I opened my first business when I was ten or eleven years old. I was a lawn mower extraordinaire with an eye for straight lines and clean patterns. And, I was rolling in the money. Maintaining lawns, I soon discovered, was quite a lucrative venture. And so I saved and saved and saved, hardly spending a dime…
Until I discovered beanie babies. As any child of the 90s can tell you, they were all the rage. They first made their appearance on the scene in 1993, with 9 original designs. Within a year or two they were THE trending toy, with children and adults alike collecting these cute $5 sack of beans. Folks seriously could not get enough of these.
Ty, the company making beanie babies, had a brilliant marketing strategy for a while: scarcity. Keep the supply low, keep people unable to get their hands on them, and the demand goes through the roof. My friend, Jenny, and I had this whole beanie baby collecting thing down to a science. On weekends and every day during the summer, we called each and every store that carried them to see if they had received any in and if so what time they’d put them on the shelves. We weren’t the only ones doing this. Stores got so sick of fielding such inquiries that many began screening their calls with beanie baby status reports on their recordings.
If a store had the beanies, we’d begin stage 2: beg the parents for a ride. The lines usually took hours, so our parents would usually drop us off and we’d call home after we were done. I remember vividly the adrenaline rush of racing into stores and this sense of utter gratification every time I forked over the cash at the register holding some hard to get, scarcely found beanie baby. But the moment of satisfaction was fleeting and soon a desire for more returned, and the cycle of calling stores, standing in lines, fighting with the crowds, and spending way too much money on sacks of beans began again.
As Ty knew well, the reality is, it doesn’t take much to get people to buy into a scarcity mentality. Humans seem to be wired by fear to see our lives through the lens of “not enough” and “what if” rather than a lens of “there’s enough” and “all is well.” We spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about having enough money, enough time, enough energy; enough brains, power, or beauty. Students worry about having grades that are high enough, test scores that are good enough, or standing out enough or blending in enough. Adults worry about if they have saved enough, done well enough, taken care of their loved ones enough. The power of scarcity is that it breeds fear exponentially. Our fear that we will not ever have enough soon leads to a fear that we will never be enough, and soon we easily confuse our priorities, equate happiness with acquiring, emotionally wall ourselves off, hoard our resources, become unable to see that humans are inextricably connected to one another, and seek contentment through all the wrong means. In short, our preoccupation and fears of scarcity when they are unjustified, threaten our own well-being and the well-being of others.
I find myself thinking about what this all means as I clean out the large bin of beanie babies still housed at my parents (a delightful thing to do on holiday break). I think that one of the most powerful antidotes to scarcity mentality is recognizing where there is abundance. Recognizing abundance isn’t just a frame of mind or talking ourselves into it. Recognizing abundance requires spiritual discipline. Martin Luther and John Wesley are (wrongly) attributed with the infamous theological reflection on how to cultivate this sort of spiritual discipline: fake it till you make it. Their work has much more nuance to it, in truth, but they do offer advice from experience that you have to practice gratefulness and being thankful before you actually are grateful and thankful.
So the invitation is this: as Thanksgiving rolls around again and you begin the days that follow, work at recognizing abundance and practicing gratitude. Make a list of what’s abundant in your life or invite folks around the dinner table to name something they are grateful for, too. When you’re pondering those Black Friday ads or making the endless shopping lists or feeling more frenetic than ever, pause. Breathe. Ask yourself, “What am I really seeking? What am I already grateful for?” When you do this, you’ll flip the script on the narrative of scarcity, and y’all, when you can flip that script that says you aren’t enough or you don’t have enough, you’ll find a peace that passes understanding.
Associate Conference Minister