Knowing When You’ve Done Enough

As 2012 came to a close, several household-improvement projects and one leadership role in my life wound down. It gave me occasion to reflect on where I have committed my time and energy in the coming year.

Cultivating a sense of enough may help us to see life as an interconnected whole rather than a hodgepodge of bits and pieces to swap in or out if given the chance.

Many in our world are plagued by a constant desire to have more — an insecurity with spiritual dimensions. Is a desire to do more a related affliction?

The world is broken in so many ways. One could always work harder to alleviate suffering. We can get caught up in feeling guilty for not doing all we could. What would be enough?

In an effort not to have too much stuff in our apartment, I have for several years applied a rule that adding possessions requires getting rid of others. Buying a new winter coat means giving the spare to a social service agency. Receiving new household items or clothes as gifts means taking some old ones to the thrift store. Bringing home new books for classes or writing projects means removing some from the shelves and sending them to literacy programs.

I find this exercise spilling over into other parts of my life, too. If I add a volunteer or work commitment, I end another. To build up a desirable character trait, I work to curtail an unhelpful one. At times my efforts at balance leave me feeling exhausted.

Attempting to address this, in 2013 I made a New Year’s resolution to cultivate and sustain a sense of enough. This stretches through efforts to live simply into other parts of discipleship.

I have culled my file cabinet and bookshelves enough, I can enjoy re-reading what I have kept. I have reduced my solo trips in my car enough, I can appreciate my quick commute when I drive myself. I have shortened my showers enough, I can stand still for several seconds and let the hot water massage well-worked muscles. I have given enough of my gifts and resources to the needs of the world, I can play and relax even as I continue to share what God has granted me.

Being a good steward of time and resources means resting sometimes. It also means nurturing gratitude for what is good rather than focusing too much on what needs to be changed.

Nancy Mairs, an author living with multiple sclerosis, writes in an essay that if given “a cosmic deal” where “in exchange for sound limbs and a thrilling rush of energy” she would have to give up someone or something else in her life, she wouldn’t take the bargain.

Cultivating a sense of enough may help us to see life as an interconnected whole — as Mairs’ rejection of the cosmic deal suggests — rather than a hodgepodge of bits and pieces to swap in or out if given the chance. Savoring a moment to eat a peach or engaging in rich conversation with a friend exists in a dance with enduring a painful medical procedure or arguing with a difficult neighbor.

Having a sense of enough does not mean ignoring new opportunities or pressing needs. It can mean looking at them in the context of all that one already has and does.

There will always be more I could do to simplify my life and serve others. But perhaps I can do those best when I am not so often evaluating whether I am doing enough. Maybe I will decide to get rid of that dress I won’t wear again, or take on that volunteer role I might enjoy. But that can wait for next year.