As I sat in a room full of thousands of people, I listened to a man talk about his journey towards simplicity and caring for the poor. He shared personal stories of lives filled with very little stuff, but lots of love.
We were all stirred by hearing about the injustice in the world. Millions of people go to bed hungry every night while so many others throw away pounds of food every day.
I felt sad because I knew what would happen when the service ended. We would all wipe away a tear, clap with heartfelt gratitude for this man of faith, pick up our things and walk… and these same hearts and minds that had been filled with images of poverty and justice would begin to overflow with missed texts, dinner plans, messy cars, and cozy beds.
I felt sad because even for people who really do care, it’s hard to know what God wants our part to be, if anything at all… Where would we even begin?
I think most of us can relate with a moment like that. I have had many. A lot of times when we feel compelled by a story of great need, we feel the pangs of compassion in our gut and we want to do something. We want to do our part. We may give some money, but generally we feel kind of stuck. How can what I have to offer really make a difference? Then there’s the stereotypical question, “Am I supposed to give up my whole life and just move to the Third World?”
Most of us answer “no” within moments, and rightfully so. As we wonder at it, the phone rings and the belly-ache fades and we just move on. But for some reason this particular night grabbed hold of my heart and wouldn’t let go.
God was speaking and I didn’t want to miss it.
At this point in my life, my husband Jeremiah and I had already started Heartwork. The doors of our hearts had already flung wide open to the realities of poverty, and we were doing all that we could to engage young people – whom we loved so much – with the issues in the world. But before I could get out of my seat and walk back into my life that night, I felt a conviction to make a new commitment with the Lord. Not to “do more”, but to consider “less”.
I felt compelled to turn the spotlight inward and seriously consider my own home, comfort, and lifestyle. It wasn’t a sense of guilt, as if I live some extravagant life. It was more like I realized that something about my life was bound up and needed to be untangled before I could take the next steps in learning to serve the poor.
It seems strange and totally inconsequential compared to the problems of hunger and hopelessness that I was boiling over, but I decided to start with my own closet. Before I stood up that night and let the things of this world overwhelm (as they always do), I decided that when I got home I would give away one half of my clothes and not shop again for a year.
For me, it was a simple statement to the Lord: I’m willing. I like clothes. And I like shopping. But I’m a classic bargain-shopper, I own very few things that cost over $15. I always felt like compared to most everyone around me, I was a reasonable spender.
Then again, giving away half of your clothes requires actually counting the number of clothes in your closet. Try it sometime. For me, it was astounding. The moment I stood over my shirt pile and realized that I had 45 different shirts, something snapped in me. The tangled mess of “stuff” was beginning to unravel.
It was a good year, so much easier and growing than I could have ever imagined. I learned that the things of this world have a hold on my heart, not because I’m a bad person, but because I live in a society that has taught me what the words “want” and “need” mean.
They are vastly different definitions here in an affluent culture than in most of the world. I’m learning to want more than comfort, convenience, or a compliment on my fashion. I’m learning that if I ever expect to have room to respond to someone in need with the love of God, I need to simplify my life. For all of us who live insulated lives, far away from the desperation of hunger and dirty water-there is a long journey ahead but it’s got to start somewhere-where will you begin?
What do you think? How has culture affected your view of material possessions? How have you gone about living a simple life? We would love to hear your questions and comments below.