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.

Crisis

My life is in crisis. I have more questions than answers, and enough stress to keep me on the verge of tears at all times. I am experiencing the most intense fear that I have: fear of the unknown.

I fear the unknown more than I fear death. I see death as unavoidable. For some reason, I see the unknown as something that I can avoid by proper planning. If planning doesn’t work, surely prayer will keep me away from the unknown, right? Not really.

The fact is that uncertainty is a part of life, and it cannot be avoided. This is the reality of living as a finite being: you don’t know everything. And as long as we have limited knowledge, there is always an element of the unknown in our lives.

Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armor, “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the LORD will work for us, for nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or by few.”    1 Samuel 14: 6

This is an extreme case of uncertainty. In the verse above, Jonathan comes upon a garrison of Philistines, and decides to approach them, not knowing whether God would help him. Jonathan was not afraid of the uncertainty that he faced. He didn’t let anxiety paralyze him. He didn’t take three months to analyze the situation. Instead, he does something that I think is both crazy and admirable at the same time: he charges forward. He faces the Philistines, not knowing the outcome of the situation, not knowing whether he will prevail or be killed.

While I doubt that I will ever be in a situation where I contemplate attacking a fierce army, I do think that I can learn from Jonathan’s response to the unknown. In times of crisis, when fear and uncertainty threaten to smother the life out me, shutting down is not the answer. I cannot just sit and wait for destruction to overtake me. I have to try. I have to move forward. It is scary, but it is necessary. Who knows? Maybe God will work for me. But I will never know if I never try.

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.

Packing Light

I remember the first time I went to Europe. My grandparents, who had been there before, stressed the fact that we should only bring one small suitcase per person. I was skeptical because I had always been a two suitcase kinda girl. Since they insisted, though, we each took only one suitcase. Once I got there, I was soooo glad that I followed their advice. There was so much walking and sightseeing, that more luggage would have been impossible to manage. And we had all the clothes we needed.

 

Since that trip, I have always found one bag to be sufficient. I really don’t need a ton of stuff. The lighter I pack, the more mobile I am.

 

I think of the directions that Jesus gave his disciples when he sent them out two by two to “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.” And they were to do these things freely, as they had received freely.  Jesus went on to give them packing instructions. The disciples were to travel light:

“Acquire no gold nor silver nor copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics nor sandals nor a staff, for the laborer deserves his food.”

Matthew 10:9-10

This isn’t just minimalism, this is radical minimalism. Jesus sends the disciples out with only the clothes on their backs.

I find it interesting that he instructs the disciples not to accumulate things along the way. As humans, we have the tendency to accumulate things. Jesus explicitly told the disciples not to. Yet, many Christians collect and accumulate and hoard goods in massive amounts. There are probably many reasons for this, but couple of reasons come to mind:

If one is good, two is better. For some reason, we have been trained to believe that more is better. Sometimes this holds true: it’s better to have more love in your heart, more faith, more patience. But we often apply this same reasoning to things, where more is not necessarily better.

It’s something that will be useful later. That may be true, but Jesus did not say to avoid accumulating things unless they were useful. Surely, a second pair of sandals would have been useful considering that they were traveling by foot. Likewise, a second shirt would have been useful (and probably more hygienic) for an itinerant preacher.

We confuse possessions with provision. When I read about Jesus’ instructions to the disciples, I cringe. I think to myself: How could he send them out with no provisions? But that’s not the case, it it? He is not sending out without provision. God provides for us (Matthew 6: 25-34). Jesus had already explained that. Jesus was not sending the disciples to serve without provision. God would provide for them. He did, however, send them without possessions. There’s a big difference.

I think that Jesus’ warning about accumulation of goods is still valid. We may not be itinerant ministers, but God does have a purpose for each of us. Like the disciples, we should travel light.