I don’t usually make a New Year’s resolution because it’s too easy to forget. But last year, I resolved that I would simplify my life. It needed to be done. I needed to get rid of things and de-clutter our house. But I have searched for a good understanding of what “living simply” means. There’s an old Shaker hymn that I like:
“It’s a gift to be simple,
It’s a gift to be free,
It’s a gift to come down where we ought to be.
And when we see ourselves in a way that’s right,
We live in a valley of love and light.”
I’m free from wanting a lot of money; I just want “enough”. Too, I appreciate material things. I believe most of us do. We call them “gifts” and “blessings”. My aesthetic sense has been activated a long time and I am attracted to beautiful architecture, art, antiques, plants and so on. I don’t preach the gospel of prosperity, but I can’t ignore what Scripture says. “For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land…a land in which you will lack nothing,” (Deuteronomy 8:7-9). But it also warns us against allowing material things to stand in the way of worship. Jesus said we cannot serve God and “mammon”, an Aramaic term for materialism. He also warned His disciples that it’s hard for a rich man to go to heaven, and that they could gain the whole world and lose their own souls.
A real concern that I have is how to distinguish between what we have and what we need. There’s a fine line somewhere that separates the two. It isn’t always clear to me because my aesthetic sense needs the beauty of any number of things.
I re-read Richard Foster’s “A Celebration of the Disciplines (the Path to Spiritual Growth), where he writes about “simplicity” as the most enjoyable lifestyle because you get to the point where your “stuff” owns you rather than you being the owner. The more stuff you have, the more it demands attention, if nothing more than to be dusted once a month. He talked about how God wants us to enjoy our blessings but not to hoard things we don’t really need or use; but seek first the Kingdom of God, and these other things will fall into place. Foster also brings out ideas like buying things for their usefulness and not their status, and how we can enjoy things even though we don’t own them. That did it! That’s what I wanted to do: enjoy things in this world that I don’t have to own. That was it. That cinched my New Year’s resolution. Enjoy things that are free, such as parks, libraries, lakes, wildlife, and so on.
So, I began to “empty out”. I’ve accumulated things for a long time, so I began to give away things right and left. My grandchildren benefitted from my resolution. In fact, they started coming to see me more often. And clothes—I went through my closet like a buzz saw and made many trips to the Shepherd Center. Mr. George said I was one of his best contributors. He encouraged me, so I made another run or two. And I plan to give more.
And then, Joann decided to sell her home in Pineville. She, too, had an abundance of things that she sold, gave away or moved into our patio home. “Another challenge,” I thought, so we got busy emptying out and giving away, not looking back. Well, not much anyway. But I did begin to feel a little self-righteous that I had honored my resolution so well.
I made it all the way to November, when I suddenly saw a sign that said, “Estate Sale” in my neighborhood, and it was already in progress. “Estate sale? Naw, I don’t need anything,” I wrestled with my conscience. I wondered what that might have. “It won’t hurt just to go and look around,” I reasoned as a headed towards the home. I started off leisurely, but ended u walking like something was after me, and then I pushed through the crowd like I was looking for a lost child. Yep, I bought some stuff—beautiful oriental pieces that you hang on the wall, an expensive looking ginger jar you just look at, a table that I had to find room for… Then, I went a second time, and a third. It was clear to me that I had fallen off the wagon, so to speak. Joann was excited. We ate out to celebrate our new “blessings”, which will probably make it to the flea market one day.
When I came to my senses, I asked myself the questions: “What happened? Why did I give mammon such a hearty welcome?” I tried not to feel guilty, but it didn’t work. I was rationalizing by saying, “My soul needed those beautiful pieces from the Orient.” Is there a “Stuff Anonymous” meeting somewhere? My salvation, I hope, lies in the fact that I don’t worship these things. Mammon will never be a rival to God, family or friends. I know what takes priority, thank goodness.
So, I will make another resolution for 2015, and hope it lasts all year long this time. In the meantime, if you are in the neighborhood, drop by to see us and I will show you some nice things…especially a pair of foo-dog bookends, which are “simply” beautiful.
Happy New Year!