“Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” – Luke 12:15
The lady behind the counter laughed and handed me eight thin clear plastic bags. Inside each bag nestled ten brown eggs. “Xiè xie,” I thanked her. But I was thinking: How are we going to get eighty eggs in flimsy plastic bags home—without breaking!
My husband and I were visiting our daughter and her family in China. This day my son-in-law made a trip to the local grocery store for much needed supplies. I tagged along for the cultural experience. In the store, we pushed our carts through aisles of rice, soy sauce, and packaged chicken feet (a Chinese treat I don’t understand). We eventually arrived in the produce aisle where we selected carrots and beans, bitter melon and dragon fruit. Finally, we picked up the ninety eggs my daughter had put on the grocery list. Yes, ninety. Because they rely on eggs as their primary source of protein, her family of six needs dozens to get through one week.
With all the items on the list crowded into our carts, we headed to the checkout counter. There a clerk spoke Mandarin to my son-in-law. He translated for me, “They’re having a sale. For every forty kuai we spend, we get ten free eggs. Do we want to do this?” Free food is (almost) always good so we said yes. We assumed that they would credit us with the eggs already in the cart. But instead, the cashier rang up the order and when all the groceries were paid for, she handed my son-in-law eight receipts. Another worker led us down the escalator and directed us to give the receipts to the woman at the counter near the exit.
The woman at the counter counted the receipts, laughed, and handed us eight flimsy produce bags—each containing ten eggs. With the ninety eggs already in our cart, we now had one hundred seventy eggs! We had more than enough eggs.
A Sensation of Enough
Truth be told, I rarely experience the sensation of enough—much less the feeling of excess. People around the world often struggle to have enough food—enough eggs to live day to day. I, on the other hand, have plenty of food in the refrigerator, an overwhelming amount of clothes in the closet, and even some money in the bank for emergencies. Yet, would I declare I have enough? Somehow, I always seem to be looking for more.
Our culture contributes to this never-ending search for satisfaction. Commercials constantly call out, “More! You deserve better clothes. You need a bigger car. You need more room, more glamour, more style, more power. The drum of advertising constantly beats out the rhythm of more, more, more.
Satan, too, whispers in my ears that what I have is not enough. From the Garden of Eden until now, his strategy has always been to make us think God is holding out on us. Just like he pointed to the one tree prohibited to Adam and Eve and coaxed them to want more, the devil directs my attention to the newest gizmo, the latest designer bag, the hottest trend and tells me that I deserve more. So, I buy the tech gadget, book the vacation, purchase the purse.
And yet, it never seems like enough.
Solomon, the author of Ecclesiastes, also suffered from the malady of not enough. In His day, he was the wisest and richest man on earth and yet he couldn’t find satisfaction. In Ecclesiastes 2 he lists all the things He tried to achieve contentment: wine, work, houses, vineyards, gardens, slaves, herds, flocks, silver, gold, music, and concubines. He admits, “I denied myself no pleasure” (Ecclesiastes 2:10). But in the end, even when he looked at all he owned and accomplished he said, “It was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind” (Ecclesiastes 2:11).
In the Hebrew, the word translated as meaningless is sometimes translated as futile, pointless, and useless. All of Solomon’s efforts to find happiness were ineffective. He could not attain enough.
Finding the Elusive Enough
When I read Ecclesiastes, I wonder: If the richest man in the world couldn’t find happiness, how can I ever find the elusive “enough”? Like Solomon, I’ve tried to obtain perfect happiness in work accomplishments, home improvements, and personal relationships. I’ve sought out Pinterest-perfect parties, Facebook-worthy friendships, and Instagram-issued importance. Yet, disappointment still lurks in every corner of my life.
Looking further in Ecclesiastes I found one answer to finding enough in Solomon’s own words. Later in the book he says, “Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.” (Ecclesiastes 5:19-20). In other words, Solomon discovered that on his own, he simply couldn’t find enough. But God can give the gift of contentment—the ability to enjoy what we already have.
The elusive enough always remained just out of my grasp because I tried to find it on my own. I searched for it in the security of a larger total in my bank account, the luxury of a bigger home, the status of a more important job. Yet, all of my efforts left me unfulfilled.
The blessings of wealth, possessions, and success simply can’t provide happiness unless I also have the ability to enjoy them. And just like the blessings themselves, this ability is a gift of God. I can’t conjure up the capacity for contentment on my own. Just when I think I have everything I want, Satan will point out the vacation I “deserve” or the designer watch I “need.” On my own, I will succumb again and again to dissatisfaction. Only God can give me the power to enjoy my work, recognize the value of what I already own, and appreciate where the Father has placed me now.
You will be relieved to learn that even though the trip back from the Chinese grocery store involved bumping along in a tiny electric car, my son-in-law and I were able to get all 170 eggs home without breaking a single one. I smile at the picture we took of me holding eighty eggs in my lap. But when I remember that trip to the grocery store, laughter is mixed with wondering, “Why can’t life always be filled with that kind of abundance?” Overflowing abundance. Having enough in my cart to meet my needs and then to be given more—so I don’t have to worry about running out.
But life isn’t like that. Often what I have in my life’s cart seems insufficient. I know I should be happy with the ninety eggs I already have: food, health, clothing, shelter. And I should be content without any extra eggs: luxury vacations, trendy fashions, up-to-the minute gadgets. But often I am not. And even when God grants me extra blessings, I may still complain. I may be deceived that 170 eggs, 170 blessings cannot possibly satisfy.
Instead of looking for more to put in my cart, I need to remember that God can provide the gift of gladness of heart and the capacity to find happiness in my work. The Father gives me the ability to enjoy what He has already given and I say, “Xie, xie.”