Minimalism, A Rich Young Man, and Me

I love Luke’s story of The Rich Young Man. It is a relatively short passage, but it contains great insight. In this story, a young man approaches Jesus, asking how he might inherit eternal life. Jesus responds that the rich young man already knows the commandments. The young man acknowledges that he has observed the commandments all his life. Jesus then instructs this man to sell all that he has, give to the poor, and follow him. The young man went away sad because he had great wealth.

Our pastor spoke on this passage recently, and he pointed out that the rich young man valued his stuff more than he valued eternal life. He could not part with his wealth, not even to obtain eternal life. It’s frightening to think of the power stuff — over him and over us.

This story has particular significance to me at this point in my life. Jesus instructs the man to part with his stuff, selling it all. He further instructs him to give to the poor. His final instruction to the young man is to follow him.

As scary as it sounds, I think that Jesus is saying the same thing to me. It has been unfolding for a long time, but the message seemed to emerge as I began to type this blog post. I will explain:

In April, I graduated with my Master’s in Biblical Literature. I wrote my thesis on Jesus and his mission of Social Justice. I referred to Luke’s story of the Rich Young Man, discussing the importance of giving to the poor and not accumulating wealth for ourselves. I had not yet discovered minimalism.

About nine months ago, I stumbled upon a minimalist blog, and decided that I needed to pursue this lifestyle. I buy less, and I am in the process of selling, donating, or throwing away much of what I already have. I see how hard it is. Looking back over the last 18 months, I wonder if God has been preparing me for this realization, at this moment, as I type. Maybe my thesis topic and my discovery of the minimalist lifestyle are not random occurrences, but steps along a path. I believe that Jesus’ message to me is the same as it was to the rich young man: get rid of your stuff, give to the poor, and follow me.

Having written my thesis, and subsequently learning about the minimalist lifestyle, I can now see what this means, and it is a scary thing. Giving to the poor doesn’t scare me that much. I wholeheartedly believe in giving to the poor and caring for the most vulnerable members of society. I am even getting more comfortable with the idea of getting rid of my stuff. The thought of parting with some things, like my house, is still kind of scary for me. I’m making progress, though.

The last part, however, terrifies me. The very thought of following Jesus makes my stomach turn and my mouth go dry. It is soooo scary for me to even think about. It’s scary because I don’t really know what it means. I don’t know what that looks like. I don’t know what it entails. What if he leads me down a path that I hate? I’ll be stuck! That scares me more than anything: that Jesus will lead me down a path of pain and misery. That does not interest me at all.

As scary as it sounds, though, I’m not sure I have a choice. I don’t know where I stand on issues like God’s plan vs. our own free will. Once we commit to God’s plan, do we have the option to change our mind later? Will it be too late? I am concerned about all of these things as I consider following Jesus.

One thing is clear, though: I need some time to wrestle with these ideas, and to explore what following Jesus might look like for me. I don’t expect to know everything right away. It will take some time, and probably some prayer, for me to get a better understanding of what it means to follow Jesus.

It’s hard to be on the receiving end of that kind of challenge. I can really sympathize with the Rich Young Man, who went away sad. Jesus told him what he needed to do, but he wasn’t up to the task. Am I any different? In the end, will my response be the same as his? I can only hope that I will be strong enough, and brave enough, to not walk away.

If you have any thoughts on anything I have said, please, please leave comments below. I would love to hear other perspectives.


The Next Level

Over the last several months, I’ve been simplifying my life. In addition to purging unused shoes, clothes, books, and makeup, I’ve also been working on not buying more stuff. It is definitely a journey, but I am making progress.

However, it’s time to take it to the next level. When I discovered minimalism, I was staying with a friend temporarily. Most of my stuff was in storage. I had only what I would need from day to day. I have since relocated to my grandparents’ house. The vast majority of my stuff remains in storage.

I’m proud of the progress that I’ve made, but I want to go deeper. I want to commit to going through my storage units and selling, donating, or throwing out everything that I do not absolutely need.

Yes, it will be quite an undertaking. It will take weeks. It will require moving things, going into boxes and most likely, several trips to Goodwill. But it must be done.

Why now? Because I want more from minimalism, and from life in general. I believe that I will be in a better position to move into the life I want if I have less stuff.

I am also thinking ahead. I know that I won’t live with my grandparents forever. I will take those things out of storage at some point. Rather than having to go through this process when I move out, I would rather purge little by little now, so that I will only be moving the essentials.

I think that I am also settling into minimalism. I have gotten more comfortable with the idea of living with less. I have been doing this for about nine months now, and I see that it’s not so bad. I think I can take it a step further. I can get rid of those old clothes. I can put that furniture on Craigslist. I can do this.

So far, my encounter with minimalism has been pretty superficial. Now it’s time to fully engage. I find this prospect both terrifying and exciting. Can I really do it? Will I regret it later? Only time will tell, but I will never know if I never try.

Wish me luck!

Life Reloaded – Themes for 2012

2012 is here. Happy New Year! I’m not really into New Year’s resolutions, but I have given some thought to some changes I’d like to see in 2012. I don’t consider them resolutions because they don’t apply to any one specific thing and I’m not restricting them to 2012. I see them more as themes for the future in general.

Baby Steps. In years past I made extreme resolutions, thinking that they would transform my life. Invariably, these resolutions were short lived. Radical changes are hard to implement, and even harder to maintain. Subtle changes, sustained over time, are much easier to live with and much more likely to last.

With this in mind, I will focus on taking baby steps in the areas of my life that need attention. Instead of trying to run twenty miles tomorrow, I’ll jog for 25 minutes. I’ll gradually change my eating habits. I’ll gradually rebuild my savings. Instead of being frustrated with my inability to make giant leaps, I plan to take small, deliberate steps toward my goals.

Right now, my life is making baby steps in the right direction. My emotional state is improving slowly. I am will soon start work as a substitute teacher. I will soon put my house on the market. Things are happening. Slowly. My goal is to continue to pursue the life that I want—one baby step at a time.

A Little More. I want to stretch myself. I want to go beyond. I want to go as far as I can, and then go a little bit further. I want to push past the limits of fear, fatigue, weariness, shyness, and complacency. It’s about running a few more steps, calling one more person, sending out one more resume. It’s about going a little bit further, even though I feel like I’m going to collapse.

I went to a business Christmas party on December 19, and there I talked to a gentleman whose wife worked with the same jewelry company that I work with. Both she and her husband urged me to make “just one more phone call” when I felt that I couldn’t call anyone else, because that one last call has often opened doors of opportunity for her.

That will be my second theme for 2012. I will go a little further, do a little more, and try a little harder. I will push myself harder than ever before.

Boldness. I’ll never forget this. When I was in school, I had a class on histology. One afternoon, I sat with three classmates and my teacher at a $30,000 microscope that could accommodate five people. I was loading the slides, and focusing on various images that were displayed for all of us (we called this “driving the bus”). In this instance, we were looking at a slide and the teacher asked me to go to the next lens, which had a higher power of magnification. I hesitated, and told him I was afraid the lens wouldn’t clear the slide and that it would get scratched. My teacher cocked his head and considered this for a second. The he gave a small nod and said, “Try boldly.” So I swung the high magnification lens into place. It did not scratch. I beamed at my teacher, and he smiled back. I have no idea what was on that slide. But his words will be with me forever.

Boldness will be a theme for the future. People that know me know that boldness is not in my nature. I have a tendency to be extremely shy and timid. I am naturally soft-spoken, and I tend to hide. But my roles in life are changing. In order to be a successful jeweler, I need to be more vocal. In order to be an effective substitute teacher, I will have to interact freely with the students. It is time that I boldly step in to these various roles. It is time for me to be myself, not a shadow of myself.

I’d like to be a better version of me going forward, not just in 2012. 2012 will only be the beginning. What are your themes for 2012?