It actually seems like much more than a week since we were celebrating Christmas – and yet, I am reluctant to face the fact that my holiday is almost over and I’ll be back at work the day after tomorrow. Being full of cold doesn’t exactly help, but I know I am far from alone in starting the new year in less than the best of health so I’m not complaining.
Of course, we’re all supposed to feel optimistic at the start of a new year – and maybe a little apprehensive too. There are things to look forward to, but so much that we can’t know – both good and bad. Who would have foretold some of the things that did happen in 2016?!
But there’s no point in looking back. Even though we have very limited control over what happens in the future, it’s more than we have over what has already happened. Browsing the internet over the last few days, I came across www.oneword365.com The idea is to forget new year resolutions, but instead choose one word: ‘One word you can focus on every day, all year long… One word that sums up who you want to be or how you want to live. It will take intentionality and commitment, but if you let it, your one word will shape not only your year, but also you. It will become the compass that directs your decisions and guides your steps.‘ It’s an intriguing idea and I’m giving some thought as to what my one word might be…
In the meantime, today is the start of month five of Simplify 7. This month the theme is money.
Despite the fact that I’m in a pretty well paid job, money always feels like it’s in short supply. I’ve never been good at living within my means – so most of what comes into my bank account goes straight back out again to pay a host of direct debits, including interest on credit card debts. It’s not a situation I’m happy about and I’m trying to change what I can – but that’s not really the focus of this month of Simplify 7.
I suppose most of us have far less choice than we might like about how we spend our money. Given that we (mostly) don’t live in houses we built ourselves, heated by fuel from our own resources, growing our own food and walking everywhere, it’s obvious that we have to pay for our homes, fuel, food, etc. In the UK, all taxpayers make a contribution towards paying for key services: the NHS, education, roads, etc. It’s not perfect, but the alternative (in my opinion) is far worse. It might not always feel like it, but we are able to hold our government to account for how they spend this public money – always a contentious matter. While some believe that the state should always provide for the needs of the most vulnerable in society, others resent what they see as handouts to the undeserving . I’ll use my vote as I feel appropriate when the opportunity arises, but in the meantime I find it best to follow Jesus’ advice and ‘render unto Caesar’ – it’s just part of the responsibility of being a part of society.
This month of Simplify 7 is more about how I choose to use the money I do have at my disposal. Like the other months, it’s a ‘fast’ of sorts: limiting for a period what I spend my money on and where I can spend it. Some of it is dictated by necessity, other parts by choices. It’s about taking seriously what Jesus said in Matthew 6 v21: ‘your heart will always be where your riches are’ – I might not have riches in the sense of a healthy bank balance, but I think that Jesus was talking about our disposable income too. Like the other months, I’m hoping it will give me an opportunity to pause for thought, to be more conscious of what I am doing…and, if it ends up helping me save some money, that would be a definite post-Christmas bonus !
So, for the month of January, I will only be spending money in the following 7 ways:
- Existing direct debits (mortgage, council tax, insurances, utilities…)
- Charitable donations (including church offering)
- Weekly grocery shopping from a Guisborough supermarket
- Birthday ‘stuff’ for friends and family
- Health ‘necessities’
- Travel essentials*
*this might seem like a bit of a cop out, but I have to travel more extensively than usual for work this month and I will have to pay for public transport and meals on these occasions!
There’s nothing very special about the list. I’m acutely aware that many people NEVER get to spend money on anything other than the basic necessities. I am going to limit the supermarket shopping to once a week (which is what I aim for anyway) and 6 -7 will also be restricted. But in comparison to how I’ve been spending my money in the last couple of weeks…well, let’s just say Cafe Nero will probably see a downturn in profits!
Anyway, it will be interesting to see what this month of Simplify 7 will teach me – and what this month will bring in the way of other challenges and opportunities. As always, we’re standing at the brink of the unknown. The new year just brings it into sharper focus.
I’ll leave you with a poem and a picture that have somehow become linked in my mind. I have a vague feeling that they were displayed together in the church I attended as a young child…but that may be a total invention on my part. Suffice to say that, although the painting is called The Light of the World (Holman-Hunt) and refers to the Bible verse ‘behold I stand at the door and knock’, in my head I can’t help but see him as the man who is standing at the gate of the year.
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.