Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Some Thoughts on 7: Needing Simplicity

There are several things that I really love about the book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker. One of them is that she so clearly recognizes that when it comes down to hashing out the details and particulars of how we are trying to live our lives, so many things will be different for each person and for each family. Of course there are general truths that will be common for all, (such as "God wants us to share the gifts that He has given to us.") but fallen nature often causes us to muddle the distinction between that sort of thing and the particulars that will be unique to each person and family (such as "I think it's a good idea for my family to get regularly involved with our local soup kitchen.").

So, to a large extent, the way the author handles this is to simply tell her story (and her reasoning behind it) in a humorous and interesting way and allow her readers to draw out thoughts, ideas and inspirations that might be applicable to their own story. Part of what makes this delightful is that she's not afraid to be honest about the mistakes and stumbles she makes upon the way.

There were many particulars that don't apply particularly well to my own family. For example, in all honesty, I personally should probably aim for spending more time in the kitchen rather than less and we purchase at least 75% of our clothing, furniture and books used (and donate what we're done with), so some of the ramifications she talks about in her fight against consumerism don't apply to us 100%.

But if I stopped there, I would really be missing the point, which still comes through beautifully in her story and I think is quite universally applicable. And that is that most of us in the United States today (at least - many other parts of the world too) struggle to some degree with the abundance of goods and opportunities that are available to us and our families. I know I often feel like our family lives like kings off of the abundance of beautiful, good-quality used items that are available inexpensively in our area, but that it's easy to over-buy and get swamped with the stuff.

Of course it's not that having things and having enough to provide for your family is bad. It's not even that we're supposed to only have what we absolutely need. There is certainly room for a reasonable degree of beauty and comfort and joy and delight. It's more that it's a very healthy thing to give a good hard look at what is good for us to have and what's just getting in the way of peace of heart and more time to spend with our families and with God.

It's also true, of course, that having a family is a complicated thing and comes with a lot of necessary trappings that we need to get comfortable with, just as a mother of a new baby needs to bring a lot of stuff when she brings the baby anywhere - a car seat, a diaper bag, perhaps a change of clothes.

I don't write this because I have this all figured out, by any means. I think my family and I have made some progress in this general area, but still have a lot of room for improvement. Part of the solution, I think, is to re-think our societal conventions on what "things" are "necessary" to make us happy. Another part is simply that God has distributed his various gifts (temporal and spiritual) in an unequal way so that we have the opportunity to share them with each other. 
 I distribute the virtues quite diversely...and so I have given many gifts and graces, both spiritual and temporal, with such diversity that I have not given everything to one single person, so that you may be constrained to practice charity toward one another... I have willed that one should need another and that all should be my ministers in distributing the graces and gifts they have received from me.
- Dialogue of Our Lord to St. Catherine of Siena as quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church #1937
 And I do think that most people have experienced the joy and peace that comes from sharing their gifts with love. Making that deliberate, a regular part of our lives, an equation in how we order our lives, our finances and our households is an important part of our faith tradition.

Do you long for simplicity too? What have you implemented in your own family that has helped in this area?


  1. "she so clearly recognizes that when it comes down to hashing out the details and particulars of how we are trying to live our lives, so many things will be different for each person and for each family."

    Honestly, the other previews I'd seen of 7 haven't made me want to jump to read the book because much of it seemed like it would just not be applicable to my family. But this makes me want to reconsider that snap decision and to get the book and read anyway because while I expect that many of the particulars of her story won't speak to me at all, you make a great point about how I do "struggle to some degree with the abundance of goods and opportunities that are available" to me and my family. Even if it is just highlighting the ways I approach the questions differently, sometimes just reacting against something can provide new insights or a different perspective on a problem.

  2. Ah, I'm glad it's helpful to you. I will be curious to see what you think of the book!