Dr. Thomas Lane Butts: When Too Much Is Not Enough

My two children, now in their late forties, have always rolled their eyes and mimicked me to one another when I tell them what life was like when their mother and I were children during the Great Depression. They never really believe my stories. They rebut them by saying, "Daddy walked two miles barefooted in the snow to school, and it was uphill both ways". It strains their credulity to hear how we made our own toys, invented our own games, had a dozen ways of playing with an old automobile tire, and sat around the fireplace in the winter and listened to stories our parents and grandparents told. It is difficult for this generation to understand how we lived so well and had so little.

It is almost as dangerous and debilitating to have too much as it is to have too little. We live in a culture in which we are urged to buy more and more things and spend more and more money. Every time the economy gets shaky we are urged to rush to the mall and spend more money. A few years ago the government sent the American citizens a check for several hundred dollars (which was borrowed from China) which we were urged to spend in order to stimulate the economy. Those of us who grew up during the Great Depression, when enough was enough and too much was obscene, listened with stunned disbelief at such a strange solution to a faltering economy.

Most of us already have too much! We do not really know why we bought things we did not need, but we did. We have more clothes and shoes than we can wear. Many garages have no room to park even one of the family cars because of all the discarded toys and electronics stored there. When some new model comes out, we just cannot be satisfied with the old model even though it still works fine. When quarterly sales records fall below what they were for the same quarter last year the stock market flutters and falls. The economists start wringing their collective hands and the Federal Reserve is urged to cut the interest rate. What is wrong with us? We are worshipping at the wrong altar.

Many years ago Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in "An Ode to W.H. Channing" that "Things are in the saddle and ride mankind". He had it right then, and it is still right.

Dr. Rachel Remen, in her book, "My Grandfather's Blessings" tells of becoming friends with the little son of one of her friends. The boy had two little cars he loved to play with. Dr. Remen would play with him when she visited. Seeing how much the child loved these two "Hot Wheels" cars, she decided to collect more of them for him. A major oil company was giving one of these cars with each fill-up. She persuaded her entire staff to buy this brand of gasoline for a month. They collected one of each of the "Hot Wheels" made. She carried them to the child in a big box. They filled every windowsill in the living room. And then Dr. Remen noticed that the child stopped playing with the cars. Puzzled, she asked why he did not like the cars anymore. The child looked away and in a quivery voice said, "I don't know how to love this many cars, Rachel".

Many of us have more things than we can love, use, or appreciate. And all the time we have been thinking we were unhappy because we did not have enough. That is not it at all. Being unhappy when we have too much is a symptom of a deeper and more profound emptiness. Having too much makes us feel that something is missing, something which having too much will not cure.

"Things are in the saddle and ride mankind." Can you hear what I am saying? I hope so. It begs to he heard.