The title of Lynn A. Miller’s little book speaks volumes: The Power of Enough: Finding Contentment by Putting Stuff In Its Place. Miller’s bottom line is this: “Contentment comes from putting stuff in the role that God gave it, and not letting it mean something God doesn’t intend it to mean.” In other words, “stuff is good, but it has its place.”
This message is definitely counter-cultural in our world that constantly entices us to yearn for more money, more assets, more possessions, more something to fill what Kierkegaard called the “God-sized hole” in our lives. But Miller doesn’t dwell on high-level theology here: he immediately gets down to daily practices and how we can simplify our lives.
Inviting us to distinguish the difference between our needs and our wants, he says that a “need” is something that’s essential to a person’s fulfilling the unique calling God has given him or her. This means we need just enough money to do that one thing, depending on our calling. For example, if God has called us to drive seniors to see the doctor or get groceries, we’ll need a bit larger car that’s easy to get in and out of, and a little more money for gasoline and car maintenance. But if our calling doesn’t require special transportation, the purpose of our car is simply to get us from one place to another. This is the idea of “inherent usefulness,” in contrast to valuing them as symbols of success: using things for the specific purpose to which God has called us.
The Power of Enough would make an excellent text for a small group, since each chapter ends with questions and exercises based on our daily-living decisions. Study questions and exercises help readers examine their spending habits, get out of debt, and plan for their financial future. For example, it invites us to reflect on what a house, food, clothes and other things mean to us, where we formed those opinions, and whether those beliefs work for or against us. Miller’s basic principles apply equally well, whether we’re putting together our first-ever budget, deciding where to invest, or planning for retirement.
In the “Ethic of Enough” chapter in Growing Generous Souls, we saw that contentment goes beyond having the bare minimum in life, to a sense of gratitude, a practice of generosity, the awareness that God has already given us all we need to flourish, and ongoing cooperation with the Holy Spirit. Here, Miller’s book prompts us to explore specific ways we can have sufficiency in everything we truly need (2 Corinthians 9:8). I highly recommend this book for individuals or for group study.