Minimal

The month of January is usually full of resolutions and thoughts about a new year and new goals. Most people want to lose weight, be a better person, read the Bible, be a better friend, write that book that we’ve always wanted to write, to exercise, the list goes on.

I love the start of a new year. The cold air whispers hope into my mind that swirls with new possibilities and ideas. I have longed for the last few months to make a new start with a right focus.

I have been so distracted. I have spent valuable time on social media that should have been spent on more meaningful pursuits. I have spent time watching random YouTube videos that both dull my mind and make me feel mildly like I’m missing out on life somewhere else while I miss out my life right here and right now. I have avoided dealing with painful emotions and stress by eating and watching Netflix instead of sitting down, studying my Bible, writing, and praying. I have muted my struggle with self-image by purchasing new, “exciting” items that give me a rush when I buy them that wears off within days.

While Husbandman and I were on Christmas break, we watched the documentary “Minimalism” that sparked a lot of conversation. (I’m so thankful that we both work in higher education and get such generous breaks.) The movie follows two men and their associates who have dedicated their lives to sharing their journey to actively pursuing less in a quest to find satisfaction in their own lives. According to their website, “Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important- so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.” (source: https://www.theminimalists.com/minimalism/). They say that they’re ultimately pursuing happiness while they work to keep their material possessions to a minimum of the most useful tools.

At first glance, that sounds perfectly sane. Happiness is nice. I like being happy. Who doesn’t want to be happy?

In her book “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing”, Marie Kondo encourages her readers to discard items that don’t “spark joy”.

Possessions “sparking joy” sounds great.

But is the root of true happiness or even joy what I possess or what I do not possess? Is it seeking my happiness?

Minimalism and decluttering to pursue happiness joy on the surface sound Biblical. Christ Himself didn’t put effort into accumulating material possessions but trusted God to provide for His daily needs. But in modern-day culture, the main impetus of minimalism seems to be on wanting less things in order to live a more personally fulfilled life. That fulfillment is still self-centered. These are not inherently bad things, but they encourage people to pursue their own happiness and satisfaction outside of Christ.

I am a Christian; I have committed to following Christ. The root of my decisions to keep an item or discard it should not be my own happiness or perceived fulfillment. I want to determine how to live my life while pursuing a right-ordered heart. When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus answered:

“37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:37-40( ESV)

My greatest calling isn’t to pursue my satisfaction, even if that comes from service to others. I am to love God with all I am, and to love my neighbor as myself. I am, however, not exempt from living a personally intentional life. As a Christian, I should be careful in my consumption of financial and material things; not dulling my senses to the emotions and needs of others and myself.

So how do I pursue a life that honors God and doesn’t fall into the trap of minimalism for self gratification?

That’s my plan. That’s what I want to pursue this year “out loud” with you all: examining the motivation of my heart in light of God’s truth as I seek to live with minimal distractions. There is so much joy in pursuing the Lord. There is so much freedom.

As John the Baptist said about Christ when discussing his role in Christ’s ministry, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30, ESV).

Advertisements

After the Sparkle

On December 26th, I usually find myself sorting through new and old toys, cleaning up messes, squeezing one more bag of trash into the garbage can, and feeling a little let down that the holiday has passed. This year, I spent a what felt like forever but was only really an hour feeding my son Cheerios and a bottle in the back seat of the car while holding his hand to keep him from screaming all the way home from his Grandma’s house. My primary love language is giving and receiving gifts, so the flurries of giving and receiving that surround Christmas time fill up my emotional “tank”, but social events, travel, and busyness exhaust me at the same time.

I have always struggled with a post-Christmas feeling of disappointment; of buildup to a “glorious event” and then let down after it’s passed. That struggle is rooted in improper priorities when my heart focuses on gifts, expectations, parties, services, and time with family instead of on Christ and a reluctance to withdraw from festivities when I need an emotional break. Advent preparation resources have blessed me tremendously in the past few years but I still struggle. Shouldn’t my Christmas be sparkly and perfect and not let me down? All the songs and stories I read make me think that that’s what Christmas should be. The first Christmas seems like it should have been picture perfect when I don’t think about it carefully.

In reality, Mary and Joseph had been through so much leading up to the birth which the angel foretold: angelic visitations, unplanned and unwed pregnancy in a conservative society, suspicion of infidelity and plans for divorce, marriage and abstinence from physical intimacy, and after all of that, traveling out of town to a crowded city to be counted in a census at the end of a full term pregnancy.

When Mary actually delivered Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, she was far from home and her people. After Christ was born and the shepherds left, instead of the tranquil scenes we’re given in paintings and stories where even the cows held their breath in wonder, life kept going. Animals in the stable most likely were still there after Christ was born and continued to do what they normally do: make noise, eat, and make manure. Mary had to care for a newborn in overflow housing in a crowded city and eventually travel with him all the way home. She had to figure out how to feed him and care for her spent body after delivery; how to carve out a new rhythm as the mother of her people’s Messiah who was very much a helpless baby.

Praise God that He sent His Son into the thick of our mess and in the mire of our reality.

If you find yourself disappointed after the sparkle of Christmas passes, I pray that you would find relief in the fact that Christmas was just the beginning of the miraculous fulfillment of ancient prophesy to pay the price for the sin that separates us from a Holy God. This event was planned from the beginning of time, and it was far from the end of a story. You are in good company if you feel like gifts and decorations and parties fall short of expectation because they are not the point. Christmas marks the beginning of the life of Christ who lived an actual life after He was born. After the anticipation of delivering Jesus came to a halt all at once, the story had just begun to unfold.

I pray that we all approach the after Christmas period in light of the fact that Christmas happened; but was only the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s promise.