This is the first post of a short series on minimalism. I'm tackling the toughest part first because my faith absolutely influences my decision making and the path I take in this life. I strive to be as authentic as possible in my writing and this personal post reflects that. In upcoming posts, I'll also write about minimalism and children as well my thoughts on minimalism as a current fad in our culture.
Many of our world's great religions stories begin with a story of a man who is either born with nothing, but becomes a great leader without, or is born with everything and chooses to walk away from it. Regardless of what you believe, the narrative of being great with little is a powerful story. At its core, it speaks to the idea that no matter who we are or where we were born, that we too can accomplish wonderful things.
As a Christian, I find that the narrative of minimalism is finely woven into the scriptures. As I grow older and grow deeper into my faith, I find that owning less allows me to become closer to Christ. One of my favorite set of verses states:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. -Matthew 6:19-21
What I find striking about this passage is that the struggles that were faced during the 1st century in Hebrew culture are so similar to what we struggle with today. Our belongings are transient and will not last. No matter what you believe, you cannot take fame, wealth, or things with you after you die. So the question becomes: how do we orient our lives to be about something other than our stuff? How do we create lives that matter and that say that other people matter more than managing things or aspiring to own more?
We live in a culture obsessed with things, and the cycle of acquiring more stuff is more than just damaging to our wallets. It redirects our attention away from the very people and beliefs that deserve it most. Likewise:
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. -Matthew 6:24
Truly think about the 24 hours that you use up each day and who or what they most directly serve. What do you value most in this life and does your use of your time reflect that? I find that when I am irresponsible with my money, I feel more distant from God. When I use my resources to serve God the connection deepens and becomes stronger. And likewise, using my resources to serve God also helps me live relationally to those around me. Unlike the cycle of consumerism, the cycle of serving others creates a love that will not rot, perish, or need to be replaced.
However, I think that we can also swing too far to the other side and believe that if I only give away everything I own, I will then be closer to God. This is not the case if our hearts are not open to receiving His love. I think if we are doing this out of love and desire to grow closer to God, then we're on the right track. Tim Keller says in The Ministries of Mercy that we also must think of our duties in life as concentric circles, first meeting the needs of our family, then our church, and then the greater community. I often think of what this means for my family as we try to live as Christians and as minimalists. It's a fine line to provide for your family without giving into consumer culture. And I think many Christians in the United States, myself included, struggle with that. I am so far from where I want to be, but every day I try to be a little more loving, a little more giving than I was the day before.
Whatever or whomever you believe in, our lives are worth more than our actions often belie. How can you use your life and the way you think about your belongings to impact your family and your community? At the end of your life, what will you regret most: not owning more or not experiencing more? You cannot serve two masters, so figure out who you serve and live accordingly.