A Season of Abundance
The holiday season evokes images of plenty—the table overflowing with food, the mountain of gifts under the tree. But in all the flashing lights and frenzy, are we confusing abundance with excess? Are we confusing scarcity with hopelessness? Here, Kellay Chapman writes about the intimate relationship between abundance and scarcity, and about the new life that can emerge from the dance between the two.
Pumpkin Spice Lattes. I’ve never had one, but that doesn’t lessen the sense of excitement I have when they’re back. 16oz is $4.95 + tax at my local Starbucks. I know one pumpkin spice latte probably has one million calories and 75 grams of sugar but I still love the mythology surrounding the great PSL. Sweater weather, plaid, and pumpkins beckon us into fall and the beginning of the holiday season. Yet these autumnal charms quickly fade into, “Where are we going for Thanksgiving?” “Which day is best to travel? The day before Thanksgiving? The Tuesday before? Can I get that much time off of work?” “Which family will we celebrate Christmas with?” “How are we going to do presents this year?” “Make sure my work party is on your calendar.” “Don’t forget to buy 95 Secret Santa gifts for every Christmas function.” “We need to buy the tree and get out all our decorations.” “What should I get your mom?” There is an excess of decisions, to do’s, and activities. And, to make matters more difficult, this excess is often named as abundance in our culture.
This is a time of year that also brings tremendous grief and loss for many of us. For families who are no longer together. For loved ones we lost too soon or traditions gone with grandparents. For friends who have moved away or financial strains from a difficult year. These realities can culminate in a sense of hopelessness. Again, our culture often does us a disservice and misnames hopelessness as scarcity. So we try to ward off the seeming scarcity with one more drink, one more bad movie, or one more purchase from Amazon. Just under the surface, though, the questions linger: “Will I ever be whole again?” “How do I live when so much is missing?” “How do I celebrate when my normal is gone and nothing will ever be the same again?”
As these questions—whether of excess or hopelessness—begin to stir, the time changes and light becomes more scarce. There is a sense that we are running out of time to get everything done before we even begin. In the midst of all the activities and to do’s of the season, we are inundated with promises of feeling the “holiday spirit” from advertisements on TV to store windows to everyone else’s Instagram feed. Busyness swirls around us like an eddy of leaves that does not land. No time to savor, only time to do. It seems as nature begins to rest, our schedules reach epic proportions, obligations spilling out like presents under a tree. We run at a frantic pace trying to keep up with the holidays, trying to catch the goodness. An abundance of commitments can leave us feeling empty and confused. Shouldn’t the full calendar make us full inside? Shouldn’t choosing gifts make us light up in anticipation of sharing them? Yet often we ache inside, and gift giving can become an extremely stress inducing endeavor.
It seems as nature begins to rest, our schedules reach epic proportions.
Abundance as excess has not resolved years of relentless holidays and January’s marked by depression. And scarcity as hopelessness doesn’t offer the help we need either. The American holiday myth seems to taunt many of us, confirming we will never have the family we need to be whole. We are not invited to grieve and name what is true for us in this season, lest we make a happy time sad. Instead, it seems we must remain hopeless and alone. Hiding our losses and unmet desires, we understandably sink into the belief that our scarcity will inevitably lead to despair. We may stop trying to be understood. We may not pay attention to our needs. We may force ourselves to push through or stay locked in our homes. Whatever our response to the pain the season brings, we are convinced we will not find what we need in our scarcity. We feel hopeless and society, wittingly or unwittingly, demands we keep it to ourselves and enjoy the Christmas lights.
As we vacillate between these false versions of abundance and scarcity we are forced to buy into the lie that we live in a dualistic world. We believe we must choose between two bad options. What if instead we were to reframe abundance and scarcity and let them live together? Abundance is not excess, it is an overflow of goodness. More than enough. A state free from the anxiety of running out. Scarcity is not hopelessness, it is honesty that calls forth hope. A recognition that all is not as it should be. A realization that we are lacking. A state free from pretense. These true forms of abundance and scarcity inform one another, and they are found within each other. Our lives are lived in the dance between scarcity and abundance. There will be spaces where we have more than enough and yet are aware of the scarcity of opportunities to share. There will be spaces where we lack and then become aware of an abundance of provision.
My invitation for us as we enter the end of the year is to acknowledge both scarcity and abundance. Take time to untangle abundance from excess and scarcity from hopelessness. The holidays sell abundance in a way that leaves us hollow. Maybe true abundance comes in scarcer ways. Maybe it’s the chance to see a friend you haven’t seen in a year, or the margin to start that creative work you’ve been thinking about. The holidays also work to stifle our scarcity. Maybe true scarcity comes with abundance. Maybe owning our scarcity will allow us to fall into congruence with the fallow seasons and let the dark do its abundant work.
Abundance and scarcity mingle in our lives and our very selves all the time. We fear both being too much and not being enough. As Nayyirah Waheed brilliantly points out in one of her poems, these are actually the exact same fear: the fear of being ourselves. We want to be more and we want to be less. Friend, we actually have the opportunity to be exactly as we are, moving back and forth between abundance and scarcity. May this holiday season be one in which you both acknowledge the dark and light a candle. A time to join in the dance of scarcity and abundance in your own particular ways.