How Do You Deal with Abundance?

Back in the late ’80s, I had the opportunity to travel to the Orient as a buyer for Macy’s. (Do they even call it “the Orient” anymore? Is that culturally insensitive?) About six months before my arrival in Manila, dictator Ferdinand Marcos had been overthrown.

Tours were being given of his opulent palace, and I didn’t want to miss the chance to view his wife Imelda’s legendary shoe collection. Whether she had 3–4,000 shoes as her detractors claim, or the 1,200 she insists, it’s still a lot of shoes. And then there were the fur coats and purses and (empty) jewelry boxes and  . . .

On our approach to the palace we had passes horrifying shantytowns, built out over the water. People were living in poverty like I’d never even imagined, let alone seen. It was horrifying and, honestly, frightening.

As I toured the palace, I kept wishing I could ask the Marcoses:

  • With all the poverty that surrounds this palace—how could you live like this?
  • Didn’t the guilt eat you alive?
  • Have you no compassion?
  • Don’t you care at all about the starving masses next door?

Today, technology has put every citizen of earth “next door” for all of us. If I were headed to Manila for the first time today, the shantytowns would not be quite so shocking, for I’ve seen poverty pictured on my TV, my computer, my phone. When tragedy leaves people dead in any corner of the world, we can view it to our hearts’ content and collective horror.

All of that information means we cannot claim not to know.

Two statistics showed up in the Time magazine I read this morning:

  • Facebook members are spending $650,000 each day on Candy Crush Saga to buy “virtual perks”
  • Pet owners were predicted to spend $330 million on pet Halloween costumes this year.

How do we justify that when our neighbors are dying from lack of food or shelter or vaccinations or clean water?

I’m sure those statistics upset me more because I don’t have a pet and I don’t play Facebook games. (I have to admit to twice putting money in an account to play in solitaire tournaments to win “money” to spend on tournaments. One day I woke up and said, “Hello, it’s solitaire! Isn’t the point to play alone?”)

But I have my own extravagances. I love to eat out. I love to eat at nice places. And I am aware that what I spend on one dinner out amounts to what might be a month or two wages for one of the “1.22 billion people lived on less than $1.25 a day.”

So how do we deal with the poverty next door and our own desire to spend our income as we wish? Can we rightly ask ourselves the same questions I wanted to ask the Marcoses:

  • With all the poverty that surrounds this place—how could we live like this?
  • Doesn’t the guilt eat us alive?
  • Have we no compassion?
  • Don’t we care at all about the starving masses next door?

I read this quote this week:

“Throughout Scripture, we see only one correct response to abundance: sharing.”

K. P. Yohannan in Revolution in World Missions

I know I have an abundance compared to my “neighbors” around the world. How do I make spending and sharing decisions? I try to be generous, but how much is enough?

How do you decide? And how do we encourage one another to choose generosity rather than self-gratification? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

2 thoughts on “How Do You Deal with Abundance?”

  1. Thank you for the vivid picture you painted with both your photos and words. How do we deal with the contrasts between what we have and so many others don’t have? I think we spend our whole life struggling with this concept and our response to it depends on where we are at different times. When we’re young and having a hard time making ends meet and then later, when we have enough money to color our hair and get occasional pedicures our responses are different. But, we can never stop asking the questions that come with such unequal distributions of wealth. When we stop questioning the disparities, we stop being the responsive Christians we must strive to be.


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