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Too Little, Enough, Abundance, Too Much?

by  Dr. Jean Illsley Clarke

Ahhhh!! Nice unbroken, shiny, new crayons One of the pain-filled pieces that came out of the research Dr. David Bredehoft and I did on overindulgence was the great distress reported by many adults who experienced overindulgence as children. A major area of distress was, "I don't know what is enough." Enough clothing, enough food, enough liquor, enough money, enough gifts, enough sex, enough work, enough parties. The areas of distress varied from person to person. One interviewee mourned, "I'm afraid I will go to my grave without ever having one day when I know what is enough."

I have been trying to sort the difference between too little, enough, abundance, and too much. How do we teach children what is enough? How do we help them recognize and celebrate abundance without getting into overindulgence?

I woke up thinking about crayons. My brother and I called them colors. Every September when school started my mother gave me a new box of crayons. With smooth, pointy tips. I looked at them a long time before I used them. I relished their perfect shape and unblemished shine. I can still feel the deep satisfaction that their beauty and their promise engendered in my body. I rearranged them to see how I liked the colors in a different sequence, then put them back in the rainbow order, always being careful not to smudge the shiny tips.

In some of the lean years in that depression decade, there was a single row of eight colors. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, brown, black. By lightly coloring green over yellow, I could make my version of lime, a color I had just learned about and adored. It was enough. On years when the mortgage payment had been met, I got a double row box. Oh joy! Lime, lilac, peach, aqua, crimson, light blue. Now I could color the sky. I felt so lucky! I prayed that one of the bad boys at school would not snatch a color from my hand and break it.

I learned to tear the wrapper away very carefully in order to preserve paper to grasp as long as possible. I even discovered how to sharpen a flat-topped color by coloring sideways, hard, on a piece of thrown-away paper.

In the spring, I carried the stubs home to go in the color box, that carefully protected jumble of old colors my brother and I used to create our own pictures, or sometimes to color inside the lines if we were lucky enough to have someone give us a coloring book. Recently a mom told me that the list of school supplies required for her daughter entering first grade included 72 pens, pencils, crayons, etc.

I never felt deprived. Two rows of crayons was abundance for me. Now I meet children who won't color unless they have a choice of crayons, markers, and pastel chalks.

Am I suggesting a return to depression years? Definitely not. There were probably not more than six children's books in my home and the leather bound classics were too hard. Pilgrims Progress is not a child's book.

Since a return to sparcity is not desirable and also not possible in our current culture of got-it-all-then-get-more, how will the crayon/marker/pastel children learn about enough? What experiences do we need to provide for them so they can learn the differences between too little, enough, abundance, and too much?


Jean Illsley Clarke shares the "introductory" research results that she and Dr. David Bredehoft "pioneered" into this topic. The Survey results for the "complete" Overindulgence survey which just ended today, April 2, 2001, will be available sometime this June, or as soon as they become available.
Thank You! to all participants for your interest and cooperation!

Adults who were OVERINDULGED as children and the effects of this overindulgence upon them.

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