Defense. Normally it’s a good thing. It prevents the enemy from capturing your flag, your home, your country. It’s rooted in protecting the people, places, and things we love.
Where defense goes wrong is when the walls of protection are preventing the truth from getting through. Where it becomes sin is when you refuse to hear what God is telling you in lieu of justifying your actions.
If anyone would have told me I had too many clothes before this last week, I would have laughed. My closet is small. Half of it is filled with coats and jackets that I’ve had for over 20 years and didn’t want to get rid of because they are so expensive. I’ve never been a fashion plate. I look more for practical clothes, professional looking enough to please the bosses but comfortable enough that I’m not tugging or scratching at what I’m wearing every 5 seconds. I care more about owning stuff I don’t have to iron (my least favorite chore EVER) than I do about what label it is or if it’s “in” this season. When I buy jeans the only thing I care about is finding the least expensive pair that fits comfortably. But that’s a very different thing than whether or not you have enough.
It’s impossible to read Jen Hatmaker’s The 7 Challenge chapter on clothing and NOT feel convicted. She does it with as much humor as possible; but the truth hurts. If you go into your closet and realize how much you have that you do not wear; or worse, that you’ve NEVER worn, and then realize how much good could have been done with that money if you had instead sponsored a child, or supported clean water. Even if you had donated that item to a charity instead of letting it sit, unused, in a closet….
It would be easy to get defensive. It would be easy to say, “Hey, I live simply and responsibly…why can’t I have all the cute tops/cute shoes/cute purses I want?” Why? Get ready to lower your defenses…let this soak in…be willing to accept the truth of it….because Isaiah 3:14 says, “The plunder from the poor is in your houses.” Anyone else feel the giant baseball bat upside the head other than me?
When we buy for ourselves beyond what we need, we are choosing ourselves over the poor. Plunder is a pretty strong word. It implies that we are deliberately taking what belongs to the poor and keeping it for ourselves. Replay the rich man through the eye of a needle scenario. It’s not so easy to give away what we don’t need, especially when you live in the land of plenty. And let’s face it, even in the midst of economic recession, our country is STILL the land of plenty. If I imagine myself back in Thailand, surrounded by those sweet orphans with one outfit to their names aside from their school uniform…I remember how my heart felt. Every cent I had I wanted to use to buy something for them. The money we raised to give them wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough to buy them clothes and give them a toy (the only thing of their own they’ve ever had). Holding their hands, hugging them as they fought over who got to crawl on up on my lap…nothing else was important. They had need. It was right there in front of me. I couldn’t keep myself from doing something. But here, in the States, I forget about those children and the millions (if not billions) like them in the world. I can look away from the commercials that beg me to help, skip past the support requests from friends or non-profits. “I don’t have enough for that.” I turn my focus on what I need. Let’s be honest…it’s really just what I want. No, I’m not saying it’s wrong to buy yourself a nice cup of tea somewhere or make the shoes you buy out of need cute ones; I’m saying I have recognized that my spending has become more about spending what I have because I can, and not about spending it with careful consideration about the best ways I can use the resources at my disposal.
What I learned this week wasn’t just a reminder of how often I drip, spill, and glop myself on a regular basis (I can be a real schlub); it was really about remembering how much I have. How careless I am with separating my needs from my wants…and how careless I am to remember those with genuine needs.
I don’t think Jen Hatmaker could have planned it any better than to have the next week’s fast on possessions. It’s time. I am ready. It’s time to unclutter my closet, my apartment, my life. It’s time to start living consciously. It’s time to start recognizing the need vs the want BEFORE I reach for my wallet.
I’ve come to realize two things so far. Each of these fasts has reminded me of the joy of simplicity. When my initial defensiveness dissolves, life is much more enjoyable with fewer choices. An abundance of choice often leads to indecisiveness, complications, waste. Limited choices makes meal preparation simple; dressing in the morning is easy. Life is less frustrating. The second thing I’ve learned is when you are mindful of these choices, it leads you into more community. In a day and age when we are losing our personal connections, I’ve enjoyed chatting with a stranger in the market about how to choose a good avocado. I’ve been relieved to know that most people couldn’t care less if I wear the same shirt more than once in a week. Most importantly, I’m rediscovering my identity as “fellow human being”. My everyday choices in this land of plenty CAN impact the lives of people in other parts of the world with nothing. No more unconscious purchases. I will consider and care.
The goal starting tomorrow is to give away at least 7 things a day. I’m choosing to limit clothing from counting for more than 2 days of that. I’m also going to try to personally give some of those things away, instead of just dropping them off at a local charity. I want to meet the people who need the thing I have. I want to pray with them and remember them and be mindful that there are those who can benefit from what I have at my disposal to give. I have been given much. I need to be more responsible with it.