More Than Enough
Listen to “More than Enough” by Fred Smith
My wife, Carol, was sleeping in the passenger seat as we drove past the exit sign for Tyler, Texas. It was 1977 and we were on our way to Boston from Dallas. Never having been to Tyler we knew no one there but out of nowhere and for no reason I said, “Lord, send me to Tyler.” Through a series of connections and circumstances we found ourselves seven years later driving toward Tyler again but this time we took the exit and have been here ever since. It’s our place to which we are called. We’ve never doubted that and this was long before reading this passage in “Jayber Crow” by Wendell Berry:
And so I came to belong to this place. Being here satisfies me. I had laid my claim on the place, had made it answerable to my life. Of course, you can’t do that and get away free. You can’t choose, it seems, without being chosen. For the place, in return, had laid its claim on me and had made my life answerable to it.
Yet, there are times when I return from a meeting like the annual Gathering conference and find I am mildly dissatisfied with that claim on my life. For several days each year I am thrown in with people doing such great work around the world. They are tackling big issues with global implications. When I meet with small groups of social entrepreneurs exploring how they can jump start movements – not just individual organizations and ministries – but whole movements from scratch, I discover once again that little itch that I can’t seem to scratch. The itch to do big things that matter. The itch to make a difference on a larger scale and expand my focus to join God in what he is doing around the world. My itch to be part of so much that is new and unexplored. I suppose it is a version of “How Ya Gonna Keep ’em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree)?” Yes, I come home inspired and encouraged but always needing to spend the first couple of days asking myself if this is enough. Does my chosen place still satisfy me? Wouldn’t it be better to enlarge my scope and see the bigger picture?
George Herbert was an English village rector who struggled his whole life with ambition. He wanted that larger place but instead served a small parish for much of his life. In 1633 he wrote “Submission” that expresses that same itch so well:
Were it not better to bestow
Some place and power on me?
Then should thy praises with me grow,
And share in my degree.
How know I, if thou shouldst me raise,
That I should then raise thee?
Perhaps great places and thy praise
Do not so well agree.
To Do One Thing
So, I go back and re-read “The Man Who Planted Trees.” It is the allegorical tale of Elizeard Bouffier, a shepherd in the foothills of Provence in the first half of the 20th century. While the surrounding landscape is desolate and ruined, the shepherd decides to cultivate a forest, tree by tree, by planting carefully selected acorns. Over four decades, Bouffier continues to plant individual acorns and in time the valley is transformed. By the end of the story it is vibrant with life and peacefully settled. It is a story of what we have come to call “a long obedience in the same direction.” Nothing hurried, flashy or self-serving. Just a commitment over the course of a lifetime. For Bouffier, it is enough to simply plant without a grand plan or even knowing what the results will be. It is enough to do one thing and not long for scale and influence.
I return to Thomas Kelly, Quaker author of the last century who wrote, “God more powerfully speaks within you and me to our truest selves in our truest moments and disquiets us with the world’s needs. By inner persuasions God draws us to a few very definite tasks – OUR tasks, God’s burdened heart particularizing God’s burden in us.”
I remember what I can do about those few things God has assigned me. Otherwise I live in the fear and dissatisfaction that, like Oscar Schindler, I will be haunted by “I could have done more” or succumb to the temptation of making longer each day the list of what disquiets me. No, there are a few things that I know are mine – but only a few. There is one place to which I belong and which has made my life answerable to it. That is enough – more than enough.
I hope you know the same in your life.
Art by Michael MacCurdy
The new book “The Edge of the Inside” is now available on Amazon.