In our upstairs hallway, a cardboard box labeled “donate” is overflowing. A few days ago, I handed off a 2-inch stack of scrapbooking paper to my neighbor and condensed all my paper from 3 drawers down to one. When it came time to move all my patterned paper to the smaller container, I was so pleased to realize how little was left and that each piece is truly one I love. I won’t struggle to find a use for it, and I won’t need to rifle through a bunch of paper I feel “meh” about to find the good stuff. (I totally realize as I’m writing this that some people are going to think, “Wait, what? Patterned paper? This is a thing people own? And love?”)
Not long ago, I found freedom in having an abundance of options: plenty of coffee mugs and water bottles and shoes and cardigans and–of course–patterned paper. I always had plenty of choices to address my current whims. Instead, I now find freedom in having fewer options but knowing they are as close to perfect as they can get: I love them, they bring me joy, I don’t often have reason not to use them, and they suit my tastes and needs just right.
At the same time, I’m beginning to recognize something that’s unsettled me a little bit, and it’s this: I am really uncomfortable with how often I think, “I want…”
“I want” creeps into my thoughts while wandering Target, while grocery shopping, while deciding what to wear, while browsing Pinterest, while following someone new on Instagram, while praying, while journaling, while reading. I am embarrassed to admit how thoroughly “I want” has invaded my consciousness, how it has become like a song stuck in my head and a refrain I can’t stop singing. It reeks of selfishness, greed, and materialism. It reveals discontent and distraction. I hate it. (One day, I thought about making a list of every time I caught myself thinking it, but I decided that might be too depressing. Or too eye-opening? Probably both.)
We visited Mars Hill a few weeks ago, and the sermon was about the Parable of the Sower. It’s one I’ve heard many, many times, but I shouldn’t be surprised by the way Jesus continues using it to teach me new things. Here’s the passage that sparked this whole thing:
“When anyone hears news of the kingdom and doesn’t take it in, it just remains on the surface, and so the Evil One comes along and plucks it right out of that person’s heart. This is the seed the farmer scatters on the road. The seed cast in the gravel—this is the person who hears and instantly responds with enthusiasm. But there is no soil of character, and so when the emotions wear off and some difficulty arrives, there is nothing to show for it. The seed cast in the weeds is the person who hears the kingdom news, but weeds of worry and illusions about getting more and wanting everything under the sun strangle what was heard, and nothing comes of it. The seed cast on good earth is the person who hears and takes in the News, and then produces a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.” –Jesus (Matthew 13:19-23 MSG)
I am that seed cast in the weeds. Now, each time I catch myself hearing that pesky and familiar phrase, I’m left with a yucky feeling inside. It’s not a shame-riddled, feeling bad about myself feeling, but just a recognition that there must be a better way. I’m praying about this constantly, and I’m keeping it in my ind each time I read Scripture, wondering what else Jesus might say about it. And of course, I’m asking, “What do I do about it?”
“The world is unprincipled. It’s dog-eat-dog out there! The world doesn’t fight fair. But we don’t live or fight our battles that way—never have and never will. The tools of our trade aren’t for marketing or manipulation, but they are for demolishing that entire massively corrupt culture. We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-6, MSG)
So, some super practical ways I’m tackling this (though it’s all a work in progress):
-I’m avoiding the Target dollar section, home decor aisle, and stationary aisles. I know we all joke about how we just can’t leave Target without spending at least $50, and that’s fine, but I don’t really want that to be true of me, and I don’t like the way I feel in Target, honestly.
-I’m using Pinterest to look for specific things or pin something I saw elsewhere but not to browse aimlessly.
-I’m unfollowing most shops & stores on Instagram. I’m only following people and organizations I find interesting, inspiring, and entertaining. No more follows just for interesting products that I might want to buy. And yup, this means I’m avoiding most giveaways.
-I’m not visiting a store just because I’m bored at home with Ian. Instead, we’ll go to the library, park, or just to a different room in the house. I’m setting aside certain activities and toys just for those moments.
-I’m unsubscribing from promotional emails. (I thought i had done this awhile ago, but it’s amazing how quickly and subtly they creep back into my inbox!) I don’t want to go buy something just because I have a coupon. My only exception to this is Shutterfly, because I actually use their 101 free prints & free address labels often would buy those things anyway. (If Evan & I decide we need something, I can resubscribe and wait for the right coupon to show up then, and only then.)
I am trying to pay more attention to my thoughts, taking them captive to Christ. My hope is that each time I think, “I want…” I can instead pray, “I am enough and Christ is enough for me.”
The truth is, minimalism and simplicity have a lot less to do with how much stuff I do or do not own and a lot more to do with how often I think and say, “I want…” The condition of my heart is not necessarily going to change just because I drop off another box at Goodwill. The condition of my heart will only change when I allow Jesus to do the good work of tilling the soil of contentedness and uprooting the greed that threatens to choke it out.