The dishes from our spaghetti leftovers were still on the table. My friend and I pushed back our chairs and held warm cups of herbal tea. It was cozy inside the cottage. Our conversation ranged from solving world problems to attaining personal goals. A loon called out on the lake, and we paused mid-discussion to listen and to honor this moment of contentment. Our conversation then turned to the topic of frugality.
Actually, there’d been ongoing banter about this topic for several days. We were searching for a new definition of frugality – one that captured the spirit of contentment with the simplicity that we’d felt there at the lake, one that expressed our desire to use resources wisely and unselfishly. And yet we’d agreed that there was no virtue to miserly penny-pinching, lack of generosity, and doing without in a suffering way.
We talked that evening about how abundance is so integral to the nature of the infinite, supreme source that we both called God. Where was the balance then between feeling our Father-Mother God’s infinite and abundant care for His-Her creation and yet feeling free from materialism?
I brought up a quotation from one of our favorite authors, Mary Baker Eddy. Her statement, written as guidance for members of the Church she founded, speaks to me of frugality: “God requires wisdom, economy, and brotherly love to characterize all the proceedings of the members of The Mother Church …” (“Manual of The Mother Church,” p. 77).
We agreed that wisdom, economy, and brotherly love were great qualities of frugality – thoughtful but not miserly – that can be practiced by anyone. Then my friend mentioned the first part of the 23rd Psalm, which states: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul.” This, too, seemed to us to embody that spirit of freedom from the incessant longing for “things,” and yet at the same time the sweet assurance of being abundantly provided for and satisfied by God’s shepherding care.
I pointed out that Christ Jesus is purported to have worn an exquisite seamless robe, and yet there is no mention in the Bible that he had lots of robes, just the one that he needed. And he told his followers, “Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on. The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment” (Luke 12:22, 23). It was to me as though Jesus valued beauty, artistry, and fineness of quality, but not excess or conspicuous consumption. We agreed we were getting nearer to a good definition of frugality, but decided to keep thinking.
Then on the last day of our stay, just as I’d finished delivering some remnants of food from the refrigerator to a neighbor, and was taking one last look at the colors of early fall reflected in the stillness of the lake, my friend came striding up saying, “I’ve got it, I’ve got it! My new working definition of frugality is ‘celebrating enough-ness.’ ” We both smiled and nodded. Two words seemed to capture it all.
Back home in the city, I’ve continued to think about those two words. One time I was standing at my closet, trying to figure out what to wear. The thought came, I’m tired of all these clothes, maybe I need a new outfit. Then gently came the thought, “Celebrate enough-ness.” And with delight I spotted a scarf that I rarely wear, and that would bring new flair to a perfectly good sweater and pair of slacks. I was also moved to respond to two appeals from nonprofit organizations with a commitment to modest monthly contributions, because the spirit of celebrating enough-ness assured me that I could certainly find a way to give more regularly.
And now, with the holidays upon us, I’m celebrating enough-ness with a disciplined rigor. When the temptation came to try to provide the sun, moon, and stars for my grandsons for Christmas, I treasured instead for them that satisfaction with simplicity, and found one book and toy for each of them.
These are not easy times financially throughout the world. Many people are unemployed, homes are still going into foreclosure, countries in Europe are struggling with bankrupt economies, and the United States is facing some tough decisions about how to get its deficit spending in hand. What better time for each of us to silence the incessant clamor of materialism, and instead feel a profound contentment with our Father-Mother’s loving care for all of His-Her children. This awareness leads naturally to a deeply settled gratitude that our needs are truly met by God, including our need to share with others.