A Lifestyle of Enough

Eugene Cho on living simply in a culture of excess.

About two years ago, my wife, Minhee, and I made one of the hardest decisions we’ve made thus far in our marriage and in our calling as parents.

In our hope to honor a conviction of the Holy Spirit to give up a year’s salary, we had begun the two-year process of saving, selling and simplifying in 2007. Our goal was to come up with our then-year’s wages of $68,000—in order to launch a movement called One Day’s Wages. With only a few months left to come up with the total sum, we were a bit short and decided to sublet our home for a couple months, and asked some friends if we could stay with them on their couches or their guest room.

Needless to say, it was a very humbling time. Our instruction for ourselves and our children were very simple:

Each person gets one carry-on bag for their belongings.

I still remember crying the night I told our kids of our plans. This wasn’t what I had signed up for. This was by far more difficult than I had imagined. I felt I had failed my wife and children—a deadbeat.

Had I known, there is no way in Hades I would have agreed to this conviction.

But as I look back now, I’m incredibly grateful for this experience. We simplified our lives, sold off belongings we didn’t need. For about two years, we agreed as a family not to buy anything beyond our necessities. When we stayed with friends, we were reminded what was most essential in our lives: It was the people right in front of us. Faith and Hope in Christ. My marriage. My children. My community.

In our 2,500-plus square-feet home, it’s so easy to get lost in our stuff, our possessions, our rooms, our floors, our gadgets, our TV sets, our personal music listening devices, etc. We can get so lost in our stuff we forget—or take for granted—the most important things: relationships.

An Example of Downward Mobility

Two years later, I worry that the invaluable lessons we learned during our season of simplicity may be getting lost on us—again. As most of my readers know, I’m currently on sabbatical. It’s something I treasure every three years and during my sabbatical, we usually leave Seattle and during our time away, we try to sublet our home—if we can find renters we trust. While it’s not something we particularly want to do, it’s an important source of income that allows us to travel without financial worries. But in order to sublet the home, we have to minimize and clean up the home.

A couple months ago (before we left for our 7,000-mile road trip), we couldn’t believe how much stuff we’ve accumulated since we gave up our fast of  ”not buying anything beyond essentials.” We couldn’t believe the stuff we’ve accumulated in our closets, our garage, our toyboxes, our offices and, to be honest, the stuff we’ve accumulated in our hearts. And this is from a family that takes great “pride” in simple living.

Again I’m reminded of the great power in the story of Jesus. There are so many things that compel me about Jesus, but one of them is what I call the story of “downward mobility.”

It completely contradicts the movement of upward mobility that is pervasive in our culture. We want to upgrade everything at every opportunity:

We want the bestest, the fastest, the  strongest, the mightiest, the largest, the mostest, the most horse-powerful-est, the beautiful-est, the most blazing CPU processer-est and the list goes on and on. Even as I’m typing this on my lethargically slow netbook, I want ... I need ... I lust ... for the new Mac Air.

But I digress.

Upward mobility never stops. Because we go through this cycle constantly. And the powers that be know this.

The incarnation is the story of Jesus who gave up the glory of heaven to descend upon this world; He gave up total divinity to be consumed by flesh and bone and to simultaneously assume full humanity. Born in a manger to simple commoners, He assumed a simple lifestyle as a carpenter and throughout His life, He owned nothing except the stuff He traveled with.

It’s the story of downward mobility.

This is a lesson and a story we have to all get behind. This is the Jesus we have to get behind—not the Jesus of bling bling, the Jesus of total prosperity theology, a Jesus of exclusivity and elitism, a Jesus of total health and prosperity or the Jesus of “send $49 and we’ll mail you this special anointed cloth.”

It’s not to suggest that we have to adopt a lifestyle of poverty, but rather a lifestyle of enough.

We have enough. We are blessed and blessed immensely. God has given us enough. God is our enough.

I’m reminded of the wise words of G. K. Chesterton:

There are two ways to get enough: one is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.

Eugene Cho, a second-generation Korean-American, is the founder and lead pastor of Quest Church in Seattle and the executive director of Q Cafe, an innovative nonprofit neighborhood café and music venue. You can follow him at his blog, Twitter or his Facebook page. Eugene and his wife are also the founders of One Day’s Wages, a movement of people, stories and actions to alleviate extreme global poverty.

16 Comments

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Joy commented…

You definitely make a good point about how this whole "minimizing" thing reeks of privilege. It is something that's bothering me too - it's alwayswell-off people who talk about it! There is a fundamental difference between a person with a yearly income of $68K and a person who is unemployed and not sure how they're going to pay next month's rent. For instance, there's a certain level of panic in the unemployed person's daily mentality that the $68K person is unacquainted with! But seriously, you're right, as I'm discovering, there's a totally different culture to poverty.

Being a "tourist" in poverty may contribute to personal growth, and giving up privilege even in the best of ways (for instance donating most of one's yearly income) can enrich a person's life and the life of those around them. But to say that one "understands" poverty when they've just sauntered around it in a Hawaiian-print shirt snapping photos and thinking about how nice it will be to get a shower when they get back home is disingenuous. Even I would hardly say I truly understand poverty - I may have grown up with not a whole lot, I may have been unemployed for the past three months, but I have a college education and I can always go back to my parents house (1000 sq ft, since we're counting) and work at my old fast food job until I "get back on my feet." Whatever that means.

As to the question of whether or not we deserve what we have and I suppose the corollary question of whether we ought to give it up: I think God convicts people about this differently and there's no unilateral answer. From my perspective, I think that a lifestyle of excess, especially if it is marked by disregard for others, is not a Christ-like lifestyle. However, it seems harder to discern when a merely comfortablelifestyle is too much. I am trying to be sensitive to how other people might view this issue because I've been financially obligated to live a fairly minimalist lifestyle. I'm content with the way I'm living, but I'm pretty sure I would do a few things differently if I were to suddenly get a nice fat yearly income. It does seem unfair that once you've finally pulled yourself up by your bootstraps (and a nice dose of God's grace, for sure), you suddenly find yourself surrounded by upper-middle-class Christians telling you to give all of that away again.

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Lindseymegan commented…

Annnd I'm glad you got what I was trying to say...lol You said it much better than I did. I just started typing out my emotions which were clearly jumbled! Thanks for adding some clarity! :)

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Anonymous commented…

I wrote my own response to this article on my blog @http://theradicaldisciples.com...Maybe you all could have a read? It addressed my own frustrations with accumulating stuff as a student and my aim was to declutter aswell!

James Paul Manuel

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James Paul Manuel commented…

You should give your stuff here in the Philippines...we haven't even reached 'enough' yet.

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Mrmwms commented…

I applaud the boldness that you and
your family took in your article. I also struggle in the "stuff
means" success world. I am sure it was a truly humbling experience for all
of you.
In regards to your inference that Jesus, gave up
total divinity. What is your biblical understanding to imply that he gave up any aspect of his divinity?

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