When given the choice between more or less the decision seems quite obvious. Of course we’re gonna choose more if given the opportunity. It’s a natural instinct. We are people who are prone to think that bigger is better and more is merrier. What got me thinking about this is a chapter in Charles Spurgeon’s book Lectures to My Students in which he talks about maintaining a personal library. He said the ticket is “much, not many.” At the time I had a lot of books, a lot that I just didn’t read. Honestly, I had Spurgeon’s maxim completely backwards, “many, but not much!” It’s then that I decided that my goal was not to have a big useless library, but to have a smaller, more workable one. And that would require greater selectivity on my part and more restraint. Let’s say I walk into Powell’s bookstore with fifty bucks – I typically want to stretch that money as far as possible. Why settle for a couple books when I can walk out of there with a couple bags!? But, with this mindset I’m thinking quantity… not quality. And sometimes quality costs more… unless of course you get a good deal! 🙂 At any rate, more is not always better. Or like Spurgeon would say… many does not mean much.
As I have driven towards this quest for a smaller library I’ve wondered if this principle shouldn’t be applied to other areas of life as well. Namely our involvements and activities. Like our book shelves, our lives can get so full and crowded. Others come and admire the bookcase but nothing on there is really being put to the best use. And so my conviction has become ‘more does not mean better.’
Maybe it’s because I’m getting a little older (and hopefully a little wiser), but I’m learning to approach life with more selectivity. Of course this requires discipline, the ability to say ‘no,’ and the wisdom to discern the value of a thing and the coherence it has with the direction of our life. Just because a job needs to be done does not mean it needs to be done… by me. There’s probably somebody else more suitable. Less is more. The idea is counter intuitive, but doing less affords a disciplined person the time to focus and do things better. We only have limited resources. We’re only given one life, not two or three. And there’s only 24 hours in a day.
I found this poem recently and to me it accentuates what I’m talking about.
It’s called Smart, by Shel Silverstein
My dad gave me one dollar bill
‘Cause I’m his smartest son,
And I swapped it for two shiny quarters
‘Cause two is more than one!
And then I took the quarters
And traded them to Lou
For three dimes — I guess he don’t know
That three is more than two!
Just then, along came old blind Bates
And just ’cause he can’t see
He gave me four nickles for my three dimes,
And four is more than three!
And I took the nickels to Hiram Coombs
Down at the seed-feed store,
And the fool gave me five pennies for them,
And five is more than four!
And then I went and showed my dad,
And he got red in the cheeks
And closed his eyes and shook his head–
Too proud of me to speak!
Haha! Pretty funny. But, there’s a profound truth to it. More is not automatically better, but – like this boy – we often act as if it is. We exchange the better for the worse because we get more! But to reverse this silly trend we need to understand the value of a thing. We need to be able to choose our involvements wisely and with prayer. Who wants five-penny investments when you can have a one-dollar investment? It may not seem like much, but it’s certainly worth a lot more. Shall we forsake three-dime involvements for four-nickel involvements? Not if we’re looking at the value of a thing.
It’s hard because I have a drive to accomplish a lot. But, instead of accomplishing a lot of things that may not be related to my call, I need to be fine with accomplishing the right things. So as I continue to look at my bookshelf (and life) I deliberate… ‘Much, and not many’ or ‘many, and not much.’ It’s all in the value of a thing that counts the most.