Saturday, 17 November 2012

Living Simply - a personal challenge, part 2

Lord, what shall this man (or woman) do?

I am not going to tell you what you should do about what you have been reading over the past several days. What I am going to do, is say what I have been challenged to do; how my lifestyle ought to change to take account of Jesus’ example and commands. The more I study, the more I realise how little I give, how little I sacrifice. I have been reminded time and time again – Jesus gave everything. The list that follows is not what I am doing already; these are issues that I have been challenged about and are mostly things I am not already doing. As I said, this is a personal testimony of the challenge this study has been for me and simply goes to show how far short of the ideal I fall, how little I am committed to the words of Jesus to sell all and give to the poor.

Start with the simple things:
1.      Take care of what I have. If I am careless with my possessions, then I will need to replace them that much more quickly.
2.      Get rid of surplus items – clothes that don’t fit; appliances I don’t use, books I don’t read, duplicates of anything (and there are several).

Then move on to those things that are harder:
  1. The great giveaway.
Do I have two coats? Give one to him who has no coat. It is relatively easy to give away things that don’t fit, things that are ‘out of style’, things I don’t wear any more. It is much harder to give away something that ‘might come in useful one day’. Talking of coats, I looked in the wardrobe the other day. I have a raincoat, a long overcoat, a three quarter length overcoat (getting threadbare now), a fur coat, two sheepskin coats (both inherited), not to mention numerous short jackets. Do I really need all those? Of course this doesn’t apply just to literal coats. I have more than enough of other things too, clothes, books, ‘stuff’. It is high time I gave them to those who can use them, those who have a real need of them.
On the subject of clothes – do I actually need more clothes? Haven’t I got enough – and more besides? I need to be careful not to buy things I don’t need, or clothes I might wear once only.

  1. Downsize.
Downsizing can come in several forms. It might mean leaving a big house to live in a smaller one (which is how most people interpret downsizing). But it can also mean reducing the number and quantity of possessions we have. Do I really need four sets of dinner plates? Do I need five saws and half a dozen hammers? Maybe when I used to do lots of DIY I did, but now I do less DIY, why do I keep them?
It means decluttering, plain and simple. I love books. I have thousands of them. Some I bought, or had given when I was homeschooling the children. My children are now 30 and 26 – I hardly think those books are necessary now. Yet I find it so hard to give them up. As I have grown and changed, I have bought more books on different subjects. Rather than having one on each subject, I buy several, to get different points of view. I have more books than I have shelf space for – and my house is large enough for me to have a dedicated study/library.
Which reminds me – do I really need a house this large? I used to foster; I don’t any more. Three of the five bedrooms are empty except when the children come home to visit, which really isn’t that often (certainly not as often as I would prefer).

  1. Spend less.
What can I cut back on? Food bills? Heating? Lighting? Magazines? Clothing? Obviously I need to eat, but do I need salmon and steak? Can’t tuna and mince be just as nutritious? Can I wear another sweater instead of turning the heating on? In view of what I said earlier about the amount of clothing I have, then obviously yes I can! Do I need that new issue of ‘Ideal Home’ magazine? If I buy it, will it not simply serve to increase envy at what others have, or make me want to have newer and better things in my house? I need to learn not to buy just because I can afford something. It is also important to consider where buying that item will lead and what impact it will have on my family, my community and the world at large (just like the Amish do – so that’s why they don’t have modern conveniences!). I have already cut down on the number of trips to the shops. I no longer go window shopping. Yet I still manage to buy things I don’t need – that new issue of the Christmas magazine I bought last week, for instance. I have saved all the issues for years – why did I think I needed this one? Of course, there will be times when I do need something. So I also need to shop carefully, not paying over the odds because it’s more convenient to use shop A than shop B, making sure I get the best quality balanced against the cost. My mother always bought us Clark’s shoes, because she (rightly) figured it was worth spending £10 on a pair of shoes that lasted, than three pairs of shoes at £5 in the same time period.

  1. Grow your own.
This is an area where I really fail – and let God down in the process. I have a large garden – approximately ¾ acre of garden. And much of it is overgrown and neglected. I am challenged anew by writing this that I must try to use the garden to the benefit of my family and others. I can grow things that I can give away to those in need. I can save money on vegetables and give that money away. And incidentally, I can maintain good health by eating fresh vegetables that haven’t left a huge carbon footprint behind them by being shipped from half way around the world. Do I really need strawberries out of season? Let’s face it, when they have come vast distances and been stored for who knows how long, they are pretty tasteless anyway, not to mention of dubious nutritional value.

  1. Don’t buy more food than you can eat before it spoils.
This is another area where I am particularly at fault. As I write, there is a cabbage in my pantry that has been there several – not days – weeks! It is now brown and past salvaging. It is not the first cabbage that has met this fate in my house, I am ashamed to say. As I mentioned yesterday – when there are so many starving for lack of food, diseased for lack of fresh vegetables and vitamin deficiency due to inadequate diet, how dare I buy foods I don’t use, leave them to rot and then throw them away? Just how dare I?

  1. Use leftovers.
The same applies to leftovers. If I do make more than enough for one meal, then throwing it away is really not an option. I am much better at this now than I used to be. I found that food made on Monday, put in the fridge overnight, really doesn’t cause disease and death when I eat it on Tuesday, or even Wednesday! I am also better at gauging quantities, so there are fewer leftovers to worry about. But there is still room for improvement.
Do I scrape the last of the jam from the jar, or do I just throw it out as not worth bothering with? I am reminded of a story I once heard of a child in India. She sat by the roadside and when a traveller threw a banana skin into the rubbish, she ran to retrieve it. Then she sat patiently by the side of the road peeling the white part from the skin and feeding it to her little brother. Is that last scrape of jam really not worth the effort now?
In fact, I should address the whole issue of food more completely. Do I need three big meals a day? Do I need three cooked meals a day? What should constitute a ‘main’ meal anyway? When some have only bread, how can I justify having bread, butter, cheese, salad, soup, all at one meal? Now don’t get me wrong. God has placed me in a situation where food is abundant and I don’t have to get ill through not having enough. But there is a limit – I can make myself just as ill by eating too much, or eating the wrong kinds of foods. God wants me to be balanced; He also wants me to be healthy – how much use can I be to others if I don’t take care of my health? So not too many calories, not too much red meat, not too much fat, or sugar. That’s the way to go!

  1. Cosmetics/bubble bath etc.
Clean water and basic soap – do I need more to keep my body clean? Do I really need to add coloured, perfumed, chemical laden additives to my bath? I have several bottles of bubble bath already in the house (bought during a time when they were on offer, so I bought a few of them). I now use it once in a while. I am using up what I already have before buying more. Do I really need to replace them when they are gone?
Cosmetics – why do I need to colour my face? Or hide the wrinkles? Or make myself appear younger than I am? Do I want people to see a fake me, or the real me? Does makeup enhance the ‘inner beauty’ that God requires, or mask it? I have a lot of makeup at home, because I inherited it from my mother – all her personal belongings came to me. It is a struggle for me to throw them out or give them away, because they remind me of her. They are not being used, so they take up room in my home and add to the general clutter. One day I really must get round to doing something about it, but maybe not yet; it is still too hard.

  1. Coffee/cordials
I mentioned these yesterday. If I must buy coffee, I really should ensure it is ‘fair-trade’. Can I do without it? Yes, I don’t need to drink coffee. But not too long ago, I was actually addicted to coffee. If I stopped drinking it for any reason, I had headaches of migraine proportions. So I gave up ordinary coffee and now only drink decaffeinated. Now I find I react to caffeine in a negative way – with symptoms similar to a heart attack. That ‘buzz’ we get from drinking coffee is because it is a stimulant. It makes the heartbeat more rapid and causes the adrenalin to flow more freely. What I was addicted to was the adrenalin rush. Does God want me to be dependent on such things?
I can maybe justify buying fair-trade coffee, but can I justify buying cordials or fizzy drinks? They are detrimental to our health and laden with chemicals. God has blessed us in the UK with clean water coming right into our homes, almost without interruption, we can turn on a tap and out comes clean water. Can I therefore justify adding harmful chemicals to my clean water and polluting it before I drink it, knowing that there are others in the world who walk miles to fetch a pot of dirty water from polluted rivers, water that will give them all manner of diseases and sometimes will even kill them.

  1. Walk/take the bus/stay at home!
Not too long ago, we had two cars. As we are into confession time, we actually recently had eight cars – and only two of us living here. Six of them were off road. Three have been ‘cannibalised’ to repair the ones we were driving. Now we have around five cars in the drive – three in pieces, one needing repair and one we drive. None of the cars in pieces have any spares on them that would repair any of the other cars. I am not proud of this. It is simply more clutter.
Until very recently, we were unemployed. That put travel into perspective. My husband has a bus pass, so he sues that if he needs to go into town for anything. It is only three miles to town, so if I need to go, can I walk instead of driving?  I used to go to a town a little further away (12 miles) for my shopping, now I shop locally. I don’t go out just because I want a change of scenery any more; I find I actually prefer to stay at home.
My change in this regard came about from necessity. But it made me realise that there are those in the world, in our own country even, who do not have the luxury of a car (and it is a luxury). Unfortunately, it is a luxury we can’t do without or my husband would not be able to get to the work he now has, and we would not be able to get to church.

  1. Technology.
How much technology do we really need in our homes? My husband works with computers, so it makes sense that we have one – but do we need three PCs, two laptops and a number of now obsolete computers in storage? Does it need to be on all day?
And what of other technologies, such as the bread maker, the mixer, the dishwasher, the dryer? Do I need all those things? I could wash up by hand after every meal. I then wouldn’t need so many plates. I currently have enough plates so in theory I wouldn’t have to wash up for around 6 days! I have enough saucepans that I could cook for three days without washing a pan. I have enough bake ware to open a bakery shop. Could I make my bread by hand? I have an ice-cream maker I have never used. What a waste! What poor use of the world's resources!
We only have one TV (well, we have two, but one doesn’t work). During the summer, we were away quite a lot; we watched virtually no TV at all for three months. When we came home, I though it would be great if we could continue the ‘no TV’ policy. Alas it was not to be! If it was up to me, I would get rid of it altogether. It not only prevents conversation, it brings all kinds of filth into the home. Even ‘good’ programmes can contain swearing, or sex scenes, or talk of things that are in opposition to God’s revealed word, the Bible. Just think of all the time it would free up for other more profitable activities if the TV was no longer in our home. Time spent reading good books, listening to music, out and about helping the needy (our church has something of a mission to the homeless, thanks to the work of one of our elders), or visiting other families, especially those who get few visitors.

11. Heating and lighting.

The Amish heat and light one room at a time in their homes. They use kerosene lamps and have a woodstove for heating, because they have no electricity in their homes. And they like it that way. Why? Because it brings the family together. Who would want to sit in a dark and cold bedroom on their own when the rest of the family are together playing games? Yet we encourage our children (I mean in general, not we ourselves as our children no longer live at home) to be separate. They have TVs in their bedrooms and computers, iPods, CD players and on it goes. Perhaps I could take a leaf out of the Amish book and encourage being in one room, building a little togetherness.

12. Waste.

Do I care about what I throw away? Is there some way I can repurpose it? That worn out t-shirt, could it be turned into a window cloth? Is it actually worn out anyway, or have I just got tired of it? Those peelings, should I just dump them? Or can they be turned into compost to make my soil more fertile for growing vegetables? And without adding chemicals to the soil that pollute it? Do I recycle all I can, bearing in mind the cost of producing the item in the first place? Am I conscious of packaging that only ends up in landfill?

A million questions to which there is an answer - we are stewards of God's creation and of the things He gives us in our lives; we must use everything we have for His glory. Do I do that? Do I do it consistently?

The Christian life is not all about giving things away or doing good works. There is a balance to be had and I have not mentioned evangelism or our relationship with God in these articles. That is because it has not been the primary focus of what I have been saying. Other articles will address those issues. But I would just like to mention that for a truly Christian life, both the spiritual and the physical are needed. They go hand in hand and we should not concentrate so much on one that we neglect the other. Like the old song:

Love and marriage, love and marriage,
Go together like a horse and carriage.
This I tell ya, brother, you can't have one without the other.
Love and marriage, love and marriage,
It's an institute you can't disparage.
Ask the local gentry and they will say it's elementary.
Try, try, try to separate them, it's an illusion.
Try, try, try and you only come to this conclusion:

Love and marriage, love and marriage,
Go together like a horse and carriage.
Dad was told by mother you can't have one
You can't have none.
You can't have one without the other.

“Whether therefore you eat, or drink, or whatsoever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10v31).

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