The Swedes and the Hawaiians have something in common besides enjoying fish. They both have a deep understanding of the idea of “enough.”
The Swedish word that roughly translates as “enough” is lagom. Lagom means exactly in balance, “just right,” and the Swedes say it all the time, much more than we say the word “enough.” Their culture ennobles the search for lagom. There’s a minimalist quality, after all, to Swedish design. And while it’s a very prosperous country with a lively capitalist economy, there is much less imbalance in it between the rich and the non-so-rich. A young Swedish couple at Stanford, with whom my wife Roberta and I became close, explained this to us. I asked Jenny and Peter to teach us one word in Swedish that was most important to know, and lagom was the one they didn’t want us to forget.
And if you ever go to Hawaii, you’ll quickly learn the word pau. If you’ve had enough to eat, you say, “I’m pau.” When you’ve worked enough, or partied enough, you say, “Pau hana” which roughly means, “I’ve had enough of this activity and now I’m going home.” Native Hawaiians and white haoles alike use the word “pau” constantly. Maybe it gets used so much because there is so much to be satisfied with in Hawaii. It’s a reflection of that culture, too – one that focuses on simple pleasures, one that accepts all shapes, sizes, cultures, and styles of people. A haole friend of ours in Hawaii used to snitch a few avocados from his neighbor’s tree now and again. She was an old Japanese-Hawaiian lady. One day he came home and there was a big sack of fresh avocados on his doorstep. On it was a note from the neighbor lady that said, “No need steal!” There’s pau for everybody.
The Bible itself contains a powerful meditation on the idea of “enough”:
“Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke? (Isaiah 58: 5-6)
The prophet Isaiah is asking for balance here. For a day acceptable to the Lord, a day “lagom” for God, when, after it’s over, God can look at human beings living in harmony with themselves, with each other, and with the earth. And then God happily can say, “Pau hana” and roll over and sleep sweetly on Cloud 9.
So let us feast on simple pleasures, and fast from all that gets our bodies and souls out of balance.
Let us feast on kindness, and fast from sarcasm.
Let us feast on compassion, and fast from holding grudges.
Let us feast on patience, and fast from anxiety.
Let us feast on peace, and fast from stirring up needless conflict.
Let us feast on acceptance, and fast from judgment.
Let us feast on joy, and fast from jealousy.
Let us feast on faith, and fast from fear.
Let us feast on creativity, and fast from all that deadens our souls.
Let us feast on social justice, and let us fast from negligence of the most vulnerable.
Let us feast on service to others, and fast from selfishness.
Let us feast on delight, and fast from despair.
Let us feast on bread and wine in spiritual communion, and fast from all that keeps us from communing deeply with each other and with God.
So that our lives might be sufficient, fulfilled, complete, whole, enough.
So that we might have no less than lagom and no more than pau.