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Image for Suffering & the Good Life


Abundance and Scarcity: An Individual and Collective Response to Suffering

Claire Crisp

A mother and advocate discusses narcolepsy, and the individual and family response to the suffering it causes.

Author and Advocate for Children with Narcolepsy / Executive Director, Wake Up Narcolepsy
April 12, 2019

If you are anything like me, your first waking thought is, “I didn’t get enough sleep.”

Then you say to yourself, “Today I won’t be able to get everything done. I don’t have enough time or energy.” Later, I hear myself saying things like “I’m not good enough. I can’t do it. People are asking too much, they don’t understand. The day is already a write-off.”

Now, it’s true we run on the wrong side of sleep deprivation in our home. Our youngest daughter has narcolepsy and requires through the night help with her medications, not to mention daily assistance with basic tasks such as getting dressed. But what I am referring to is a universal theme, and it’s not just about tiredness or being patient at 4 a.m.

It’s important to examine why we think the way we do because whether we are aware of it or not, our mindset affects how we live, our personal and professional relationships, productivity, creativity and wellbeing. More than that, and in the context of this article, our mindset is central to the way we relate to ourselves and those we love who are in pain.

In our house, suffering is called Narcolepsy. And it came when my child was three.

In our house, suffering is called Narcolepsy. And it came when my child was three.

Penetrating the Soul of the Heartbroken

Suffering, whatever its source, shares universal themes that penetrate the soul of the heartbroken. In academic circles the Problem Of Evil has tripped up scholars for centuries, in their attempt to answer a fundamental question: Why is there suffering and why does God permit it? For others it manifests itself as deep sense of unfairness and un-belonging. It can be baffling, bewildering, and tragic.  

A Suffering Called Narcolepsy

In our house, suffering is called Narcolepsy. And it came when my child was three. In another home it might be called cancer at 25, epilepsy at 9, Parkinson’s at 50, autism from birth or spinal cord injury from a teenage driving accident. It might even be masked under the subtle abuse of power in the workplace, or hidden in the shame of unemployment, loneliness, disappointment and perceived failure.

The language is almost irrelevant because what underlines physical, emotional and spiritual pain is central to the themes of suffering, and they look like this:

Shock, denial, emotional turmoil, grief, a need to revert to life as it once was, financial pressure, anger, fear, hopelessness, relational shifts, changes in routine, loss in faith of systems, organizations and humanity and even God.

No One Chooses Suffering

What I have found to be true, regardless of one’s personal perspective, is this: No one wants to suffer. No one chooses the pathway of pain, isolation, uncertainty and turmoil.

I point this out to my kids when we pass the homeless woman at the traffic light. Who knows what hideous events in that woman’s life that have led her to hold a cardboard sign and beg for hours in 100 degree heat. Does she want to be there waiting for the odd dollar that might only feed her dog?

Many of us either find ourselves right in the the epicenter of agony, or on the boundaries where we seek to help those who are without hope. We bargain our way out of it, and when that doesn’t work, we  beg. We rationalize and seek desperately for fix-it-all solutions. We look for peace, resolution and relief. We seek to understand why the bent over, sunburnt woman looks 30 years older than she actually is and by what subtle turns in life determine that she is standing there and not us.

A blurred face


Interestingly, whether you are in a state of chronic crisis, or genuinely ambitious to help those that suffer, our mindset will reflect on we how we act. And our thoughts (which lead to our actions) are undeniably critical to how we live.

Briefly, here’s the background to two opposing mindsets, borrowed from secular psychology and applied to a lived-out spirituality.

Ask yourself honestly where you fit with the following:

Scarcity Mindset

The Scarcity mindset believes the world is one giant pie. Every time you help someone or share what you have, others will be getting a piece of the pie and there will be one less piece for you. It’s the never enough syndrome. And it goes like this:

“I’m not good enough, rich enough, slim enough, wealthy enough, healthy enough, fit enough, intelligent enough, disciplined enough.”

Fill in blanks… “I’m not _____ enough.”

This mindset sets us up for the victim mentality that says the universe owes us something and we are waiting for the big pay day when we are are acknowledged without any real effort on our part.

Giving, for people with an abundance mindset, is a desire to serve others and is rooted in sacrificial living and wholeheartedness. If we were to apply it to our own state of suffering, we would ultimately find opportunity in our pain that serves a community much larger than our immediate contacts. Its impact is immeasurable.

It’s dangerous and harmful. And it doesn’t work.

There is no payday without hard work, sacrifice, and a vision that puts the needs of others before our own.

The Scarcity Mindset says if we give away some of our pie (time, talent, treasure) then it will cost us dearly.

They win. We lose.

Those who have a scarcity perspective tend to be the type of person who:

  • Worries about things they have no control over
  • Has a strong sense of entitlement
  • Feels as though the universe owes them something
  • Blames others
  • Holds a grudge
  • Fears change
  • Rarely sets goals
  • Hoards and struggles with sharing profit, power, recognition and credit
  • Takes themselves too seriously
  • Keeps thoughts and plans to themselves, fearing ideas might be stolen or result in personal failure
  • Makes decisions based on comfort, pleasure and avoidance of pain

It’s rooted in shame and comparison. And comparison, if nothing else, only ever kills contentment.

It’s also selfish.

For the scarce among us, the personal price of giving is too costly and threatens our individual well being and that of those closest to us. If the Scarce give at all, it’s from a “what’s in it for me?” standpoint.

Abundance Mindset

People who have an abundance mindset, on the other hand, believe there isn’t just one pie, but many. They think it’s possible to make more and more pies, enough to feed the whole world and that the happiness of others adds to their own lives. When pies are running out, they’ll go bake a few more so that everyone gains. There’s no lack of ingredients, and they delight in sharing the pie.

Others win. You win.

Those who have an abundance perspective tend to be the type of person who:

  • Believes that the well being of others adds to their own lives
  • Expresses gratitude
  • Embraces change
  • Shows up regardless of feelings
  • Sets personal and professional goals
  • Receives graciously
  • Shares time, talent and treasure
  • Forgives past mistakes and moves on
  • Creates opportunities for others
  • Is open to creativity, possibilities, options, alternatives and collaboration
  • Risks feeling pain and discomfort in pursuit of dreams

Giving, for people with an abundance mindset, is a desire to serve others and is rooted in sacrificial living and wholeheartedness.

“Wholeheartedness at its very core is vulnerability and worthiness: facing exposure, and emotional risks, knowing that I’m enough.”—Brene Brown

If we were to apply it to our own state of suffering, we would ultimately find opportunity in our pain that serves a community much larger than our immediate contacts. Its impact is immeasurable. More than that, there are immediate tangible consequences that result in harmony and an endless cycle of gratitude despite the fact that the source of our pain may be immovable.

“Nothing ever goes away until it teaches us what we need to know.”—Pema Chodron

The two perspectives couldn’t be more opposite. Once we fully grasp the difference, where we stand and how we act, will inevitably change lives. Since pain is unavoidable, what then, is our response to both direct and vicarious suffering?

Understanding our thinking at a core level is a key to leading a life which benefits the individual and all personal and professional relationships. It will be a gain for those we live and work with and society as a whole.

Nothing could expose where we are in the scarcity/abundance spectrum more than how we interact with those that suffer. For me personally, it’s a challenge that needs to be lived out 24-hours a day because our daughter (and consequently her siblings) suffer 24/7. In the small and dark wakeful hours of each night as she takes a potent drug that helps her sleep, I am reminded even then, that I have the God given power to either be generous or poor in love. When I engage with families and communities that share her diagnosis, the challenge is the same: to be honest, vulnerable and generous in what we have learnt and what we have.

“If we hold the poverty thought, the penury thought, the thought of lack, we cannot demonstrate abundance. We must hold the plenty thought if we would reach plenty.”—Orison Swett Marden

Poverty of thought leads only to harmharm to others and ourselves. Since our thoughts largely determine our actions, should we not embrace an Abundance mindset?

As we examine where we stand in response to local and global suffering, how might we live abundantly to the benefit of those we know and don’t know?

A Grief Observed: Going “Alone into the Alone”

C.S Lewis defined suffering in a Grief Observed as “Alone into the alone.”

He’s right. Grief is isolating. It can also be destructive. One of the worst things about suffering is the self-absorption and before we even realize it we are on the path to scarcity.

But we don’t have to stay on that path.  

If there is a way to continuously live out the abundant life in the context of poverty of health and emotional well being, is it not incumbent upon us to seek it out?

Regardless of our diagnosis, disappointments and doubts all of which impact our faith, abundant hope is something that we have  and may or may not choose to share. It might be buried, hidden, invisible or dormant. Our capacity to reach those who suffer often looks messy and a million miles away from perfect. But perfection is only an illusion anyway. What we know to be true, is that we can live either scarcely or abundantly, despite finding ourselves lost for a time.

Embracing that hope is possible.

Giving it away is doable.

Living abundantly is beautiful.