After months of enjoying her blog and fondly remembering a session she led at a conference I attended in college, I finally got around to reading on of Jen Hatmaker’s books. I started out with 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, and I’m beginning to regret it. In the book Jen shares how reading and attending worship with Shane Claiborne really “messed up” her life, causing her to rethink ministry with her husband at a church that only seemed to “bless the blessed” and change their trajectory to follow a calling to serve their neighbors in Austin, TX. Their church now meets in a rented room and gives away half of its income to people and organizations serving people living in poverty, homelessness, refugees, and others with the greatest needs in their community.
Dang it, Jen. Why you gotta be all faithful? Don’t be coming up in here unsettling me with all this Gospel business. It’s rude to just walk around bursting people’s comfort bubbles, you know?
Regardless of how squirmy I felt under the weight of conviction as I read her story (or maybe because of it), I haven’t been able to get the book out of my head. Two important points from it have stuck with me, first in my vocabulary and then in my behavior. These two phrases are getting a downgrade and taking up less space in my daily conversations from here on out.
(1) I need…
In her project to reduce wastefulness in 7 major areas of her life (clothes, spending, waste, food, possessions, media, and stress) Jen takes on challenges to use less, spend less, throw away less, wear less, eat less, watch and click less… Bottom line, Jen takes on the challenge to consume less and connect more. Trying to figure out what she can cut out, she examines the line between want and need. In doing this, she shares advice from a fellow author, Matthew Sleeth, who says, “My grandmother has hundreds of axioms. One of them was ‘If you think you want something, wait a month.’ One of three things will happen if you follow this sage advice. One: You will forget. Two: You will no longer need it. Or three: You will need it more. Most often, numbers one and two will happen.”
Seeing as how grandmothers and mothers are the source of all wisdom, I’m inclined to follow her advice. It’s so easy to get caught up in the frenzy of the next new thing (witness the lines out the door at your local Apple store following the launch of their latest product) and to convince ourselves that it is completely necessary to our lives. We (read I) don’t want to miss the boat and be the only one without, so we/I don’t want to wait much less completely forgo something everyone else seems to have. And the trickiest part about it is that once you buy into the next big thing, it becomes the baseline. I was completely fine with a phone that just made phone calls and sent text messages until I upgraded to my iPhone a few years ago; now I hate the thought of not being able to check my email, the weather, and my Facebook while I’m waiting for the bus. I feel sure I would die. So is that really an “upgrade”? I have simply become more dependent on a luxury that I have convinced myself is a necessity.
With all this milling about in my mind, I have gotten flustered when I catch myself using “need” when I really mean “want” time and time again. As Jen says, I find myself in that “privileged world where ‘need’ and ‘want’ have become indistinguishable.”
I do not need a pair of jeans; my closet floor is already cluttered with excessive clothes that I wear so infrequently that I haven’t gotten around to picking them up and washing them in weeks.
I do not need Starbucks; I have two (TWO!) coffeemakers at home that would make me cups of caffeinated goodness at a fraction of the price if I would stop being so lazy and just make it.
“Need” is cheapened when I don’t reserve it for actual can’t-live-without-it’s. That means food (chocolate cravings don’t qualify), clothing (not counting cute new things I want simply because I’m bored with my “old” but still completely functional outfits), shelter, and things that are actually required for getting through the day, doing my job, and honoring my commitments. Funny enough, when I retire need from uses outside of this and start saying what I really mean, that I just want these other things, I realize how silly I sound. Only a child walks around fussing about what they want, and I’m told that at 25, I’m not a child anymore.
(2) I don’t feel like…
So much waste is sheltered under these words.
“I don’t feel like eating anything in the fridge tonight. Let’s go out for dinner.”
“I need to get that paper done, but I don’t feel like it right now. I’ll do it after this episode.”
“I meant go to the gym after work today, but I don’t feel like it anymore. I’ll go in the morning.” Let’s be real. There’s only a 50/50 chance I will feel like a human being when that alarm goes off early.
And the reason for my cranky grogginess in the morning, “I said I was going to go to bed early tonight, but I just don’t feel like it. I’ll watch a couple more episodes and see what’s on Buzzfeed, and then I’ll go.”
Here’s the thing. Feelings change. They are fleeting, and often they are liars. As they say in Mean Girls, “I just have a lot of feelings.” Doesn’t mean I have to act on them–or fail to act as the case may be.
In her diary-style reflection on each month when she cut back on excess in one area of her life, Jen writes a lot about how much she doesn’t feel like sticking with it. It’s inconvenient. It takes a lot of planning. It makes for some awkward conversations about why she’s doing something out of the ordinary. It would absolutely be easier to just give in and do what she feels like doing in the moment, but she doesn’t. Ultimately, feelings have to be subject to something bigger. They are not stable enough to support the weight of a life. Something stronger and more reliable has to occupy that role. After a particularly bad day a couple of weeks into this experiment, Jen writes about indulging in “a nice, dramatic lament:”
“I tried to redirect my emotions toward Jesus, but I struggled to maintain composure. Everything felt dark; I couldn’t find center. I retreated to my bedroom and sat on the edge of the bed and prayed:
‘Jesus, please help me find gratitude. This whole thing feels stupid.’
It took a minute, but [I remembered all the benefits of this process and the people who have supported me]… I thawed into a gratitude puddle, exchanging my physical aching for spiritual communion. It was a good trade. I exhaled and breathed, ‘Thank You.’ “
The feelings are there and there are times to roll with them, but they shouldn’t have power over our relationship with God and our convictions. We can’t–I can’t– keep letting my spiritual, physical, and mental health be dictated by whether I feel like maintaining them. Yet again, that is a childish choice, and I am not a child anymore.
So I’ll leave you with this reminder from Paul and Jen’s interpretation of it:
“Paul put it this way: ‘When I was a child, I talked like a child. I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known’ (1 Cor 13:11-12).
A child says ‘me.’ An adult says ‘us.’ Maturity deciphers need from want, wisdom from foolishness. Growing up means curbing appetites, shifting from ‘me’ to ‘we,’ understanding private choices have social consequences and public outcomes.”