This downward spiral isn’t what I want for my own life or for organizations I support. I’m not looking for a magical solution of spontaneously creating more income or discovering unnecessary expenses. Instead, I’m thinking it might help to eliminate the judgment about scarcity. In other words, I suspect that the individual and collective depression I associate with scarcity is not inevitable. Perhaps it comes from scarcity carrying an assumption of failure: Income didn’t live up to projections and hopes, or expenses refused to be contained within the boundaries set for them. Thus the projections and hopes must have been misguided, or the boundaries too weak.
But what if that sense of failure were actually optional? In the extreme, under certain conditions, what if scarcity could even be seen as a kind of success? Take a congregation, for example. If expenses are exceeding income, okay, maybe there was a problem in budgeting. OR maybe it’s because the congregation’s dreams and hopes for ministry are out ahead of its abilities for now. Maybe it’s because the congregation is living on the edge of what it can actually pull off–not because they’re unrealistic, but because they’re doing their best to be faithful to a God who hangs out that very edge. Maybe the same thing could even be true in a household. The fact that you can’t yet afford the trip you want to take or the home you want to live in doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Maybe it just means you’re an excellent dreamer.
Of course there are all kinds of exceptions where this perspective wouldn’t help much. (Scarcity in which you can’t afford rent and food is different from not being able to buy your dream home or vacation.) But still, there are plenty of situations where this shift could take the sting out of budget discussions by removing the sense that “we must have done this wrong.” Instead, maybe it’s because you’re dreaming just right. If that’s true, then the work ahead changes too. The task is no longer figuring out where you went wrong; it’s simply deciding where you’ll go next. And if that’s the case, maybe Henry David Thoreau’s words can help: “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”
Photo credit: Boston Public Library, “Laying the foundation along Boylston Street, construction of the McKim Building,” licensed by Creative Commons.