lately, though, I’ve been frustrated with those expenses that seem to be out of my control – like repairs to the house (a leaky faucet yet again!).

    1. I’ve had the same experiences with sugar, Amanda!! I’ve gone off of it for long periods of time, and your right – the cravings to have more than just one go away once sugar loses its hold on your taste buds. I’m not sure people realize the addictive qualities in sugar because it’s normal to consume it every day.

      1. Sugar, salt, and fat are all addictive – and they’re all “normal” every-day parts of most people’s diets. I’m definitely susceptible to all of the above : (

    2. Thanks Amanda. “Is this in line with my priorities, values, and goals?” I don’t know about you, but I can be a little too willing to answer, “Yes” – especially if “this” is food – and I’m hungry : ) My experience with sugar is like yours. I have to keep vigilant or I’ll slip back into over-consumption. I hope those annoying unexpected expenses stop for you.

  3. I always wondered what I would do if I ever won the lottery. Well, I kind of did recently and you know what? I haven’t changed a thing. I was born a minimalist, and that just hasn’t changed. Maybe a person’s core self will always rise to the surface. Intriguing article, as always Ruth. I’ll be thinking of this for a few days I can tell.

    1. To me it sounds like you avoided a false appetite, Kay – though it sounds like it wasn’t intentional – it was just who you were. You never caved to any materialistic pressures from society, and so you haven’t had to overcome any craving for new and shiny anything. Question: I think your parents were not minimalists. (Am I right?) Do you think your minimalism was a form of rebellion (in the best sense)?

      1. My parents weren’t minimalists, they were “right size-amalists” (as Emily aka Simple Cheap Mom would say). Mom didn’t start hoarding until she was 68, when my dad died. I think it was a form of security maybe. Otherwise, my 2 sisters and brother tended closer to maximalism. Okay, one is definitely VERY hoardy. Mom used to say I took after her mother. Grandma was definitely a minimalist. She didn’t like to be tied down with stuff either. So nature or nurture? I don’t know. One thing I do know is, I married a man who was bound and determined to be a hoarder. God sent me to help him. 🙂

        1. Well isn’t your hubby lucky : ) I used to think the nature/nurture thing was 50/50, but I’ve come to believe it’s more like 60/40. Nature is a powerful force.

  4. I starved soft drinks from my diet & for a brief period, caffeine. It was tough the first two or three weeks. My wife found some herbal coffee (& naturally caffeine free) that I actually prefer compared to regular coffee. I still do have a regular cup when we go to family gatherings and occasionally at our bank.

    Another thing that helped was not going out to eat every day. It removed the temptation for getting a drink, especially fast food when it’s included in the combo price. My health has thanked me for it, plus my wallet.

    1. Not going out to eat has got to be the best thing you can do for both your health and your wallet. Finding that time to prepare food from home to bring with you to work is so worth it! Completely eliminating something from your life – like what you’ve done with soft drinks – is great. What you’ve done with coffee takes even more self-control: eliminating and then taking in limited moderation. I would like to be able to do that with sugar, but I have a bit of a yo-yo experience with it : )

  5. Thanks for this thoughtful and insightful article, Ruth. We can certainly mistake freedom for bondage at times. I naturally tend toward the overly controlling side, and I appreciate that you critique that as well. What may look to others like discipline or sacrifice can be an unhealthy, enslaving need for control, or security in saving money, or pursuing one goal without concern for the bigger picture.

    I starved out my teenage appetite for clearance rack flash fashion. But God has also worked on reducing my unhealthy appetites to control every penny I earn, to be obsessed with savings, and to be stingy. The good news is our desires in either direction can change!

    1. Thank you, Kalie. I think it’s pretty big of you to admit to a tendency to control. We’re all wired differently, and it really is good news that each one of us can change for the better.

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