“Don’t store up treasure on earth. Moths and rust will eat it away, and robbers will break in and steal it. No: store up for yourselves treasure in heaven! Moths and rust don’t eat it away there, and no robbers break in and steal it. Show me your treasure, and I’ll show you where your heart is.”
What do we really need?
One thing we did this year that helped to distinguish between needs and wants was follow in the footsteps of some awesome friends of ours and practiced “No-Spend January.” Other than paying our mortgage and putting gas in the cars, we pretty much spent nothing. We had stocked up on beans and rice the month before and were all set. And you know what? It wasn’t all that difficult. And something else, we realized how much we don’t really need. How many things we buy are simply “wants.” And you know what else? We survived! Somehow we did not die in January. I did lose 9 lbs. that month, but I had a few people tell me that that really needed to happen regardless of what we spent. Thanks for noticing.
Moderation is an important ingredient in living simply because excess can affect us spiritually. Just think of all the unnecessary energy I’ve spent upon t-shirt selection in the mornings that I could’ve reserved for more prayer and thoughts of others. In The Way of Simplicity, Esther de Waal writes that the desire to possess “will fill up that inner void which keeps a person open to the experience of God.” I love that honesty. It is popular in the spiritual world to tout that “money and things won’t make you happy!” but they sure can be a lot of fun for a while! We can fill up those voids with stuff and crowd out that felt need and desire for God for quite some time here in our super affluent country. Now we do know that things don’t ultimately satisfy, but we can distract ourselves for quite some time before we may have to take some genuine personal inventory and figure out why we’re such a discontent mess.
“‘Stuff’ clutters our minds and hearts, blocks our journey to God, and undermines the biblical mandate for justice,” as Jane Tomaine so eloquently puts it. And Joan Chittister, O.S.B.** writes that “We have to pare life down to its simplest base” to “learn the difference between needs and wants so that the needs of all can be supplied.”
Moderation is also important with regard to our time. Taking on too much blocks our living simply and our time with God–from the reality of the spiritual realm and what is most important. Benedict explains, “all things are to be done in moderation because of the fainthearted.” All things are to be arranged so that “the strong have something to yearn for and the weak have nothing to run from.” What a great balance to keep in mind. Aim high but don’t be so over the top as to scare people away from you! And it can be very good to sit down from time to time and write out the list of all your roles and responsibilities and their frequencies/requirements to see what all you’re really doing. Like tracking every dollar you spend for a month or so, it may be shocking to you to see where all your time goes. A couple months ago I did this and was surprised to see how many things I was involved with as an unemployed stay-at-home dad. So naturally, I cut a few things out that weren’t as important–like working with children, you understand.
Here’s an example of my own list of roles I came up with recently:
- Child of God
- Spiritual partner
- Ripple Effect facilitator
- Iron Men of Oaks coordinator
- School of Spiritual Direction student
- Daily Meditation writer
- Workout partner
- Field trip chaperone
- House Church co-leader
So it’s easy to see on paper how many things we are doing and keeping up with and, hence, the need to pare down to the most necessary and the called upon by God. The first three on my list alone account for a minimum of 9 hours of my day. So i must use strategery in using my time well.
Keep a time log for a week…if you’re brave enough. Schedule meetings with Jesus and let NOTHING get in the way of keeping those appointments. Just try it. See what happens. Spend an hour alone with God everyday for one month and then come tell me your life sucks more than it did before and you feel much emptier inside. Right.
That list mentioned at the beginning is interesting in that it advocates moderation not only in the obvious things, but also in work, which I’m a HUGE fan of having moderation in, and also speech. Even good words are not to be said out of esteem for silence. Moderation asks us to listen more and talk less. Try using fewer words maybe. Think more before you speak. Try counting to five before answering anybody for a week. It may drive you crazy. Or be awesome.
Hopefully this all culminates in actually having less to think about. Oh the simplicity, serenity, and peace that comes from thinking about fewer things!
*See how I used the word moderately there in this talk on moderation?
**Stands for “Order of Saint Benedict”
In the Name of Jesus,
Soli Deo Gloria