A Cultural Comparison: How Much Is ‘Enough’?

Bob BurckleBy Bob Burckle8 Minutes

Growing up, my family wasn’t necessarily poor; we just didn’t have a lot of money. Yet, we had a roof over our heads, food to eat, and clothes to wear—even if they weren’t the finest of clothes, a little small at times and certainly hand-me-downs. Ultimately, we had enough.

But that’s the thing isn’t it? We don’t need to be financially wealthy to have enough for our needs.

For most people in Eastern Europe today, this is the normal condition of life: not rich but having just enough. And they are simultaneously some of the happiest and most generous people I’ve ever known.

The American Dream or Nightmare?

Alternatively, for many Americans today, life revolves around money. Rich or poor, our minds are all too often consumed with ‘making enough money’ and ‘making more money.’ The objective for success—and even the perceived value of people themselves—is widely measured by money.

And still, no amount of wealth or possessions seems to satisfy. Ironically, wealth oftentimes has an inverse effect on our happiness. In fact, most Americans who have achieved the esteemed ‘millionaire’ status find themselves wanting even more, dissatisfied and convinced they still do not have enough because they perceive that others have more.

According to a study referenced in The Overspent American, since 1973—50 years ago—the average home size has doubled in square footage, and yet, research shows that Americans are not any happier.

When ‘enough’ isn’t enough, adjust the investment.

Regardless of our wealth status, if our focus revolves just around money, we will never have ‘enough.’ The Bible tells us that Christ is sufficient for our needs and our contentment. Rich or poor, God’s grace is enough to sustain us.

So, what is the true purpose of wealth? We cannot take it with us when we die. And no matter how ‘secure’ our funds and financial investments, they can all vanish at a moment’s notice. So, what’s the point? Where should our money go?

Rather than a lifetime of tirelessly acquiring more, and more, and more—let us alternatively consider generosity. Giving to others both in time and money brings much greater joy and purpose than that of the emptiness and shallow fulfillment of hoarding our dollars away for status, material things, and false security.

We need to give from our heart as well as our head. We need to adjust our perspective, looking beyond the measure of the world and into the light of eternity, investing in the things that matter most—in people. From an eternal perspective, our money can go a long way forward, and we can find ourselves immensely joyful and fulfilled when our additional funds, big or small, are invested in helping others. Planned giving is an excellent way to do this, prayerfully and thoughtfully putting aside a portion of each paycheck to support a church, ministry, or missionary that is going to directly invest these funds into the spiritual lives of others.  Also, Wills and Estate gifts allow you to leave a legacy that keeps giving beyond this lifetime on earth.

A little to us goes a long way in an impoverished world.

Americans live lives of extreme wealth as compared to the rest of the world. Sure, we may not consider ourselves wealthy, especially comparing ourselves to others in the U.S.; we might even feel as if we have ‘barely enough.’ However, according to Smart Capital Mind, individuals who make at least $41,000 per year are in the top 3% of earners worldwide. This is incredibly important to ponder.

Even in today’s economy, the American dollar goes a long way in third-world nations. My wife and I support a child through a Christian relief organization. One year, we were able to give some extra to the ministry. The organization was able to use that additional funding to construct proper toilet and waste disposal facilities that would benefit an entire remote village in Central America. A simple project like this was a great need for that community where so many impoverished children lived. Knowing how our money was able to help those families meant so much more to us than what we could have spent it on here in the U.S.

Abroad or locally, our sacrifices matter.

As for our local American neighbors in our everyday communities who need a little extra financial help, our extended hands of generosity can enrich their lives so much more than we realize.

Oftentimes, we have the privilege to help others financially when we make small, intentional sacrifices in the everyday luxuries of American life. Whether that looks like giving up our daily latte purchase to make our coffee at home, choosing to wait to upgrade our out-of-style patio furniture, or repurposing  our “rainy day” funds in order to help someone who needs them, it is important to think of others as you think about your discretionary spending.

We must remember that God’s math is not our math. Even when there are times that we have nothing extra to give, but we feel that pull, that need, we should give anyway. By doing so, we honor that conviction of generosity and faith amid financial unknown in order to bless others. And we’ll find that, somehow, we still have enough for our needs.

Taking Lessons in Generosity from Eastern Europe

While the people of Eastern Europe may not have much, with what little they have, they generously share with others. They invest in people, fighting to give extra, to pay the dinner bill, to share wealth, and to ultimately invest in one another with their money, time, and attention. As I expressed earlier, they are a generous and joyous people.

Each of us can also make the choice to live a purposeful life of greater joy and freedom through generosity and faith. Rather than being a slave to the number in our bank accounts, we can live in the peace and fulfillment that miraculously happens when our trust is in God and our wealth is shared with others. If you have been spiritually gifted to be able to give—do it generously.