Fear Starts With Scarcity

Dan White, Jr.
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Fear comes from a place of a tense, aching, insecure restlessness within us—a gurgling cauldron in the basement of our gut. Even though we may have virtually every practical reason to be happy—friends, health, material affluence—we experience an unsettled, insatiable, and disquieting discontent within, as Sendhil Mullainathan writes in his book Scarcity: The Science of Having Less and How It Defines our Lives. The majority of us are dissatisfied. Research is showing that our mental and emotional state is at unprecedented lows.

It’s been traditionally thought that humans are generally pleased when they apprehend vocational goals, financial wealth, and good health, but neuroscientists are exposing that things “going well” doesn’t make us happy. When a sampling of two thousand young people between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-five was tested multiple times throughout three years for feelings of well-being, they discovered a shocking reality. Even though their job satisfaction was high, their physical fitness was good, and their financial status was decent, their neurological receptors tested as agitated and unsatisfied. What was discovered is that we have expectations that are not being met, but we are not sure exactly what those expectations are!

Scarcity Breeds Tunnel Vision

We have natural propensity to zone in on scarcity, to zero in on our lack. Scarcity is the emotional framework that “we do not have enough” of something: enough time, enough money, enough education, enough safety, enough energy, enough attention, enough strength, or enough to be okay. We believe we have too little, and the cost is that we feel “needy” instead of freehearted. I know this dwells in me, and it has shown up in how I’m tempted to parent my two-year-old son. There is a subtle but identifiable pull to buy the car seat built like a tank, to put gates on everything, to buy the crib with all the safety features, to buy the thermometer for bathtub time, to place a protective cover on the shopping cart, and even to buy the Owlet that sends oxygen stats to my phone while my baby sleeps. I have not fallen into that bottomless hole, but something inside says, “You’re not doing enough to keep your baby boy safe.” This is the voice of scarcity making me feel afraid.

“Jesus comes as the King whose kingdom flows with lavish love.”

“Scarcity promotes tunnel vision making us less insightful, less open, less safe, less free,” writes Mullainathan. We seldom feel fully satisfied with our current status. We feel a few brief moments of euphoria, but we spend most of our lives waiting for a fuller amount to come.

Can you relate to this feeling? Are you waiting for something more to happen?

Stingy With Love

Many see the miracle in which Jesus divided the fish and loaves as a lesson on God fixing a problem of hunger; however, there is more to the scene. Five thousand people traveling a great distance and forgetting to bring food is highly unlikely. However, as time wore on, many people’s supplies started to dwindle. Mom looks into the backpack and realizes there are no more snacks for the kiddos. I suppose that many in the crowd felt scarcity rather than generosity— stinginess settled in. Folks were less likely to share with those who had not prepared well for the day.

A young boy offers his loaves of bread and fish, and a miracle is sparked (Luke 9:10–17). Jesus is contradicting the everyday impressions that scarcity besets the world—that God’s love and care are limited. Jesus is confronting the fear that we don’t have enough, that there is not enough to go around, that love is not enough.

Jesus breaks in with a paradigm of plenty.

Jesus comes as the King whose kingdom flows with lavish love.

Jesus was guiding His disciples to live without fear in a world in which there seemed to be pervasive violence. When we feel like we don’t have enough, we’re stingy with who we’re helpful to, who we’re kind to, who we’re openhearted to. When my heart is content and open, there is room to be present to anyone. When I am afraid, I turn in on myself and zone in on only those who are like me. Scarcity depletes our desire to be warm and welcoming to people who don’t seem to have anything in common with us. When our lives are in a place of scarcity emotionally and mentally, we essentially hunker down into a state of self-preservation.

For Further Reading:

Love Over Fear

by Dan White Jr.

Aren’t Christians Supposed to Be the Loving Ones? Whether it’s the news, social media, or well-intentioned friends, we’re...

book cover for Love Over Fear