Waste

Posted on August 3, 2010

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My parents grew up with parents who survived The Depression. It made a big impact on them. “Waste not, want not,” wasn’t so much a nice aphorism as a desperate statement of reality. Just on the other side of “waste” was a dark abyss of “want” waiting to devour all of our stores and then us.

It even colored our amusements as young parents. Our “you’re never going to guess what” calls to each other as sisters were usually about bargains, great sales, or an augmented stash of something or another. When the Y2K scare was on, we both (my sister closest to my age and I) had a year’s supply of food, as encouraged by our faith (and in some things, 2 years), but probably the most valuable to me was my year’s supply of candy. A great big tote full of it. If the world went to pot, I wasn’t going to be without chocolate.

Today I was sitting in a quiet, peaceful place reading my scriptures and soaking up the rays from a spectacular chandelier, and I came across this verse. “We should waste and wear out our lives in bringing to light all the hidden things…”

I was immediately reminded of my mother’s desire to show her hands at her judgment rather than speak, as she knew she wouldn’t be going into heaven with beautiful, pampered hands, but hands worn out doing good, and I think she always hoped wistfully that that would be enough. (I think it will, by the way.) I wondered at how easy it is to consider wearing out our bodies for a good cause, but how hard it was, for us, to consider wearing out our substance. “Take care of things so that they don’t wear out” is a lot different than purposefully embarking on a “wearing out” mission. Still, it does seem efficient in a way, once you get past the ingrained fear of “running out.”

But waste? Wearing out has always held the connotation of “getting every bit of wear from,” while waste has always felt like a loss. I guess when supplies waste, it just means they are reduced, not necessarily that they are reduced through mismanagement.

So is it wasting to share? To use? These thoughts ran through my mind as I wondered about my relationship to stuff. I’m willing to share my energy fairly freely … do I feel the same way about stuff? Do I have “sufficient for my needs”? What is “sufficient”?

In the past few years my ideas about stuff have changed a great deal. It may have something to do with travelling halfway cross country with little more than could fit in a minivan, and then living without stuff that we’d always had. We’ve accumulated a lot of stuff since, but I feel differently about it. It’s just stuff. Maybe I’m just not afraid to not have it.

Life got a lot easier when I quit caring so much about stuff, even as stuff just kept finding its way to us. Instead of a stockpile, it became like living in a land of “milk and honey.” I don’t think it was the land so much as the attitude. There’s something very free about allowing a supply to waste for a good cause, knowing that it will refill because you’re going to make sure it does and the universe will sort of come along. Rather like the difference between guarding a well, and being told that you could never thirst again.

I’m very grateful for my heritage. Knowing that you’re made of stern stuff, that tornadoes can rock and drought can assail and you will survive is a foundational thing. I’m not afraid of the destroyer. Adding to that a knowledge that the universe will supply richly if we “waste and wear out” for a good cause is a beautiful thing to know as well. I’m not afraid of want.

Perhaps the bigger waste is keeping something and letting it spoil, just to say we have it. In that light, “waste and wear out” makes a whole lot more sense than “hoard and guard.”

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