So I know it seems as though I fizzled out on my 'new month resolutions' about half way through the year, and not that you were dying to ask why or that you noticed in the first place, but I'll tell you why anyway. I read a book called "7" early this year (or maybe the end of last year), and it resonated so deep within me that after much prayer and thought, I decided to host a book/Bible study at my house this summer/fall, going over "7".
It. Was. Intense.
No room for further resolutions than what was happening each week for the book. Seeing as how we just finished up last week, I thought I'd fill you in on the greatest takeaways I'm, um, taking away. The book is still making me pull my hair out and keeping me up at night and threatening to take up more brain space than I've given it permission to, but this is a good thing; a God thing most definitely.
In case you aren't familiar with Jen Hatmaker's "7", you can read about it here for a quick synapses.
A simplified life. Simply put. This is what I long for. Sometimes I think we're already there, compared to some standards. Some people probably already think we live 'small' (and I will argue all day that living simply is not living small!) based on the facts that we have only one car, a TV that dates back to the early 90's, no cable, and the fact that we are satisfied (usually) with living on a teacher's income so that I can stay home with the girls. To some, we already live simply. But we have a ways to go. And it doesn't all have to do with the stuff we have or don't have. It has to do with the amount of time devoted to screens...phone screens, computer screens, ipad screens. It has to do with the amount of time we (I) spend thinking about and devoting actual time to superficial things that do. not. matter. It has to do with how we handle our finances...not only the types of things we dole our money out to, but the types of places that these things come from. I'm talking about responsible spending, something I had previously given little or no thought to; now it's consuming me. And it has to do with contentment. Being content with where we are in this 1150 square foot house, yet totally at peace with what the unknown future may hold, whether that means less or more, city (preferred) or country, a higher or lower paying job, etc. Content knowing that even though it may seem that we are in control of our lives, God actually is, and knowing this, having peace about potentially having less, or being able to give more if we someday have more. Brad takes it further...give more now, don't wait until we have more. People are hurting and in need now; we can't wait until we have enough to live oh so comfortably and then decide, once we've met our standard, that then we can then give. This philosophy scares me but I like it. It requires walking in faith which I rarely put into practice, but the few times I have, God's shown Himself to be BIG.
Since I'm having a hard time putting into words all I hoped to in this post (and maybe that's because I'm still processing all I've been studying/fasting from the past months), let me borrow some of Jen's words, the ones I can't get past.
"...our Western perspective is simply too skewed toward our own advantages. We don't even know how else to think. The church hasn't led us much better, guilty of adopting a similar prosperity outlook and sprinkling Jesus on top. For whom is the abundant life? Those of us lucky enough to be born in America? And does it include such egregious luxuries that literally displace entire nations from the global table? How can God's people sit on so much wealth while the rest of the world gasps for breath and claws for life?"
"We don't have to chase notoriety or wealth or security anymore, the dance cards of society. Our future is secure, so we are liberated to live a subversive, countercultural life following none of the typical rules, no matter who thinks we've lost our ever-loving minds."
The details of how where we put our dollar affects both individuals and entire countries is too complex for a blog post, as is going into detail about who and what our food choices effect, so without expounding nearly as much as I want to, I'll say this. My seemingly little, harmless, everyday choices MATTER. Oh they matter! And I can't un-know what I now know. The impact this is beginning to have on our family's life is pretty big and growing by the day. We are so far from perfect, which bothers me sometimes, but then I read something that made me realize that the devil is going to try to get in my ear and undo these deep convictions that have taken root by telling me this:
"Your hypocrisies disqualify you from this entire conversation"
The lie in more detail...
"You going to tell your Facebook friends that you just bought a new shirt? Yeah, better keep that a secret, hypocrite. How dare you raise these difficult subjects when you still waste, spend, stress, neglect, consume, and hoard. You're guilty times seven. If people knew the areas you still struggle and blatently disobey, you'd be laughed out of town. Sideline yourself, liar. Until you are a model of responsible spending and lean living and radical generosity and fearless obedience, you stay out of this conversation. Your small changes and reforms are insignificant. They don't count. This is an all-or-nothing deal, and you're not an "all" so you're a "nothing"."
Yup, that's the one I hear. Guilt when I buy that fancy five dollar coffee (um...pumpkin spice just came out at Starbucks. Pumpkin chai anyone? I may have indulged once or thrice this week...), shame when I climb into bed and think about how I spent more time on the computer than in my Bible. Well let me tell you, guilt and condemnation and shame are not of God. They're from Satan. Conviction is from God. I am convicted not to go to Starbucks every day, blowing all our money and indulging my every craving. I am convicted and drawn to spend more time with Him, rather than mindlessly twiddling away spare time on the computer. The dot's may be slightly skewed but they should point quite obviously in a certain direction. When I step back from my life and take a hard look at it, where are my affections? What is my heart (where our treasure is, aka money, there lies our hearts. that's just straight Bible) and time and money and resources and energy pointing towards? Is it all focused on me--my hobbies, my clothes/hair, my wish list, my comforts? Or is it focused on others--God, family, my neighbor, the least of these? These are hard questions with hard answers and I don't want to ponder them anymore because it's making me uncomfortable! But, it's necessary and I cannot run from it. One last thing, another quote from the conclusion of the book, and sorry it's a bit lengthy, but it's good!
"I have no idea what this might look like in your life, nor do I want that job. Your story is God's to write, not mine. Some of us are going to live in the suburbs, others downtown. I'm going to garden, you're going to take the subway. We're adopting, you're redistributing, they're downsizing. I use words, you use a hammer. There isn't a list here. There is no stencil we can all trace into our lives in perfect unison. Here is our baseline as a faith community:
Love God most. Love your neighbor as yourself. This is everything.
If we say we love God, then we will care about the poor.
This earth is God's and everything in it. We should live like we believe this.
What we treasure reveals what we love.
Money and stuff have the power to ruin us.
Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with God. This is what's required."
Okay I kind of feel like I'm plagiarizing, but I take no credit for any of these words, so I guess it's okay to include so much from the book. Whatever. I just included this last part lest you think that I'm saying that all of us Christians have to sell everything, never buy anything again, be homeless and somehow reach every lost and hurting soul around the world in order to be 'real' believers. Yeah right. Reforming in the areas of food, clothing, spending, media, waste, possessions and stress...this stressed me out at first! But stepping back, reading the conclusion and really thinking about the baseline for a faith community as listed above makes it a little less daunting of a task. Even a freeing task! Sure, I need work in all seven areas, but I will focus on my weaknesses first, and remember the basics...love, serve, don't get sucked in by money and things, and act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with God. The rest will come. Not all today, but in time. We can't all do everything. We each do what God has called us to...that's why we are called the body of Christ.
This is a journey I feel like I've been on for awhile now, but it's been easy until now. God's been speaking to me on the subject and I've been all excited to read about it, to make small changes, tweak this and that. But now it's getting down to the nitty gritty. He's asking, will you do the hard things? My salvation is not dependent upon it, but the abundant life (and you know the 'abundant' I'm talking about here!) He has in store for me lies dormant until I obey...
Oh one last thought! The advantages of living simply do not end with the spiritual side of things I've been talking about. To not be worried about that next thing you want to purchase once you've saved enough and instead, to see the world, experience life to the fullest, instead of stuff to the fullest. To drop the burden society puts on us to look a certain way, to have certain things, to climb climb climb...and instead to be who we are in Christ and nothing less, whatever that looks like for each of us individually. That is exciting, it's where life really truly begins. I could go on and on about the advantages of simplifying, but I'm tired and so is my brain, so good night!