If you’re reading these words, you’re likely among the top 10% of wealthiest people in the world. You’re probably not spending much time thinking about how you’ll get water to drink, or whether you’ll have a place of shelter tonight. Though it may come at steep price (depending on where you live) you have access to health care; and food; and more than one pair of shoes. We are, in other words, blessed.
This kind of wealth creates choices, and the wealthier you are, the more choices you have. Live here or there? Marry or stay single? Stay in this relationship or leave? Change jobs? Change majors? Upgrade to an iPad 2, or keep the old one? Buy that new thing or not? Go to that concert or stay home? Go skiing or sailing? Premium cable or basic? 54″ flat screen or only that meager 32″ one? Buy organic or cheaper? Depending on your wealth, and where you live, these choices just keep multiplying. Toss in exposure to thousands of ads saying, “see me,” ”touch me,” ”taste me,” ”buy me and be happy,” and the options increase even more.
“Which shoes will make me happiest?”
“Which apple tastes best?”
“Where should I go on vacation?”
For all this wealth, you’d think we’d be content, but the fact is that our habits reveal that we think we don’t have enough. We spend more than we earn. Our nation does the same thing, insanely so. Collectively, we believe that we need more than we have, believe that one more vacation, or one more bomber jet, or one more whatever, will finally make us happy, or secure, or able to stand on the moral high ground.
Though it’s not really news, you’ll forgive me for putting it this way: NEWSFLASH–It’s all a lie!
The exponential explosion in both choices and spending over the past several decades has created a situation analogous to climbing without a rope. We’re higher off the ground, but our elevation, while creating a false sense of superiority over those below, hasn’t eased our anxiety, but multiplied it. We’re afraid of losing: our stuff, our choices, our freedom to travel, our freedom to consume far more than our share of energy, our guns, our coffee shops, our big churches, our access to endless pharmaceuticals, our cheap food.
It appears though, that we’ve come to a place on our climb where others are shouting to us that we’d better “down climb.” back to some safer places on the wall. They’re telling us that if we keep climbing, we’re going to climb ourselves into a situation where there’s no way up, and the only way down is to fall. S&P warned our nation yesterday, and we said, “Don’t worry–we’ll climb down. We’ll live within our means.”
Maybe. But if not, we’ll still come down–just a lot faster, with a harder landing.
I’d suggest that, however our government solves this problem, or doesn’t, each of us would be wise to distance ourselves from the insane consumerism that’s plaguing our culture. What kind of steps:
1. Live WELL within your means. If you need to take a class to live within your means, then take a class. But the simple principle of not spending more than you have is a starting point.
2. Sweep the table clear of choices, so that your considerations each day about what to do with your time and your money are answered by a single question: “What is the will of God?” Paul speaks of the liberating simplicity of this here and here. Of course, this takes practice, and but as this listening for God’s will becomes part of coffee with God, I find myself writing things in my prayer journal about simplifying, letting go of stuff, along with things to do with the time/money saved.
3. Learn contentment. Whether the earthquake, tornado, or tsunami, is literal or metaphorical, the reality is that we need far less to be content than we think. As we shave our lifestyles down to live within our means, we find that we don’t just save money, we save time, health, peace. But we need to believe that we don’t need as much as we think we do. My friend Josh Becker has an entire website devoted to helping you with this. Take steps to find contentment in simple healthy foods, good conversation, basic clothing, and a car, or bike, or scooter that gets you from A to B. Enjoy creation more than TV. Clean out a drawer. Paul says contentment is a learned art, so start learning.
These are crazy days. This climbing without a rope can’t continue and whether we fall quickly or slowly, I believe the chance to invite people into a better story than the lie of consumerism will be huge, but only if we ourselves are living a better story.
It starts today. How are you simplifying?