Mutiny Against Excess
Earlier this year I read the book ‘7’ by Jen Hatmaker. I knew going into the book that it would change my life, multiple friends had told me it was one of those reads that refused to leave you as you found it. And they were right. I tore through the book, finishing it in a few days. After finishing it I knew I wanted to actually implement the experiment the author undertook.
The premise of the book is centered around excess. It’s the idea that in our American, Western culture we have access to just about anything we want. Our closets are overflowing, our houses jam packed, our giant pantries and refrigerators filled with enumerable options. And while we sit in our excess, others around the world and even across the street wonder where their next meal will come from. They wonder how they’ll make ends meet, or where they’ll find school clothes for their children. So, for seven months, Jen and her ‘council’ worked through seven areas of excess: food, clothes, possessions, media, waste, spending, and stress. Each month had a different focus, centered around the number 7.
This summer, about 10 of us in the Atlanta area have joined together to go through the seven experiment for ourselves. We’re called the “Atlanta Seven Tribe” and we are tackling our own excess head on. Our first month just ended, and it was food. We are about to jump into clothes, and then will continue to move through the list.
Throughout this first month I’ve had to explain to quite a few people as to why I’m bothering to go through seven areas of my life and eliminate excess. The answer isn’t simple, and you really have to read the book to fully understand the power and impact this experiment can have, but I want to explain for a few minutes why I personally have decided to focus the next several months on eliminating excess.
I have too much, and others don’t have enough. This is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of my 7 experiment. I have so much. I have too many clothes, so many possessions. I have 24/7 access to media. I’m constantly connected. I throw away a lot of stuff that shouldn’t be tossed. Food is an emotional coping mechanism. My stress level can be off the charts. And others in the world don’t have enough. So many people suffer from extreme malnourishment or food insecurity. They don’t have access to information. They are unable to meet all their basic needs. So if by eliminating some of my excess I can then contribute to meeting the needs of others, it’s worth it.
Empathy comes from experiencing. Empathy is “the word” in my profession. In order to help, it’s good if you understand where they are coming from. As I seek to make a difference in this world, I need to firmly plant myself in a mindset of empathy. I need to understand the pain others experience when they suffer. So by limiting my choices I can develop even more empathy. As I struggle to eat limited foods, I can think about the people around the world who never have enough to eat. As I reduce my spending, I can think about families in our country who are NEVER able to buy items “just because they want it”. It keeps those people in my mind, and builds empathy.
Christ says to “sell everything you have and give to the poor.” The first reason is related to this one. Some people may say that this is not applicable to you and I, it was meant for the rich young ruler, but I think it’s more applicable than we’d like to believe. If I have too much and others don’t have enough, I need to reduce what I have by giving it to those who need it. If I have plenty of money, I should strive to live simply and give extra away to those who need it. If I am blessed with means, the reason I’m blessed is because God wants me to give away my extra. Month three is possessions, where I’ll give away at least one item a day, but I hope to incorporate this habit throughout the experiment.
Fasting brings us closer to God. When we fast, when we go without, it brings us closer to God. It’s a spiritual discipline that leads to greater times of prayer, meditation, and spiritual depth. I don’t fast as much as I should, so my hope is that through this experiment I can develop deeper acknowledgment and consciousness of God’s presence in my life.
There is a yearning for something more. My soul has been unsettled for most of my adult life. I know there is more to this life than a simple “American Dream” or the “Suburban Bubble”. I want a deeper existence, more depth in my life. I want a life that is not conventional but is sold out for the plan and purpose laid out for me. I don’t want to settle. And likewise, I’ve always battled my materialistic nature. I want more, more more. I claim I have enough clothes, until I hit the outlets. I say that I’m content with what God has blessed me with, but I am constantly dreaming about more space, nicer things, and better financial means. I want to attack this tendency head on, and focus my yearning on a life more deeply focused on the things that matter most.
I’ll blog about the month’s topic at least once a month, sharing the struggles, lessons and overall recap of the experience. I’m going to be honest on the times I fail at the experiment, because that will certainly happen. But I’m praying for a transformation. I’m praying that this experiment will help me understand my excess and fight my materialism head on. It’s an ongoing battle, but I’m going to win the fight. My heart’s cry is to “Live simply so others can simply live.”