In 2012, an American author named Jen Hatmaker published a book called 7. It was subtitled ‘An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess’ and it’s an inspiring read.
As it says on 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.
Well, Jen had a book contract to motivate her (amongst other things) and I don’t know that I’ll be able to shape my own journey in quite the same way or take it quite so far. Not that I’m not inspired by what she did, but it’s obvious from reading any of her books that we are very different women leading very different lives. But we do share a Christian faith. And it is this, more than anything else, that has inspired me to begin to make some changes to my own life.
James 2 v14-26 talks about the importance of matching faith to actions. I love the version from The Message:
‘ Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? … Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?‘
My church (Guisborough Methodist Church) is currently thinking about what it means to be ‘fruitful’. We’re being challenged to think about everything we do as a church – and that means we have to be prepared to be challenged as individuals. Reading ‘7’, I felt that my personal challenge was to become a little more (well, probably a LOT more) focused on my actions.
I have a busy, full-time job. It’s in the public sector and I’ve always felt that I’m there to serve – that it’s where God wants me to be. As such, I’ve always put a lot into it. But I confess that I’ve also used it as an excuse: to avoid more obvious ways of serving, to ignore challenges and other demands on my time. I am trying to change that. Obviously, I don’t want to suddenly put less into my paid employment; I don’t think that’s part of God’s plan. And it certainly wouldn’t be fair on the people who expect me to do my job. But I think there are other things that God wants me to do with this one life that I’ve been given…and this project – ‘Simplify’ – is about trying to find out what they might be.
In ‘7’, Jen undertook what could be called a series of fasts: food, clothes, possessions, media, waste, spending and stress. Traditionally, a fast is about going without something for a specific period of time. But, crucially, the purpose is to allow the individual to focus on something else – not just think about how miserable they are without whatever they have given up, or how self-righteous they are for having done it. As it says in Isaiah 58 (again from The Message):
‘“This is the kind of fast day I’m after: to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts.
What I’m interested in seeing you do is:
sharing your food with the hungry,
inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
being available to your own families.” ‘
So, like Jen, the first thing I need to do is to simplify. My life has too many choices; too much of it is wasted on things that don’t really matter and which distract me from the more important things. I’m starting with the most traditional of fasts: food. And I’ll be using this fast as a time to learn more about sharing food with the hungry – both here in Guisborough and further afield.