I really like our new phone. It’s a cream-coloured touch-tone, the kind with the handset that rests on a cradle. When I use it I have to stay in one room, and I can’t walk too far in any direction, so I usually sit and play with the white cord while I talk and listen.
Our cordless phone died a few weeks ago, so we borrowed the touch-tone from our housemates, who hadn’t used it for years. At first, I missed the answering machine and call-display features of the cordless, but then I started to marvel at the simplicity of its stand-in: no screen, just the keypad and two black buttons, one to redial and one to hold. It doesn’t even need batteries or an outlet.
In a society that’s caught up in the pursuit of progress, the touch-tone has me thinking about what is enough.
Over a decade ago, Mary Jo Leddy wrote Radical Gratitude (Orbis, 2002) and her simple statement that most of us have enough still rings true today. She describes “the cultural drift of having more and doing more,” and how it weakens our capacity for gratitude. I can identify with this drift. For instance, as a young, educated, middle-class woman, the next steps for me are to get a full-time job, stop renting and buy a house, or buy a car built after 1997. All of these things seem to be acceptable, responsible aspirations. But are they? Or are they fuelled by the pursuit “of having more and doing more”?
I’m not saying that I’ll never buy a house or apply for a higher-paying job, but my faith makes me question the reasons behind choices that seem like the logical next step. The next step to what? Comfort, security, happiness? Perhaps all those things. But shouldn’t my faith in a God who calls the poor blessed motivate me to resist the pursuit of more with each decision that I make?
When my decisions are informed by a desire to move ahead, to check off the next thing that will proclaim my privilege, my focus quickly turns inward. I forget about others as I seek to strengthen my own power. I am wrapped up in self-interest, and I become closed-hearted, an attitude that isn’t conducive to loving God and my neighbour.
So how can I check this attitude and resist the pursuit of more? It starts with recognizing what is enough. For Leddy, this means “setting some kind of limit, not so much to restrain oneself as to curb the insatiable demands of the consumer culture.” For me, this means consciously resisting the urge to upgrade and to own bigger and better things.
For instance, my partner and I sometimes covet a new car. So we ask ourselves if this is a real need. If we can bike or take the bus to the majority of our destinations, then we’ll hold off. But if it is a legitimate need, we might ask, “Do we need sole ownership of a car, or is it something we could share with others?” By sharing possessions and living simply, we can realize what is enough. We can be liberated from the frenzied pursuit for the next best thing, and be nourished by gratitude.
Recognizing what is enough and acting on it are hard to do. They require discernment, grace, creativity and a supportive community. They also require inspiration. As Christians, we don’t have to look far for this. We can look to Jesus and to one another. Or, if we’re really stuck, our phones.
Katie Doke Sawatzky (email@example.com) attends Charleswood Mennonite Church, Winnipeg, Man.