A recent issue of TIME Magazine included an interesting article about our seemingly relentless accumulation of “stuff.” How many homes have a room or attic area dedicated to storage of random purchases never permanently placed? How many garages are full of so many accumulated possessions that we can no longer put a car or cars inside? How many dining room tables are piled so high that we can no longer invite guests into our homes to share a meal?
Then add the external storage facilities. The TIME writer says that 48,500 storage facilities now exist in the U.S. – “outnumbering all the McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger Kings and Starbucks put together.” “One click” on-line ordering has become a way of life for many—making it easy to get more stuff. And if you spend more than $35, shipping is free. What could be better than that? Professional organizers now comprise a booming business helping (for a fee, of course) downsizing baby boomers deal with a lifetime worth of stuff. Junk hauling businesses are flourishing. One person names our condition “hyperacquisition.” One book entitles the condition “Stuffocation.”
Many of us find it very difficult to unload stuff we have collected. Even more importantly, how to we learn to simplify our lives ahead so that we cease acquiring more?
The issue is not as economic or secular as it is spiritual! How do we lead would-be disciples on a journey toward the joy of simplicity?
Does the Shaker Song reflect the great truth of life?
Friends and colleagues who return from missional visits to rural Zimbabwe tell me they find pure Christian joy and a contagiously deep faith in the people in those villages who possess essentially nothing.
'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
Was St. Augustine prophetic toward our day when he reportedly said, “God has something to give us, but our hands are full?” Was it not Meister Eckhart who said, “The spiritual life has much more to do with subtraction than it does with addition?”
Was Jesus speaking to our longing for more “stuff” when he spoke about “the lilies of the field’ and “the birds of the air?” (Matthew 6:26-29)
Surely this is a subject worthy of leadership on the Christian journey today. How do we coach, model, and elevate disciplined simple living? An alternate way of living in a generally prosperous economic time? Is a significant part of spirituality a matter of “letting go?”
My wife and I have downsized and simplified twice in the past 20 years. We would probably benefit from doing so again. Such action is far from an easy achievement. Rather, it always becomes a spiritual challenge! But as the Shaker tune reminds us, we just might find ourselves in a refreshing and liberating “valley of love and delight.”
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