Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Question of Enough


Most of us can relate to Mildred Austin’s frustrating experience on Christmas morning: :
“Is that all?”

It was the innocent query of a five-year-old caught up in the excitement of Christmas, after the large assortment of gifts stacked under our tree had disintegrated into a heap of ribbons, paper, and empty boxes.     

Was that all?    

For weeks my husband and I had planned, schemed, and worried about how to satisfy the children as their lists grew longer each day. I had even taken a part-time job as a salesclerk so that the children wouldn’t be disappointed and we wouldn’t have to go into debt. But, in order to accomplish this, we had sacrificed evenings of carol singing, cookie making, and story reading, the real spirit of the occasion, so we could fulfill these materialistic Christmas dreams. How futile our efforts now seemed.

The question of enough is unfortunately not limited to five-year-olds on Christmas morning. It permeates our culture. 

My generation came of age with Keith Richards’ guitar riffs and Mick Jagger’s vocals ringing in our ears. Those lyrics warned us (wink, wink) that you can’t get no satisfaction from “how white your shirts can be,” smoking “the same cigarettes as me,” or getting plenty of “girlie action.”  

However, that didn’t stop lots of Baby Boomers from seeking fulfillment the Stones’ way. Ultimately, though, after “ridin’ round the world” and “doin’ this” and “signin’ that” and “tryin’ to make some girl,” they found that if you’re following the wrong scent in the pursuit of happiness, you won’t be satisfied even if you catch what you’re chasing. It just won’t be “enough.” They learned too late that there is never “enough” in the accumulation of material things.   

A few years ago, Sheryl Crow translated their belated discovery into clever rock and roll lingo.     

          I don't have digital;    
          I don't have diddly squat. 
          It's not having what you want;
          It's wanting what you've got.   

In a similar way, they found by sad experience that we don’t find “enough” by competing with and comparing ourselves to others. Comparing another’s possessions, another’s relationships, even another’s life with ours invariably gets in the way of enjoying and appreciating our own. 

As long as the focus is comparative and the answer is relative, we will never have enough. There will always be someone with more. There will always be someone with a bigger, a faster, a newer, a more expensive, a more glamorous, a more exotic whatever.   

Competing and comparing get in the way of feeling grateful. It is impossible to overstate the power of gratitude in answering the question of enough. Melody Beatty said it well: 

"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend."

I believe the key to “enough” is to focus on things of lasting value, to stop comparing, and to genuinely appreciate “what you’ve got,” even if you “don’t have digital” or even “diddly-squat.” 

I saw a beautiful example of this last week. I conducted a “My Children” Priceless Conversation with Neil, a courageous father attending one of my Legacy Builder workshops.

Fifteen years ago, he and his young wife were blessed with twin sons. Both were born severely autistic. Can you picture the challenge of brand-new parents caring for twins? Or can you imagine the even greater challenge of brand-new parents caring for a severely autistic child? Now can you comprehend the difficulty of brand-new parents caring for severely autistic twins? Tears trickled down Neil’s cheeks as he described the love they discovered and the insights they gained during their grueling and ongoing struggle to raise those boys.  

But nowhere in our conversation did he express even a whiff of self-pity. To the contrary. He was proud to describe his children’s personalities and accomplishments. This was his family and this was his life and he was grateful for every single minute of it. He treasured the lessons they had learned together and felt no regret for all the things they had “missed out on” or “couldn’t do.” He wanted me to know of the eternal bond he and his wife and his children share. He has plenty and to spare of the things that really matter. He has “enough.”  

I felt honored and blessed to share the moment. For me, I received an exquisite Christmas gift three weeks early. 

Thank you, Neil. Thank you for focusing on things of lasting value, for not comparing, and for appreciating what you have. You reminded me that, for all I don’t have, what I do have is truly “enough.”   

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