Thursday, October 18, 2018

Grace Enough



Last night, I found a darkened room and threw myself on the couch, and for a moment, thought about all the legitimate things that were difficult at the moment. It was pity party time. Time to wallow in my difficulties and discontent. Time to welcome the tears and relish the misery. That will make me feel better about life, won’t it?

As we all know, it’s unlikely.

It didn’t do much for Jonah, as he sat under that scanty tree, that the Lord had given as shade the day before, wallowing. Pity is never God’s preferred path for us.

Elizabeth Elliot once wrote, “to love God is to love his will. That which He gives we receive… God shields us from most of the things we fear, but when he chooses not to shield us, he unfailingly allots grace in measure needed. It is for us to choose to receive or refuse it. Our joy or misery will depend on that choice” (Secure in the Everlasting Arms, 19).

After all, she would know.

Do we get to handpick that which God gives? Sunshine is my favorite, Lord. Can you make the storm clouds go away? As if we were selecting our favorite foods? Yes, please, I’ll take the chocolate cake. No, no thank you on the snap peas. I’ve never liked those.

Rather, we acknowledge that every thing, good or difficult, that the Lord brings into our lives serves a purpose. Both the sunshine and the storm clouds. Both the chocolate cake and the snap peas.

When he chooses not to shield us, when he brings storm clouds and offers snap peas, he allots grace in measure needed. Have you experienced this? I can look back over the darkest moments of my life, and see his grace, unfailing. I think of the most difficult seasons, and recall his grace, boundless. He always offers grace; we just need to pry open our tightly clenched fists to receive it.

To receive the storm clouds and snap peas, and the grace along with it.

To trust that he has got this.

To trust that he knows what’s best for us, because he is our good Father.

To speak our fears to him, sometimes aloud, because there is so much peace in giving them over to him.

To give them over to him again, the next night, as we lie in bed, trembling in our thoughts.

To accept the hard things along with the good things, the happy days alongside the sad ones, the life along with the death.

And, we get up off the couch, tears falling as they may, and press on in the day. Not because the darkness or sadness has left us, but because his grace has been given to us.

And that’s always enough.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Minimalism is not the Gospel


Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 

Matthew 6:19–21
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To say minimalism is trending would be an understatement. It seems to crop up weekly in conversations. I see articles on the regular: 

"25 Reasons You Might be a Minimalist" 
"Goodbye things, hello minimalism: Can living with less make you happier?"
"Don't Just Declutter. De-own."

I appreciate minimalism. I enjoy purging excess stuff and keeping our home functioning simply. I've been told we are "so minimalist" (as a compliment, I think) and I am inspired to keep our material possessions on the fewer side. Currently, on my refrigerator I have hanging a "30 Day Declutter Challenge" which I mean to complete (but have only checked off one).

While the concept may be good, the rumblings of what minimalism can do for you, for me, of what minimalism can deliver to our lives, make me uneasy. From my dabbling in this trendy movement, I'm convinced that we ought be careful of a way of life which promises what it can never actually deliver. After all, minimalism is not the gospel.


A Few Potential Pitfalls

1. Don't be convinced your minimalistic lifestyle means you have beaten materialism. Minimalism is not the opposite of materialism. Materialism is defined as "a tendency to consider material possessions and physical comfort as more important than spiritual values." Just because you may have fewer material possessions does not mean that you are less attached to them. 

Rather, consider your heart. Do you love the fewer clothes you have? Are you deeply attached to the few books you decided to keep in the recent purge? Do you love your home for the way it looks, rather than the way God provided it for your family, as a place to grow together and extend hospitality? You can still value your material possessions as more important than spiritual things, even in having fewer of them.

So while we're busy critiquing our parents' generation for huge homes, stocked attics and overstuffed garages, we need to take an honest look at our own lives and ask: is our minimalism simply materialism in a new dress?

2. Don't expect minimalism to bring you joy. The KonMarie method has received worldwide fame, notably with the suggestion to ask of each item you own, "does this spark joy?" From the first time I heard this, there was unrest in my heart. Not because material things don't bring me moments of fleeting joy, but because we are espousing a philosophy that leans into our already very human temptation to take our eyes off of the true Source of joy and onto the gifts instead.

J.I. Packer has said of Ecclesiastes that the right foundation for everyday joy [to be distinct from our eternal joy in the gospel] is "in celebrating joy as God's kindly gift, and in recognizing the potential for joy in everyday activities and relationships" [read further here]. I would rather be looking at my daughters to find a spark of joy, or in my husband's love, or in nature, or in fulfilling work, and celebrating these good gifts from God in my life, not in that shirt I wore yesterday or the ornate vase I collected from Taiwan. God has given a very material world to enjoy, but let's be careful to worship the giver and not the gift.

"...human beings flourish and are truly happy when they center their lives on God, the source of everything that is true, good, and beautiful. As to all created things, they too ought to be loved. But the only way to properly love them and fully and truly enjoy them is to love and enjoy them "in God"." [Miroslav Volf, in A Public Faith]


3. Don't let your minimalism hinder your hospitality and love for others. At the very root of some forms of minimalism is simply selfishness. I want to feel free in my home, I want to clean less, I want my home to spark joy, I like the look of x, y, and z. I cannot tell you how many times I've thought, "I should get rid of those kiddy kitchen toys" and yet, why? Because, I don't like the look of them. But my kids, and a host of other kids, greatly enjoy these toys, and play with them daily. Who would I be serving to get rid of them? Fortunately in my life, I am daily reminded that there are others of whom I need to think, and serve with love, than myself. 

Before purging all the extra plates from your kitchen, consider: do you have adequate space for extending hospitality? Is your space warm and inviting, a place that people will want to gather? Far and above any desires for a sparse kitchen ought to be our willingness and ability to host others well, to extend our homes and lives and invite others in. [Read here for convicting thoughts on Christian hospitality].


Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater, however. Here are a few reasons why Christians ought to consider living more simply:

to better set our hearts on things above, and not on earthly things [Col. 3:2]

to better love our neighbors [Mark 12:31]

to seek to live more generously [1 Tim. 6:17-19]

to offer meaningful hospitality [Rom. 12:13, 1 Pet. 4:8-9]

If these are the reasons for your pursuit of minimalism, to live a life more pleasing to Christ, then by all means, it is a worthy pursuit. 
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“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” 
1 Timothy 6:6–8

"And he said to them, "Take care, be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions"." 
Luke 12:15

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