One day it dawned on me, after years of defending my twin obsessions with shopping and material goods, that something in my life was off kilter. As a Christian, I’m vaguely conscious that my self-worth does not come from wealth and possessions, but I have literally bought stock in this propaganda. Habitual shopping garners an array of “but it was on sale” clothing and shoes I do not need and have no room for in my closet. I buy something new almost every day, although price tags still dangle from the populace of my closet recesses. I subscribe to multiple fashion magazines—my eyes barely grazed last month’s glossy cover before another issue is crammed into my mailbox. I am always accompanied by my bulging makeup kit for emergency touch-ups; I cannot go five minutes without applying one of fifteen lip glosses, and I certainly can’t part with my cell phone, which has extreme amounts of features, numbers and minutes. The funny thing is, it’s never enough. My life is ruled by my cravings for more, more and more.
After another shopping spree followed by another bout of self loathing, I read Matthew 19:21-22 (The Message), in which a young man questions Jesus about what he must do to get eternal life:"If you want to give it all you’ve got," Jesus replied, "go sell your possessions; give everything to the poor. All your wealth will then be in heaven. Then come follow me."That was the last thing the young man expected to hear. And so, crestfallen, he walked away. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and he couldn’t bear to let go.
I was alarmed by the directness of the missive. It was indefinite whether God was asking me to transport the collective contents of my apartment to the Goodwill or just ponder a deeper lesson to be learned here—the wrongness of putting your faith and finding your self-worth in your possessions. I had to plead guilty of both charges. If Jesus flat out asked me to give up my stilettos, highlights, iPod and credit cards (boys insert: cars, motorcycles, power tools, video games, CDs or season tickets) so I could better serve Him with my time and money, I might have to be knocked unconscious to release the death grip I have on my stuff. Clearly, I needed to rearrange my priorities and convert from materialism to minimalism.
Ah, minimalism. I immediately had a vision of a white room occupied by a single piece of utterly sterile furniture. I thought about getting rid of everything from my past life and starting over with a visit to Ikea. But minimalism, beyond celebrity-friendly décor, is the act of dwelling in simplicity. It is a laying down of burdens, a clean, uncluttered way of being. I’ve always been fascinated by the un-Paris-Hilton-like quality of a truly simple life, the art of minimalist living. It just seemed so … impossible.
Since I really wanted to trust the Lord instead of turning to retail therapy, I decided to buckle down and minimize. First I culled the unnecessary items from my closet and dropped off half my wardrobe at the local thrift store. Although it was hard to part with certain articles, I breathed an audible sigh of relief as I unloaded the garbage bags. Then I limited my spending for the next month to food and automotive repair (sure enough, my car broke down), with absolutely no shopping trips. The money I would have spent on clothes was halved between my savings account and a ministry in Africa that had particularly touched me. I went to the grocery store to buy bulk basics to discourage eating out and let my magazine subscriptions expire, since they mostly created a seething pit of envy in my stomach. And reluctantly, I experimented with not wearing makeup or using styling aids on my hair, although this lasted less than a day.
From a global perspective, these small acts seem silly. It’s embarrassing that I have to train myself to live modestly. But in our culture, minimalism requires intentionality, a choice to not live in excess. Let’s face it: piling up possessions is what our country is all about, but it’s just not what’s important to the kingdom of God. Jesus promises to clothe His children as He does the lilies of the field, if we will just not worry about it. I have to remind myself every day that in His eyes, clean hands and a pure heart are far more beautiful than outward appearance.
The point is not subjecting myself to total deprivation or washing my hair with a bar of soap. It’s more about letting what matters to Jesus be impressed on my heart, rather than what the world tells me I should have in my collection. I changed my priority from staying abreast of the trends to honoring Him, and it became much easier to discern how He wanted me to spend my precious time and money. Ironically, when I was walking with the Lord, I didn’t need to buy a new outfit with a matching purse to feel happy and whole. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21, NIV).
Living simply helps us avoid putting our faith in all of our stuff. Am I the only one who sits on a plane nervously calculating the net worth of her suitcase? God wants to be our security, our delight and our reason to live, but when He is not, we fall prey to a life of mindless grasping. As in every facet of our existence, putting the Lord first simplifies everything, relegating each minor detail to its proper place. Our lives are to be spent in the pursuit of one thing—not two, four or 95. “One thing I ask of the Lord: this is what I seek, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in his temple” (Psalm 27:4, NIV).