It recently occurred to me that so much of the current trend of “simplifying” involves an obsession with our relationship to stuff. Does it seem strange to anyone else that people so interested in simplifying so often are, once it comes down to it, really obsessed with stuff? Okay, so maybe this is confusing. I’ll try again, this time with a personal anecdote.
Once I started embracing (partly by the necessity of living on a small income, partly by the thrill of the challenge of living on as little as possible) the idea of “simplifying,” suddenly stuff became more important …but in a different way. I replaced the need for MORE stuff with the desire for LESS but BETTER stuff. Make sense? Instead of “simplifying” reducing the amount of time and energy spent on stuff, it seems to increase it, maybe temporarily, I don’t know. There are a couple blogs and websites I enjoy checking in on from time to time in my quest for the “less and better” that I recently realized incited a desire for …more and better stuff. Suddenly “what I already have” isn’t good enough. My supply of recycled plastic WalMart bags isn’t doing it anymore for my bag-it-yourself trips to Aldi. I need new fabric bags. Because it’ll save the environment, and they’re way more attractive… And my rubbermaid plastic drinking water bottle –not good enough anymore. I really need a stainless steel one that won’t give me cancer.
So, where does this all stop? I guess I’ve been working with going beyond the idea of “simplifying” to contentment. What is it going to take for me to be thankful for what I already have? How about shifting the thinking from “what can I get rid of, and what can I replace it with” to “how can I better use what God’s already gifted me with?” I’m coming to terms with the fact that God seems to be indicating to us that really, we are already making what we need financially. Maybe not what we need in someone else’s terms, but we are right where God wants us. I’m learning in my old age to rely less on my own solutions and more on God’s grace and provision. And sometimes, that just doesn’t make sense. Even to me, which makes it really hard to plead my case to someone who thinks it’s irresponsible to be living in need of public assistance so that I can both feed my family and stay home to raise them myself. I don’t really get it myself, but I do get that that’s where God wants us right now. It’s humiliating. It’s difficult to be in the position to save the day, but know that the cost of doing so just might be the peace of our home, and maybe even the lifelong outcome of my childrens’ lives. That’s big. Yes, I know that going out and getting a part time job wouldn’t necessarily destroy Life As We Know It. It might even make things easier, in some ways. But I feel I have a much better sense of God’s direction in our lives now than I did even two years ago, and I am confident that if I were to do that, I’d be sacrificing time and energy and opportunities to teach my children about God and how much he loves them and wants the best for them. I’m never going to get this time back. Ever. I can always go out and get a job, if that’s what’s right to do. But for now, I’m doing this job, and this is my calling.
Practically speaking, contentment for me means being grateful for what God has given us, and not questioning why he hasn’t given us more. Nor does it mean striving for things He doesn’t intend for us to have right now. Contentment is such a larger concept than material contentment. That’s a new idea for me. I think being content with the stuff and money we have is one thing, but to get to the place where we can be content in the entire place we are in life means the stuff and money issues fall into place by nature. If we are busy seeking where God wants us in His kingdom, and working at being in that place, everything else will work out.