I love a good book. My favorite kinds are books that inspire me, broaden my perspective, and offer great advice when I’m headed down a new-to-me path.
That’s why I picked up the book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker.
For those of you unfamiliar with this book, here’s part of the description from Amazon:
7 is the true story of how Jen (along with her husband and her children to varying degrees) took seven months, identified seven areas of excess, and made seven simple choices to fight back against the modern-day diseases of greed, materialism, and overindulgence.
Food. Clothes. Spending. Media. Possessions. Waste. Stress. They would spend thirty days on each topic, boiling it down to the number seven. Only eat seven foods, wear seven articles of clothing, and spend money in seven places. Eliminate use of seven media types, give away seven things each day for one month, adopt seven green habits, and observe “seven sacred pauses.”
While part of this sounded extreme to me, I thought “7” might offer some tips on simplifying so I decided to give it a shot, figuring I’d get a few new ideas and that would be the end of it.
I was wrong.
At first, I resisted the entire concept of “7,” particularly in chapter two. Wearing only seven articles of clothing for an entire month? I immediately dismissed that idea by deciding it’d be unappreciative of the other clothes in my closet.
I didn’t realize that I was missing the big picture – stripping away the excess helped Jen to develop a stronger sense of empathy towards those who would be glad to have seven whole items to choose from.
Then I got to month three – where the author told about her journey towards ridding her home of excess. As in, a full house declutter. I was so excited to read this chapter. I just did a full house declutter earlier this year, so I was sure I had this one down!
The first real tug of conviction I felt in this book came when Jen described what she did with the items – she gave them to the homeless. That wasn’t a huge issue for me at first. My family and I had gotten rid of a TON of stuff this year. After we decluttered, we gave what was left from our yard-sale to Goodwill, which often gets shopped at by the poor. So that’s practically the same thing, right?
The author didn’t just dump a load of stuff at Goodwill or a homeless shelter. Jen searched to find needs, then she hand-delivered her items directly to the poor to meet those needs.
Jen reminded me in chapter 3 that:
“Sometimes the best way to bring good news to the poor is to bring actual good news to the poor… when you’re desperate, usually the best news you can receive is food, water, shelter. These provisions communicate God’s presence infinitely more than a tract… They convey ‘God loves you so dearly, He sent people to your rescue.'” – Jen Hatmaker
I realized that I depend on the government (my tax dollars) and the church (my weekly contribution) to do my job of meeting the needs of the poor and needy.
The problem with that is God didn’t ask the government. He asked the church. The church is made up of people. I am one of those people.
Jen says that we bless the abundantly blessed and neglect the poor. She’s so right. When I think about who I invite into my home and who I give gifts to, I realize that generally, I am just blessing the blessed. And while there’s nothing wrong with blessing people who aren’t poor, I know I need to make sure that I’m striving to meet the needs of the poor more often.
I’ve often wished that I could take an overseas mission trip to build houses, help start gardens, or teach women how to cook nutritious meals for their families. But in my personal desire to go far and wide to help the poor, I’ve closed my eyes and my heart to many of the needs that are right in front of me. And deep down, I know that I can help the poor from right where God has planted me.
Thinking about doing overseas mission work is definitely easier than actually doing real services close to home. That’s partly because true poverty scares me. I’m not sure how to tell when I’m actually helping someone or when I’m enabling them to live a lazy lifestyle – I don’t always see the difference between the truly poor and those who just want handouts.
So I justify my lack of service by telling myself that I don’t know the other person’s story. Someone may just throw away the food I offer or spend money I’ve given to them on drugs. Guess what? That’s between them and God. Whether or not I reach out? That’s between God and me.
“If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” James 2:15-18
I still have so much to process from 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. While I don’t agree with all of Jen Hatmaker’s theology, I admire her zeal, boldness, and candid thoughts about her own journey towards ridding her life of over-consumerism. This book is changing my view in a way that’s making me feel very uncomfortable and I’m not completely sure if I like it. But I know that I desperately need it.
(Go here to watch the book trailer.)