Friday, 16 November 2012

Living Simply - Confessions of a Hoarder

What does living simply mean for me personally?

I was once at a church during a time when there was a great famine in Ethiopia. Some members of the church obviously had some wealth – noticeable by the cars outside in the car park, for example, on a Sunday morning, which included BMWs and a Rolls Royce. The Rolls was quite elderly, but nevertheless it was a Rolls. That morning, the minister called upon the congregation to take up a collection to help alleviate the suffering of those in Ethiopia. They collected around £400, which, given the size of the congregation and the fact that several of the members were retired ands therefore living on pensions, didn't seem a bad sum. That same week, the member with the Rolls Royce spent several thousand pounds on replacing his Rolls with another, more up to date model. Whatever happened to sacrificial giving? John Wesley felt guilty for frittering away the Lord’s money on pictures for his wall, when he could have used it to better advantage helping a poor servant girl who had no coat. How much greater difference could the thousands spent on a mere car have made to those starving to death in Ethiopia?

But am I guiltless? I think it’s time for a confession.

While I was researching this article, I found I was challenged over and over regarding my affluent lifestyle. I read on one website that our idea of simplicity would seem like luxury even when compared with King Herod. Have we lost sight of what simplicity really means? Do we follow a simple lifestyle for our own ends, for personal benefit, rather than for the glory of God? Is our treasure in heaven, or is it in our possessions, of which I have many? Is our focus on God or on our bank balance? As I said previously, Jesus did not say ‘sell what you have and keep the proceeds’; He told us to give to the poor.

I have more possessions than I know what to do with. I often cannot find something I need and have to buy another (adding to the clutter) because I simply cannot do without the item in question. I spend hours (not all at one time) searching for things that ought to be found easily. In short, I have too much of everything.

Yet when I consider getting rid of my excess, I feel a sense of panic. All that stuff – it’s mine! I spent good money to get it. If I sell it, the money will also be mine!

It was then that I realised three things:

  1. It came as a thunderbolt from the blue - my treasure is here on earth. No matter how much I talk about laying up treasure in heaven, as long as I feel the way I do about my possessions, my treasure is on earth. Jesus said, ‘where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’ (Matthew 6v21). It really is true, I cannot serve both God and mammon – trying to do both is deceiving myself; my loyalties are divided and when push comes to shove (sell your possessions), my possessions are winning out over God.
  2. All the ‘stuff’ I have actually belongs to God; it isn’t mine at all. God enabled me to acquire it; God has allowed me to have it – on trust, to use for Him and furthering His Kingdom. How dare I claim it as mine! To think of them as mine, to think of them as I do, is to be enslaved by my possessions. I am serving mammon.
  3. The more I have, the harder it is to any of it let go. I need a new definition of ‘need’. Just how much do I need and how much of what I have is simply because I wanted it?
What is a ‘need’?
We all know children who, when they want something, say ‘but I need it’. Are we adults so much different? Don’t we try to justify a want by re-categorising it as a need? For instance, there’s that nice cookery book in the bookshop. It has the perfect recipe for chicken chasseur that we are just dying to try. No other recipe will do – we must have that book, even if we never use it apart from that one recipe. We convince ourselves that it isn’t just a want, but a genuine need.

Let’s look at other things too, things that seem much more like real needs. Take cosmetics for instance. I ‘need’ to look nice for my husband; I need to look good for work, for my friends, for church. I have to look my best. Therefore, I need to put chemicals on my face to change my appearance, to hide the dark circles, to plump up the wrinkles, to make me look younger.

What about cake? I can save a bit by making cakes myself, but do I actually need cake – all those calories? All that sugar! In fact, when you put cake in the context of my neighbour not having bread, not having enough to eat, not eating anything at all for days at a time, then cake as a need comes into perspective.

What about coffee? What’s wrong with coffee, I hear you ask. Amongst other things, coffee contains chemicals that are really not good for us: acrylamide, caffeine, 2-ethylphenol, quinic acid. And anyway, what exactly is coffee? It has no nutritional real value, so why do I put it in my water? Plain and simple, it is flavouring and little more; not to mention it can be addictive (that ‘high’ one gets from the caffeine). How can I justify adding such things to the clean water God has supplied me with, when there are people in the world who have no clean drinking water at all and have to get their water from the river – water which they cannot do without, yet is poisoning and killing them? The same, I might add, applies to cordials, which have little or no real fruit content.

Stealing from God
'Woe to those who decree unrighteous decrees,
Who write misforutne,
Which they have prescribed
To rob the needy of justice,
And to take what is right from the poor of my people,
That widows may be their prey,
And that they may rob the fatherless'
Isaiah 10v1-2.

If I have too many possessions and there are those who have nothing, I am really stealing from them? From God? I buy something I don't really need and hoard it. It does me no good, I don’t use it and I keep it to no good end. All it does it clutter up my home, when the money I spent on it could have gone to rescue a child from slave labour somewhere (remember the boy who only needed £7.50 to free his ten year old sister from abject slavery?).

Does that apply to other things too? If I use my dishwasher when I could wash up by hand – is that also stealing from God? How much would I save anyway? My mother and grandmother had a saying: ‘look after the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves’. You might say that saving the cost of using the dishwasher isn’t worth the pennies it might save, but all those pennies add up. Remember the youths who spend £21bn per year on sodas and soft drinks? I don’t doubt that each one of them individually thinks their particular coke or whatever isn’t going to make much difference.

Is eating more than my body can use stealing from God? Does it show a concern that there are others in the world who have nothing to eat, or have nothing nutritious. There are people who eat rice for breakfast and, if there is any left, they will have rice again for tea. Day in, day out. Yet we complain when we have the same meal two days running. Or twice in the same week.

Being cluttered also steals from God. It steals His time, when I am searching for something I can’t find. It steals His money when I have to buy another item because we cannot find the original. I have two pairs of scissors in the kitchen – why? I can’t use more than one at a time. I also have two potato peelers – and I complain about them because neither of them does the job the way I want. They do the job; just not to my satisfaction. Honestly, I should be thankful I have potatoes to peel and any peeler, let alone two!

Do I steal from the hungry by throwing away leftovers? Worse, do I buy food and then throw it away because it has spoiled? All that shows is I didn’t need it in the first place. What right do I have to throw away food or allow it to spoil? How dare I complain about the potato peeler, or throw away food when people are starving and don’t have the basic necessities of life. How dare I buy more food than I can use within a reasonable time. How DARE I?

So why do I not pray about it? Why do I not ask God to release me from my addiction to possessions? If the truth be known, it is because I am afraid of where it might lead. Do I really want to sell my possessions and give to the poor? Or are they altogether too precious to me – my ‘treasure on earth’?

Coming next: Living Simply - a personal challenge.

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