I used to jokingly tell people that I lived through a famine in a past life. My default setting is to be on guard against not having enough of what I think I may need in any given circumstance. For instance, I always take lots of snacks when I attend conferences out of a fear that I will get super hungry before the scheduled meal times. At work, I carry a messenger bag with me to all my meetings so that I am not caught away from my office needing tissues, cough drops, classroom keys, pen, paper, passes, or even detention slips.
When I go to the pool, I bring three containers of sunscreen just in case one gets used up and another gets lost. I always carry several tubes of lip balm and a pad of paper in my purse because getting caught unawares with chapped lips or being unable to jot down an important idea would make me feel completely naked. Also, I have a terrible time getting rid of useful yet unused items in my house. So what if I haven’t touched this pair of binoculars or that watering can for over three years? One day I might need to see something far away or water someone’s plants, right? Instead of approaching life with trust and openness, I tend to live from a bring-an-umbrella-so-it-won’t-rain stance.
I think all of us to some degree have a fear of not having or being “enough.” Perhaps it’s an evolutionary adaptation designed to help us prepare to face our “famines” in life. Or maybe it’s just fear, plain and simple.
I find it fascinating what Jesus told his disciples about why he came in the first place. It wasn’t to bring us happiness in our current life or even a blissful eternity after death. Instead, Jesus said, “I came so that [you] might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10: 10).
In last week’s Gospel reading, Jesus finds his disciples discouraged after not being able to catch any fish. He instructs them, “’Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something.’ So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in because of the number of fish” (21: 6). Jesus did not snap his fingers and make all the fish appear; the disciples had to do the hard work of catching them. He did not remove the sore muscles and scars they surely got from bringing in such a huge catch; he did not solve the problem of how to clean and transport the heavy load; he did not mend the nets that surely tore from the effort; and he did not prevent the disciples’ wives from being angry at them for getting home so late. Instead of doing some sort of magic trick, he simply pointed them toward abundance.
That’s how I understand the Gospel of Jesus – guidance pointing toward a life of abundance. It’s not a road map to perfect happiness on earth or a blueprint of what life after earthly death will look like. Instead, it’s Jesus continually saying, “Cast your net over here” by caring for the poor and sick and lonely. “Cast your net over there” by forgiving even those who don’t deserve it. “Cast your net that way” by welcoming the stranger and giving to others. “Cast your net this way” by standing up against injustice.
Caring for the poor and forgiving the undeserving and standing up for justice can be terribly hard things to do. At the very least, they can be boring and simply no fun. At the worst, they can bring us overwhelming challenges and cause us great pain. But Jesus didn’t come to make us happy; he came to make us whole.
I will probably always carry extra snacks and lip balm with me wherever I go. And I’ll continue to struggle parting with the iron skillet that I have never once used and can’t even lift without assistance, but by golly, it sure is a nice iron skillet. In my spiritual life though, I do hope to adjust some of my internal settings a bit. Instead of always defaulting to “not enough,” I’d like to grow into a sincere trust in the abundance of life that is available to me. After all, not every rain storm requires an umbrella. Sometimes, it’s okay to get wet.