Minimalist Believer

A blog about minimalism and the Christian life

Month: May, 2011

On Not Working For Things

I grew up defining life in terms of things. I was to get my education so that I could get a good job. I had to get a good job so that I could have a nice house, a nice car, and lots of nice things.

I am not opposed to work. (In fact, I’m looking for work!) I am not even opposed to having “a good job.”  I am opposed to the idea of working for things. I believe in having a job that you enjoy, one that is fulfilling. This is how I wish to approach my career: I want to find a job that is good for me. I want to find a job that I find enjoyable and fulfilling. I want to do work that makes a difference. Ideally, I want to work for social justice.

Working for things will never be enough. Because when it comes to things, there are never enough. There is always the desire for more stuff. Stuff begets stuff begets stuff. The only way for there to be enough stuff is for you to decide that enough is enough.

I do not want to define my life by what I have. Instead, I want to define my life by who I have become. Instead of having a huge house, be a person who has a full and meaningful life. I want to travel and learn and experience life. I want to be be kind and help others.

There is so much more to life than stuff. At this point, I am excited about all the people I am going to meet, all the places I will go, and all the things that I will experience. I am really looking forward to the lives that I will touch. I am looking forward to the fulfillment that comes from living the life of your dreams. These are the things that I would be willing to spend the next several years of my life working for. I’m just thankful that I didn’t spend a lifetime working for stuff, only to realize that it’s not enough, and never will be.

Restoring Simplicity (and Sanity) to Your Schedule

Living simply does not stop in the closet. Or in the bathroom. It also extends the schedule. Simple living is about not having excess, and that should include having more commitments that you really need.

Our culture is so busy that most of the time, we collapse at the end of the night, exhausted. Too often I try to do too much in one day. I take on more activities, more commitments, more tasks than I can realistically complete. If I somehow manage to finish my To Do list, I usually have not given my best to anything.

Here are some ways to get started restring simplicity to your schedule:

  • Turn off the TV. The TV is such a huge drain on your time. It is time that can be better spent reading, writing, talking with family and friends, etc.
  • Learn to say no. Be realistic about what you can and cannot accomplish. Keep your priorities in mind when accepting engagements.
  • Get adequate rest. You’ll be more effective at the tasks you need to complete if well rested.
  • Delegate. Don’t try to do everything by yourself. Allow others to help.

With fewer commitments, less time in front of the TV, and adequate rest, perhaps we can bring simplicity to our schedules. Simplicity must extend to our schedules. Simple living includes not running around all day. That is complicated living. That’s clutter on your schedule. Remove the clutter from your closets, your drawers, and your life in general.  And add a bit more sanity to your life.

Trusting God’s Provision

Lately, I’ve been losing sleep over my employment situation. I am not currently employed and it really worries me. I worry about having enough money to pay bills, and about getting back into the workforce. Last night I tossed and turned for hours.

Having attended a Word of Faith church for several years, I have heard hundreds of sermons about God’s provision. Granted, they were slanted toward greed and excess, but the idea of God’s provision was present. While I now adopt a more balanced view of scripture and life in general, I do believe that God provides for us.

Last night I thought of Jesus’ teachings on God’s provision. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that we should not be anxious about our lives and the basic provisions (Matthew 6:25). He notes that God faithfully provides for the birds, and that we are worth more to God than these. He goes onto discuss the worry over clothing, stating that God clothes even the grass of the field. Surely, he would clothe us.

Then Jesus reiterates his point: “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all” (Matt 6:31-32).

God knows our needs. And according to Jesus’ teachings, God will meet them. Jesus comforts us with these words.

Rather than stressing out about the basic necessities of life, Jesus urges us to seek first the Kingdom of God.  All these things (the basic needs of life) are added to us as we seek first the Kingdom of God. Jesus spent a lot of time teaching about the Kingdom of God. As the Messiah, he ushered in the Kingdom of God, and went about teaching that the Kingdom of God had come to earth. The evidence of the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God was that Jesus brought the authority of God to earth. The powers of darkness were pushed back as Jesus proclaimed good news to the poor, proclaimed liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, set at liberty those who are oppressed, and proclaimed the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4:18-19).

One thing that I find very interesting  is Jesus’ characterization of the worries of the Gentiles. For the Gentiles seek after these things. Why is it that the they are characterized by seeking after these things? Is it because they do not trust God to provide for them? Do they not trust God to provide because they do not know him as Father? I do not pretend to know the answers to these questions, and I will not presume to offer any speculations. I do know, however, that I do not wish to be characterized this way. I do not want to be known for seeking after things. This is my reason for committing to a life of simplicity  — to break the cycle of chasing after things.

Jesus ends this teaching on provision by saying that we should not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. My teacher used to say : “To bear the tomorrow’s trouble today is evil.  Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.  You cannot bear tomorrow’s trouble on today’s strength.”  May we all rest well tonight, confident in God’s faithfulness to provide for us, as Jesus taught.

Going Digital

Two days ago, I went digital. Yup, I did it. And I am sooooo glad that I did.

My digital transformation came in two parts (thus far). First, I purchased my first two eBooks. I have a tendency to collect things, and books are certainly no exception. Being a professional student only compounds the problem. I am certainly committed to being a lifelong learner. But I am also committed to living simply and downsizing. So I decided to go digital, and I started my digital revolution with my recreational reading. It’s only two books, but as I continue to read, I’ll save myself a lot of clutter.

Second, I purchased educational bible software. I purchased, in essence, a digital library that contains many resources. This purchase was key because it enables me to continue my educational pursuits without accumulating a lot of clutter and taking up a lot of space. It also saves me the expense of having to buy each book separately.

As I write this I feel the power surging through me for taking this step. I understand that this step, alone, may not seem that significant. But to me, it’s huge. It’s huge because taking my library and my studies digital is very symbolic. It symbolizes freedom. It represents having one less thing tethering me to this spot and to this life. It represents continuity. My actions are in alignment with my mission to downsize. For me, that’s very affirming. Perhaps more importantly, it symbolizes a step on the path toward where I want to be. This step, combined with many others, will take me to the life of my dreams. That, my friends,is huge. It’s monumental. It’s powerful.

Simplicity and Social Justice

I’m am a recent graduate of a Master’s program (thank God!). The subject of my thesis is Jesus and his mission of social justice. While I was writing my thesis, I knew nothing about simplicity, but I cared deeply about social justice. I felt that all Christians should be working for social justice. Now that I have discovered and embraced the minimalist lifestyle, I’ve modified my belief. I believe that all Christians should embrace a life of simplicity in addition to working for social justice.

Living simply actually facilitates working for social justice. When we’re constantly obsessed with consumption and accumulation, it creates a cycle. We accumulate, and then have to work long hours to pay for our purchases, and then we buy some more. This leaves no time to pay attention to the fact that there are millions of people starving and dying of preventable diseases.  There’s no time to think about those without access to clean water, healthcare, or adequate education. There is only time to eat a bit, sleep a bit, and get back to work. Stuff cuts us off from the rest of humanity. When we get rid of stuff, we can restore the connection to humanity.  It’s not just about me and mine anymore. When we’re not mindlessly shopping or caught up in maintaining and sorting our stuff, there’s time to open our eyes and see the state of humanity. There’s also time to take action. There’s time to volunteer, or raise money, or both.

For me, living simply is not just about clearing clutter, saving money, and feeling good about myself. Simplicity serves a higher purpose. Simplicity frees us from the bondage of consumerism, and all of its side effects: debt, clutter, stress… It frees us from the need to buy more stuff that we don’t need, and then buy a larger house to store all the stuff, and then have to pay it all off.

Simplicity is about thinking and going about life in a different manner. It’s about thinking less about ourselves, and thinking more about others. It’s about seeing our lives in the context of humanity and history. We are all connected. Living simply makes seeing these connections much easier. Simplicity is a way to connect to your world, and hopefully, change your world.

Simple Celebrations

This past weekend, I celebrated the completion of my Master’s degree. It was a momentous occasion — one that I will always remember. There were two ceremonies: one for my hooding and the actual graduation ceremony. Both were beautiful. The whole experience was affirming.

Given the magnitude of this event, my first impulse was to go shopping. I wanted the perfect outfit. More importantly, I wanted to shop for some killer shoes to wear as I strut across that stage.

My recent commitment to simplicity was tested in the face of such a special occasion. Society says that I need to get a new outfit to celebrate my accomplishment. But I was determined not to.

I decided to wear two dresses that I already had. I used jewelry to add that extra sparkle  to each outfit. I wore a gorgeous pair of shoes that I already owned. And I had a wonderful time.

As it got closer, I started to focus on the most important aspects of graduation weekend. I would travel with my family. I would see friends. I would be recognized for my achievement. These are the things that graduation is about.

Shopping does not add value or significance to any celebration. Things do not add value. If anything, they distract from the real purpose of the celebration. I now understand that I need to focus on what it is I’m celebrating — not all the stuff that goes along with it. If I’m giving thanks for another year of life, finishing a degree, or the birth and resurrection of Christ, then I will truly give thanks from my heart. I will not get caught up in the material aspect of celebrations. This weekend when we celebrate Mother’s Day, it will be about celebrating the women that have impacted my life. It’s about appreciating and honoring them, not what I buy them.

Celebrations are truly blessed events. However, it is so easy to get sidetracked my the materialistic aspects of holidays and celebrations. I encourage you to keep focus on the purpose of the celebration itself. I encourage you to live fully each moment of your celebration. I encourage you to celebrate deeply, joyfully, and simply.

Closet Christian Minimalist

My family does not yet know that I have made a commitment to simple living. With the exception of two people, my friends don’t know, either. Minimalism is not a bad thing, I actually think it is a good thing. Yet, it’s my dirty little secret.

Why am I being so secretive about this? There are a few reasons:

  • I am still trying to figure this whole thing out. I’m still new at at this. I don’t have everything together. I am just starting out, and I have a long way to go. I still have lots of questions and lots of things to learn.
  • It’s a radical change. People will probably laugh uncontrollably when I tell them about my decision to live simply. It is such a departure from my former lifestyle that it will be difficult for others to understand and accept.
  • I don’t want to deal with materialistic people criticizing my decision. I just don’t want to hear it. It’s easier to just keep quiet. Especially in a household that is indoctrinated with a faith system that values wealth above all. My new lifestyle goes directly against my family’s beliefs. It’s not just them. We live in a consumerist society, and living simply is definitely counterculture.

As I read over this blog post, I hear myself saying “I fear persecution.” And that’s really what this is about. I fear not having the answers when people ask questions. I fear how people will react to my new lifestyle. I don’t want to be attacked for my decision. I don’t feel like dealing with people who think that the Christian life is about accumulating more and more and more. I would rather just keep quiet and let all these notions go unchallenged.

I feel so pathetic. I consider a few verbal attacks persecution, when there are Christians being martyred in other parts of the world. Even so, I do not want the headache that comes with sharing my decision. I don’t want to suffer. But suffering is definitely a part of Christian life.

The Gospel of Mark was written to the Roman church in a time of suffering. At the time (mid 60’s AD), Christians were being persecuted in the Roman empire, and would soon experience much more persecution.

Suffering is a major theme in the book of Mark. Jesus emphasizes that he must suffer, taking on the role of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah. Jesus would suffer, and his followers would suffer, too.

Jesus warns us of persecution in John 15:20, “Remember the word that I said to you: “A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.” In Acts 9:16, we see a preview of Paul’s suffering for the sake of the gospel. Jesus suffered. The apostles suffered (all except John were martyred). Paul suffered. Jesus warned that we would suffer.  Suffering seems to be a major theme of Christianity, yet I hardly hear any teachings on suffering. Perhaps this is contributing to my unwillingness to suffer.

This is a hard thing to accept: that Jesus promises us suffering. And I don’t think criticism is the kind of suffering he meant. Still, I’m not ready to go public with my decision. I am hoping that once I get a bit more confidence I’ll be able to openly share my decision and the reasons for it. In the meantime, I’ll be in the closet of you need me.