When less is more

Published 5:39 pm Tuesday, April 2, 2019

By Charles Qualls

There used to be a running joke in my family of origin. If we went anywhere casual to eat with my Dad, we watched for him to order whatever “deluxe” version he could. This child of the Depression was secretly drawn, I believe, to being able to do that. That, and he simply liked the largest version of whatever he could get. From hamburgers to “Captain’s Platters,” he wanted the biggest. The deluxe.

I think many Americans are wired that way. If we have a home, at some point in our lives we wish we had a bigger one. If we have a TV, we wish we had a larger screen. If we are promoted to vice president, we begin eyeing the president’s office. A study showed that across all income categories, nearly all who were surveyed estimated that if they earned twice what they currently made, then money would not feel like an issue to them.

Whatever we have, we seem to strive for more. After all, more seems like more. However, life teaches us something quite different. Sometimes, less is more.

Sandy Koufax, the great Dodgers pitcher, popped up in the front row of a recent ballgame on television. He is considered to be the very greatest pitcher that a team always known for its pitching ever had. Few may remember, though, that Koufax only became great a few years into his career when a backup catcher pointed out to him the benefits of taking a few miles-per-hour off his considerable fastball. From a mediocre pitcher, a Hall of Fame career was reborn.

I know a pastor friend who has left his significant congregation. He was there for more than 10 years and was beloved. It was a large, prominent church with a lot of staff and luxuries. He could have stayed there until retirement, so happy were his church members. However, he was secretly burning out on meetings and obligations. He took his hand off the brass ring recently and resigned. I asked him where he might go next? His reply was, “I don’t know, but it’ll be somewhere smaller. I want to enjoy my work more than I do now for this last chapter I have left.”

I have spent a good portion asking burnt-out and anxious parishioners a key question: at what points in your life would be willing to settle for a “B+” on your report card if the tradeoff were that you felt better? At what point might you live with taking a lower grade on your career, your house-keeping, your hobby and even your role in your family if it helped you to keep your sanity? Perfection comes at a high price.

Is this just a willingness to settle for less? Is this advocating that everyone become an underachiever? Am I suggesting that the secret to life is to lower one’s standards?

Those will be the natural questions of our overachieving crowd. The defensive reactions of those who are like thoroughbreds in life’s race. They are wired to run.

At my beloved Georgia Tech, we had a young football linebacker who played his way into the rotation as a freshman. The fans loved him because, as some said, “He plays like his hair is on fire.” He eventually became a three-year starter. Truth was, though, the staff had to slow him down before he could become good. A coach told him, “You arrive in a hurry, but we’ve got to get you slowed down so that you pay more attention to arriving in the right place.”

Sometimes, less is more. The person who stays in a slightly lesser job might get more time at home with her family. If that’s important to her, then less is more. The couple who drive less car and live in less house than they could might also carry less monthly obligation. They might feel freer in their life than their comparable age peers who are living better, but are also more deeply in debt.

Henry David Thoreau is supposed to have said, “The true cost of a thing is the amount of life you are willing to exchange for it.”

A man once apologized to his family. He confessed to paying a steep price for all the hours he worked instead of spending time with the family. He provided mightily. He was no slacker. Now, he laments that he cannot get back what he sacrificed at the time.

Sometimes, less truly is more.

THE REV. DR. CHARLES QUALLS is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 562-5135.