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A Retracted Pat on the Back

January 12, 2014

I finished 7: An Experimental Mutiny against Excess by Jen Hatmaker.  While it didn’t “wreck” by life, per se, there were definitely parts that challenged me.

I found myself nodding my head in agreement as I read the food chapter.  The clothes chapter wasn’t such a big deal to me either–I have less than 15 pair of shoes and only 2 purses–I am clearly not bound my fashion, although, some would say I should be more concerned.  As I read about possessions, I patted myself on the back a little more, I don’t feel like I overdo it and I periodically purge.  Needless to say, I was kinda missing the point.

I was making this book into a flood gauge–how did I measure up to Hatmaker and her 7 extra pairs of sheets?  I found ways to tell myself I was doing good and working hard not to challenge myself on how to do better or even why I should do better?

7 isn’t a book on how to save more money for that new minivan or bigger house or iPads for each kid.  I tend to confuse living simply–a Mennonite virtue that’s been instilled in me since I was a child–with saving money to get something really big later.  My grandma ironed wrapping paper and reused it year after–we would joke about how many years (decades?!) wrapping paper had been used.    We washed ziploc baggies for repeated use and even reused empty cereal bags (and my parents still do).   Why do Mennonites emphasize simple living?  Why did Hatmaker focus on it for 7 months?  Is it solely to become more responsible money managers so we can eventually “consume” more or have a nice retirement home?

Hatmaker explains in her introduction:

How can I be socially responsible if unaware that I reside in the top percentage of wealth in the world?  (You probably do too:  Make $35,000 a year?  Top 4 percent.  $50,000?  Top 1 percent).  Excess has impaired perspective in America; we are the richest people on earth, praying to get richer….

It’s time to purge the junk and pare down to what is necessary, what is noble.  7 will be an exercise in simplicity with one goal:  to create space for God’s kingdom to break through.

I approach this project in the spirit of a fast:  an intentional reduction, a deliberate abstinence to summon God’s movement in my life.  A fast creates margin for God to move.

What Hatmaker (and the Mennonites) would say is that a simpler lifestyle frees us up to love God and love others more.  If we spend less on things we don’t need or we fast from, instead of putting the money in our savings account (although I am not advocating not saving or not preparing for our future), we use the money we save on food to sponsor a child through World Vision or Compassion International.  The money we save from buying less clothes for our kids or ourselves we use to buy coats, shoes, socks, or clothes for those who need it.  I’m sure if I asked the counselor of our mostly upper middle class school, she could tell us what students at school needed new clothes or new backpacks.  Instead of replacing my child’s perfectly good backpack, what if I bought a high quality backpack (similar to what I would buy my own child) and pack it with school supplies and give it to the school counselor.  I have no doubt it be put it to good use.

Now before you get impressed with me, let me honest.  I don’t do all that.  All of that involves relationships, and if I am still being honest, it’s the relationships that scare me the most.  In my year of less, I would be happy to work towards less relationships, because they’re messy and real and they make me feel.  What Hatmaker points out over and over though is that part of our calling as Christians is relational–we are not called just to give to the poor, but also to form a relationship with them.  We are called to love our neighbor, no matter who it may be.  Loving our neighbor isn’t just dropping our things off at Goodwill or the Freestore and being done.  Loving our neighbor is volunteering at the Freestore or on a Mobile Loaves and Fishes run so we build relationships with those people we want to help.

What did I take from this book?  I don’t want to do those things I know are hard to do.  I need to volunteer at the Freestore.   I need to finally sponsor that child from World Vision I’ve been talking about sponsoring for years.  I would like to cut our food budget by the amount of it costs to sponsor a child, not because we can’t afford to sponsor the child otherwise, but because it would be good to give up something to help someone else.  Again, from Hatmaker:

If a fast doesn’t include any sacrifices, then it’s not a fast.  The discomfort is where the magic happens.

I also embraced Hatmaker’s chapters on media and stress.  I have felt for a while that both children and myself need less screens in our lives.  Hatmaker only reiterated what I had been thinking.  To cut back on stress, Hatmaker turned to praying the hours–a Benedictine (Catholic) tradition on praying specific prayers on the hours that are multiples of three.  She talked about the book she was using and I became excited when I realized I had that book on my shelf, with a bookmark in it part way through.  I had tried before to pray the hours, but just didn’t quite have the motivation.  However, if Jen Hatmaker, mother of 3, could do it, maybe I can too.  So I am attempting to pray five of the seven hours–upon waking, at 9:00ish, at noon, at 3 pm (I find that one particularly helpful because that’s the hour I need to pray for strength and patience, since that is when the children return home from school and stress escalates), and at bedtime.  The dinnertime prayers (at 6) and midnight seem a bit out of my reach right now.  I am giving myself some grace…for praying five times a day sure beats my current maybe once a day plus meals.

There it is.  Hatmaker challenged me.  Will I act on any of my good ideas finally?  Sigh.  Maybe this time, when I have the challenge outstretched to me I will take it and not respond with “not yet.”

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 5, 2014 6:27 pm

    Thanks for sharing. I am definitely challenged by the first few pages of Hatmaker’s book, but my first reactions, quite honestly were anger…. so… I know I have A LOT to learn about myself.

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