Have you ever asked yourself how much is too much? Bigger paychecks. Bigger houses. Bigger portion sizes. From the time we’re old enough to count, we’re taught in countless subtle (and not-so-subtle) ways that more is always better.
As we mature, reality sets in and we downsize our expectations. But somewhere, lurking just beneath the surface of the things we’re brave enough to say out loud, lies a kernel of excess — a desire to earn just a little more money, upgrade to just a little bigger house, take just one small step up the ladder of life.
The question we never seem to get around to asking is how much is too much?
Excess run amok: How much is too much?
I recently visited the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. Built by George Vanderbilt (grandson of railroad mogul, Cornelius Vanderbilt) in the 1890s, Biltmore continues to be the largest privately owned home in the U.S.
At nearly 179,000 square feet, Biltmore House boasts more than four acres of floor space and includes 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms and 65 fireplaces. “Big” doesn’t even begin to describe Biltmore, especially when you see it firsthand. It intimidates you.
And that’s exactly what it was built to do. The driveway is two miles long, for God’s sake.
Officially, George Vanderbilt designed the Biltmore House to be a residence and a place to entertain guests. But when you tour the house and grounds, the message it communicates is one of wealth, power and influence.
I don’t know whether George Vanderbilt was a decent guy or not. He and his wife, Edith, engaged in all kinds of philanthropic activities. (In fact, the Biltmore covertly housed the National Gallery’s most valuable pieces of art during WWII, keeping them safe in the event that Washington, DC, was bombed by the Nazis.)
I love visiting historical places, but the excesses on display at the Biltmore and other mansions always give me an icky feeling. And they inevitably force me to wonder how much is too much in my own life.
The spiritual discipline of enough
In Christianity, “enough” is the only available response to the question of how much is too much. The spiritual discipline of enough transforms the way we view ourselves and our place in the world.
“Enough” changes the conversation:
- From how much more can I accumulate to how much do I really need
- From bigger and better to smaller and simpler
- From an ego-centered life to an other-centered life
In 1 John 2. 15-17, we read:
Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.
When we answer the how-much-is-too-much question honestly, we realize that we really aren’t pursuing more money or more possessions at all. We’re pursuing respect, influence, power and countless other things that feed our egos’ ravenous appetites.
By consciously surrendering our egos, we eliminate the need to feed them with material excesses. More importantly, we make space in our lives for the Spirit and create the potential to “live and move and have our being” along a more fulfilling trajectory.
The Vanderbilt family still owns the Biltmore. But the builder, George Vanderbilt, lived in the house for fewer than 20 years before dying of appendicitis at the age of 51.
The lesson? Life is short. You have a limited number of years/days/hours left. You can spend them building bigger bank accounts and bigger houses, or you can ditch your ego and live a more fulfilling life of enough.
It’s your choice. Choose well.