Abundance and Scarcity

by Dale S. Ryan

Recovery is about learning to receive from God's abundance.

Without knowing quite what I was saying, I once said this in therapy: "I've been thinking about abundance recently. . .and about how scarce it is." My therapist was amused, I think, but not particularly surprised.

Scarcity is a big-time, major-league, world-class issue for me. Over the years of my recovery I have come to see that scarcity-orientation is not, for me, just a situational reality. Scarcity is something which I experience as one of the core conditions of existence - it is what IS. There is not enough! We must 'make do' with what little we have. Sometimes what there is must be carefully preserved, or saved for special occasions or distributed carefully so as not to deplete the already limited supply.

I won't take the space to elaborate on the reasons for my familiarity with scarcity. Those of you who have experienced abuse or neglect will perhaps recognize the dynamic. If as a young child you lived in a situation where there was in fact 'not enough' (emotionally, spiritually, or physically), then this can easily become a fundamental conviction about life. If you must adapt to a situation of scarcity in order to survive, then scarcity may shape what you expect all of life to be like. This is, I think, the most pernicious aftereffect of early life experiences of scarcity - we generalize the experience and find ourselves acting and thinking in terms of scarcity and being scarcity-oriented people even in situations where there really is abundance.

It is spiritual scarcity which has always seemed to me to be the most difficult. Recently I have come out of a relatively long period in which I have experienced a scarcity of spiritual nourishment. In church last Sunday I had a vision of myself as someone who has been lost in a vast desert for a long time but who finally arrived at an oasis. All through the desert wanderings I had a canteen of water with me - but I felt it necessary to ration that water with great care in order to make it last for a long time - believing that my survival depended on disciplining myself not to drink too much, too deeply, of the limited resources available to me.

As a consequence, when, in this image, I finally make it to an oasis, two very strange things happen. First, I am hesitant to take in the abundance. My survival depended for so long on careful rationing that it just doesn't seem right to drink too deeply. I found myself thinking really strange things like "maybe this water isn't really mine or for me, maybe I should try to survive for a little while longer on what I have left in my canteen, at least I'm sure that I'm entitled to that much" or, if in a more paranoid frame of mind ,"maybe the oasis water isn't safe. What if this is a trick of some kind? A mirage? Or what if someone has poisoned the water? " Secondly, and more perversely perhaps, I found myself proud of my ability to 'get by'. Afterall I've been working on scarcity management skills for a long time. I am, in fact, quite good at survival. I can manage very well with very little, almost nothing. 'Making do' seems like a virtue to me - only surpassed by the virtue of 'making something out of nothing'. How often our adaptations to dyfunction seem like virtues to us!

The bottom line for me is that even in a situation where abundance is the objective reality I find myself hesitant to receive, resistant to joy, defended against abundance as if it were, at best, an experience to which I am not entitled.

I am awed today by the thought that God's plans for me are for abundance. God's grace is available to me - not just in carefully rationed doses, not just what's left over - but all of God's grace is available to me, all of it in it's incredible abundance. And all of God's love is available to me. Not just what can be 'scraped together' - it is not the grudging, passive-aggressive love which the prodigal expected from his father - but all of God's love is available to me.

Jesus, of course, said all of this quite clearly:

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full"(John 10:20).

Paul affirms this as well when he describes

"God's abundant provision of grace"(Romans 5:17

) and when praying to

"him who is able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine" he says "I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."(Ephesians 3:17-19)

Will there be enough? I think so. I am fond of the way George MacDonald puts it in one of his books: "If we will but let our God and Father work his will with us, there can be no limit to his enlargement of our existence, to the flood of life with which he will overflow our consciousness. We have no conception of what life might be, of how vast the consciousness of which we could be made capable. If every sunlit, sail-crowded sea under blue heaven flecked with wind-chased white filled your soul, as with a new gift of life, think what sense of existence must be yours if he, whose thought has but fringed its garment with the gladness of such a show, were to make his abode with you, and while thinking of the gladness of God inside your being, let you know and feel that he is carrying you as a Father in his bosom!"

May God grant you today a sense of the abundance of his grace and love which is your rightful inheritance.


Go to Dale Ryan's Articles in STEPS Magazine.

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