I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me.— Philippians 4:12-13
Ten years ago, I started stockpiling our rural homestead pantry with home-canned goods, bulk rice and dried beans, and a variety of flours. Our Michigan basement served as both a makeshift wine cellar and a storage area for toiletries and tools. I wasn’t preparing for a world war, a global health crisis, nor the apocalypse. I simply felt panic at the thought of never having enough.
This scarcity mentality began in my early childhood. My mother was in part raised by her paternal grandmother, who lived through the Great Depression and World War II. She exposed my mom to frugal living by hoarding closets full of toilet paper and hiding thousands of dollars in cash around her apartment. When she died, it was like a scavenger hunt with the treasures we discovered.
I grew up hearing phrases like, “Only one serving. I’m not sure we’ll have enough for everyone else” or “We can’t buy that brand, because we don’t have enough money.” It wasn’t that my family lived beyond our means. My parents were both conscientious of how they spent their money and where it went.
The problem is that I adopted a fear of running out if times got difficult. This fear shaped the way I shopped: I became a hard-core couponer for a short stint and felt a sense of satisfaction when I scored things we’d never use for free.
After a few years, I realized that my fears were controlling the way I lived. So I went through my stockpile and purged items that weren’t expired to donate. Every time I gave something away, I thought, “But what if we will need that someday?” Even though I knew that such a someday might never arrive.
During this COVID-19 pandemic, many people have adopted a hoarding complex that stems from a scarcity mentality. They fear deprivation, because their lifestyles have been forced into isolation, put on pause, and even in some cases, reversed or altogether vanished. We can no longer plan a date night at our favorite restaurant, visit a local winery with a small group of friends, enjoy a fresh haircut or coat of nail polish from the salon.
We ask ourselves, “Do I really need this? Is this urgent to have or not?” Still, the sense of panic that we will never have enough toilet paper, like my great-grandmother, remains paramount.
I was thinking of this a few days ago when I decided I “had” to purchase another tube of toothpaste. Because many of the staples our large-ish family of seven consumes have been out of stock for weeks (diapers, canned beans, rice, cleaning supplies), I jumped on the fear bandwagon and started stockpiling again.
Then I remembered the words of St. Paul: “In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need” (see verse above). St. Paul was not afraid to face scarcity. He did not worry about whether he would go hungry or where he would rest for a night. Yet we are concerned about running out of toilet paper (or toothpaste, in our case) rather than believing that God will provide for our needs.
When we believe we are deprived, we fear doing or living without something we may or may not really need. We have not learned surrender, trust, or detachment — all spiritual principles about which St. Paul wrote and preached. What happens when we let go and allow Providence to prevail over the details and needs of our lives? Peace settles upon our souls, and we are more able to think clearly and resourcefully.
The initial response to scarcity of supplies is anxiety. When I realized the reality that I was running out of diapers for Joey, I panicked. But when I paused long enough to surrender our needs to God in a simple prayer, I remembered the cloth diapers sitting in the nursery closet.
“All will be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
Two days before I went into labor with Auggie in mid-March, I sat down at the end of the day with no particular agenda or thought or concern. But the Holy Spirit washed over me in a warm peace, for which I had not asked or sought. And the words, “all will be well” came to me. At the time, I had no idea what this meant, nor do I fully grasp it.
But what it means for all of us is that we can learn how to live without what we think we need. We can feed our family foods they don’t prefer while simultaneously thanking God that we are fed, safe, and together.
What we are experiencing isn’t war, but the uncertainty of what tomorrow will bring has led us to believe it may become like one. Perhaps God has been leading the world toward the introspection from which we have fled for so long through our busyness and disconnection to our loved ones.
Ultimately, the place where our fear ends is where our trust in God begins.