A Year Without

Last week I saw an article on Facebook that one of my friends had shared. It was titled My Year of No Shopping. I clicked. I read. The article was exactly what it sounds like: a woman went an entire year without shopping (except for the essentials) and wrote about it on her blog. She explained her reasons for making her decision and the lessons she learned during her experiment. The more I read the more pouty I became. I finished the article with slumped shoulders and a stink face. I knew what was coming next, because I'd been there many times before. I felt deeply convicted. My very first thought was "Oh, no. I have to do this now."

I don't have a shopping problem. I know, I know, that's exactly what someone with a shopping problem would say. It's true, though. I don't buy fancy things, max out credit cards, or even go shopping all that frequently. The problem I have isn't really about the act of shopping - it's about materialism.

I hold what some would call radical beliefs about Jesus' teachings on the rich entering the Kingdom of Heaven. In Matthew 19 Jesus encounters a rich young man. The young man keeps the commandments of God, and yet Jesus tells him that if he wishes to be perfectly ready for the Kingdom, he needs to give up his belongings - all of them. Then Jesus says that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom. Just to be clear, it's impossible for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. It cannot be done. A thing that is impossible is easier than getting to Heaven while being rich. I stand firm in that translation of the text, because Jesus confirms it. When the baffled disciples asked Jesus how anyone could be saved if that statement were true, Jesus says, "It is impossible." We're just lucky he didn't stop talking. He also said, "With God all things are possible."

I've felt strongly convicted hundreds of times over the last several years to have less. I felt it when I discovered the book The Power of Half, in which a family decides they can live on half of what they have, and give the other half away. I felt it when I thought about the fact that monks and nuns take vows of poverty. It's almost as if someone determined that accumulating material wealth was a distraction from being dedicated to the work of God. I feel it every time I look around myself and realize I have excess. I have in reserve what could be blessing someone else. I've felt passionately that Christians must have less in order to be truly reflecting Christ and yet, somehow, I've never actually ended up with less. I've always found some reason not to do anything about it. Then, I came across an article in which a person who doesn't even share these same convictions managed to take action and make a life change. I decided it was time to reevaluate all of my lame reasons that have perpetuated my inaction.

Sometimes I interpret the words of Jesus as an escape hatch. Whew! You almost had me, Jesus. You said I couldn't be rich and be saved and I was all freaked out, but then you saved it there at the end when you said you could make anything possible! So I'm good! Dodged that bullet.

Sometimes I get philosophical. What is rich, really? Whatever it is, I bet it doesn't really define me. Compared to a Kardashian I'm actually super poor. So really, this is not my problem.

Sometimes I speak for God. God wouldn't actually expect me to give things up. He wants me to be happy and taken care of. After all, you have to take care of yourself before you can take care of anyone else. That's all I'm doing - taking care of myself.

How can I have such strong beliefs about Christians avoiding material wealth, and yet always have a loophole to ensure that my beliefs don't actually apply to me?

Because I love money. 

There, I said it. I know, I know, we're all supposed to pretend that we have this nonchalant, totally chill, healthy relationship with money. We're allowed to appreciate our wealth, but we're definitely not allowed to just come out and say we love it. After all, that's a Christian's first defense in the argument about money. The Bible doesn't say that money leads to evil, but that the love of money leads to evil. So everything's fine as long as you don't love your money. Hey, maybe you don't. Or maybe you're like me and you've just been pretending you don't.

As for me, I love the security that I feel looking at a bank account that has a big soft cushion in it. I'd often rather have the cushion than be generous toward someone in need. I love getting new things for myself that make me happy momentarily. I love upgrading the things that I previously found satisfactory. I love being comfortable. I love what you have too, if what you have is better than what I have. I love going out and getting the same thing you have, so that you don't have better than what I have.

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.
Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
Timothy 6:9-11

That language is a little scary: pierced themselves with many griefs. Geez. What kind of griefs, Paul? Seething jealousy? The anxiety of constant comparison? A permanent lack of contentment? Self preservation that overcomes the impulse to be benevolent? You mean those griefs?

I'm hoping this year without shopping will start to heal me of my many griefs.

I want to spend less time worrying about what others have. This year, if I see someone with something I really want, I simply have to accept that they have it, and I do not. Running out and buying it for myself too isn't an option. I won't be spending my time or money in efforts to acquire what others have that I do not. I hope that this attitude will spread to other aspects of life. I want not to concern myself with the homes others build, the salaries others make, the vacations others go on, or the ways in which others are succeeding. I have what I have, and that's good enough. So many of life's troubles can be eased by simply being content. 

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you."

I want to be more grateful for what I have and what I receive. This year, since I won't be buying anything for myself, I hope to be all the more grateful for anything given to me and everything already in my possession. I often look in my closet and think that whatever's in there isn't good enough, even though I've never found myself without the clothing I truly needed. I hope to truly savor all that I have around me, acknowledge it all as a blessing, and behave with grace if somehow it all slips from my grasp. 

Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle. Proverbs 23:4-5

I want to be a better steward of my excess. This year, since I won't have the option to spend our excess money on myself, I want to be more intentional about what I do spend it on. Maybe this means using a paycheck to give my husband something he wants, rather than using it for something I want. Maybe this means spending the time I'm not spending shopping by being active in my community or being around friends. Maybe I'll see that I actually have a bunch of stuff I don't use or need and I'll get rid of it instead of saving it for some unlikely future occasion.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal, but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Matthew 6:19-21

In short, this is my new rule: No amassing possessions for myself. Here are my guidelines going into the new year.

1. I cannot buy things like clothes, shoes, jewelry, electronics, etc. I'm obviously still going to make purchases. I fully anticipate still requiring food and gas and toilet paper this year. I can't really go a year entirely without shopping in any way.

2. I will continue to give and receive gifts. Gift giving is a wonderful way to show someone you love them and are thinking about them, but maybe this year I'll be more creative and give gifts that aren't as focused on material possessions. I also don't feel it's polite to turn down gifts, since this is how some people show love. If the people in my life still choose to give gifts to me this year, I will gratefully accept them. 

3. I can make legitimate replacements. If somehow I burn holes in the bottoms of all of my shoes, I will buy a new pair of shoes. I don't consider that to be amassing possessions, simply replacing something I no longer have. However, the replacement has to be legitimate. No needless upgrading, and if I find that something I had can go without being replaced I'll try to do that.

The realization I've come to over the last year is that I am deeply, deeply flawed. Instead of sinking under the weight of those flaws, I'm trying this year to be proactive in creating a better version of myself. I hope soon to meet a version of myself who doesn't love money, who doesn't become depressed by the wealth of others, and who doesn't have anxiety about her financial future. 

There is no fear for one whose mind is not filled with desires.
The Buddha