Shedding the Spirit of Scarcity

Not enough.

For many of us, these two words may well describe how we regularly feel in our out-of-balance, “consumer” culture. We struggle with a constant feeling of lacking something. We don’t think that we have enough money, enough things, enough social status, enough pleasures, enough resources…and maybe the biggest one…enough time. 

I call it the “spirit of scarcity.”

It’s a spirit that’s holding people captive in perpetual inaction. We fail to move, or we feel tense in our limited movement, because we constantly feel like time, money, resources, energy, etc., won’t go the distance. We are like the servant in the parable who was given one talent and did nothing with it. The spirit of scarcity can manifest itself in many ways, but here are some examples of the types of thoughts generated under its rule:

“I want to answer that phone call from a friend, but I have so many other things to get done.”

“I would love to make my home pretty, but all the home décor items I like are over my budget.”

“I wish that I could learn how to do that, but I’m not that talented…plus, when would I find the time??”

“I want to take extra time to play outside, or go on a walk, or read a couple of picture books aloud with my kids…but when will we possibly fit that in with all of our commitments?”

“I’m drawn to join that women’s Bible study, but what if it ends up being on a night that my kids might have sports practice.”

Each of these thoughts, in various ways, reveals the progression and impact of a spirit of scarcity: when a good desire of the heart arises, it is suppressed by the argument that some lacking resource makes its fulfillment impossible. When we allow this spirit to govern our choices and behaviors, we see that we either fail to pursue good desires altogether or struggle in our movement to do so by the constant feeling that such efforts are not possible. 

God wants to free us from the bondage of such a mindset and heart condition. The spirit of scarcity that keeps us from living with freedom and peace is nothing less than the voice of the Evil One. The devil loves to tell us that we are not enough, and that the resources that we have are not enough either. He’s usually telling us one of two different kinds of lies. He’s either lying about the goodness of something, or he’s lying about our capacity to experience or receive something that is good. Either we are not enough or what we have is not enough. But we have the truth we need to reject his lies. We know that we are good because our worth comes from being children of God, and we know that He has given us everything that we need to live according to His will.  

We have the truth we need to help us practice shedding this spirit of scarcity. I say “practice” because it requires paving new habits—inviting God to free our hearts and actively listening to His Word in our minds. This spirit of scarcity is one that has been constructed out of habit. It has become part of us like a skin, a skin that we desperately need to shed if we want to step out and bask in the joy of the good things that we are being invited to by our Lord.

There is one piece of additional discernment required here though. Do we feel scarcity because we have actually dissipated our resources? Is it possible that we are responsible for taking on tasks and expectations that God never meant to be ours? Is it possible that we don’t feel the capacity for the good God is holding out to us because we have taken up many things that are not good for us, things contrary to God’s will? Are we feeling a lack because we’ve drained our resources on things that God does not mean us to attend to or bother with? Have we drifted along with the current of a consuming culture rather than remained anchored in the contemplative life for which God designed us? If so, we will certainly feel the crippling grip of scarcity even more acutely. We cannot receive good things from God if our arms of full of lesser things. We have to empty our arms and our lives of such things before we will be able to accept the good desires he is placing on our hearts. 

The next time that you encounter a sense of “lacking” rise up within you, recognize it for what it is. Discern whether it is of your own making or if you have adopted the lies from the enemy. Ask God to reveal the truth to your heart and open up your eyes to the “yes” he is making possible for you. When next the devil tries to squash good desires or deflate the Holy Spirit’s imaginings in your heart, see that moment as an invitation to co-operate with God’s plan for your life. God doesn’t want His children to live with a spirit of scarcity. In God’s economy, in His contemplative mode of existence, there is always more than enough. There is abundance. The well does not run dry. Jesus said to us, “I came that they might have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

Copyright 2020 Jessica Ptomey

More “Real” Than Real

We live in a culture that is ultimately material. By that I mean that what is considered most “real” is that which can be experienced with our five physical senses. What we can see, hear, taste, smell and feel is what is real to us. Essentially, that means that what we observe in the natural world and what we have feelings and impulses toward are the only things that exist. Of course those things are real, and yes we experience them in the natural world. But where does that leave us with the question of the supernatural, the order of things not apparent to our physical senses, the truth and reality that is actually happening in the everyday life of the Spirit?

We say that we believe in God and the supernatural world; but unfortunately, many Christians today behave as mere materialists, interpreting their faith and the spiritual life solely within the dimension of the natural, material world. However, there is an ultimate reality — something more real than the reality known to our physical senses — in which we can participate, and I believe that the sacraments of the church are the daily means by which we live in that reality. In fact, the sacraments reveal that ultimate reality to us, as if lifting the veil to expose the full picture of God’s love and redemption story for all of creation.

What reality is revealed?

A sacrament is “the visible sign of the hidden reality of salvation,” and the Church’s Catechism explains how God has gifted us with signs observable to our senses that allow us to participate in a reality that exists beyond those physical senses:

“The seven sacraments are the signs and instruments by which the Holy Spirit spreads the grace of Christ the head throughout the Church which is his Body. The Church, then, both contains and communicates the invisible grace she signifies. It is in this analogical sense, that the Church is called a ‘sacrament.'” (CCC 774)

So within a sacrament something is actually happening in the spiritual life. This revelation certainly contributed to me becoming Catholic, and it daily awakens me to what is most real. I will give you a couple of examples of this deeper level of reality, what is actually happening, when we participate in the sacraments. I have been pondering the reality of three sacraments in particular recently: Baptism, Marriage, and the Eucharist.

Baptism — For some people Baptism, First Communion, and Confirmation have become merely symbolic “events” worthy of photo shoots and parties afterward. Have we lost sight of what is really happening? Through the anointing oil, prayer of exorcism, and the cleansing holy waters poured on the child, the stain of original sin is being wiped away. This soul is entering into the life of the Church and beginning a pilgrimage in which those witnessing souls are also participating. Remember those Oxi Clean commercials? It’s like spiritual Oxi Clean for the soul! The dirt of original sin is literally removed to reveal a whiter than white fresh soul ready to begin that spiritual journey. But if you are only looking with your eyes you won’t see what is actually taking place right there in that moment in our time.

Marriage — Why is being married in the Church and according to her canon law so important? Because what is actually taking place when it is a sacramental marriage is nothing like a contractual agreement that may at some point in time be dissolved. When the two become one flesh something very real has happened in the spiritual lives of both of those people that impacts completely their physical lives and reality from that point forward. They are suddenly knit together, responsible for helping each other journey to heaven. In fact, the vocation of their marriage is the way God is choosing to sanctify them and make them holy. My husband is not just my companion, my partner in life, my lover — at that altar and in that sacrament he (with all of his flaws and charisms) became the person in this life that will participate in the sanctification of my soul. Mind-blowing. Awesome. Overwhelming.

The Eucharist — Maybe this one is both the most obvious and the hardest to comprehend at the same time. To my physical sense I am eating bread and drinking wine. If I approach that bread and wine as a symbol, I’m not acknowledging that something transformational is taking place. I must realize that I am taking the real presence of Christ into my own body, and that phenomenon radically changes me and spiritually sustains me with graces. That moment of consecration on the altar is not just some ritual; the most ultimate and supernatural reality is taking place before our eyes in every mass! Christ is offering himself for us, to sustain us on our earthly journey. When we enter into that reality — when we get that — we will only be able to participate with total reverence and awe, and our daily living will be sustained like never before.

How do we “sense” this ultimate reality?

If this is the realness that we can live in, then how do we then experience this ultimate reality that is always present with us? As human beings created in the image of God, we have been gifted with a sixth sense — the religious sense.  The Catechism describes this religious sense in several places as the “supernatural sense of faith” (CCC 91-93, 889). Faith is one of the three theological virtues (faith, hope & love). Through the eyes of faith we are able to see our lives, the lives of others, and the world in which we live in a supernatural dimension — we are able to perceive what is most real, the ultimate reality available to us in the spiritual life. We access these eyes of faith, this religious sense, through grace; as with everything in the spiritual life, it is a gift.

But human agency is always a factor. Are we living in a way that opens ourselves up to that gift of faith? Are we taking part in the gift of the sacraments? Have we let patterns of behavior and distractions blur our vision and numb our religious sense? If so, we may find that we are merely living material lives day in and day out. But this will not satisfy. This is not the abundant life that Jesus speaks of in John 10:10. We must foster the religious sense if we want to live in the ultimate reality and be fully alive.


Copyright 2018 Jessica Ptomey