When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not be so thorough that you reap the field to its very edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. These things you shall leave for the poor and the alien. I, the LORD, am your God.
Over the last three years, my wife, my two small children, and myself have moved clear across the country three separate times. From Ann Arbor to Denver, from Denver to Chicago, and then back from Chicago to Denver. God help us.
If you had asked me three years ago, I would not have said to you that so many changes would have been my preferred way to spend the next few years. I definitely hope to not have to move again for some time. At the same time, if I have to be honest with you and myself, so many transitions have, in some ways, also been fruitful for us as a family unit. Our family has learned to rely on one another in a very real way and, because of that, we have built a family culture that I am really proud of and for which I am grateful.
Moving so much forces you to simplify. It detaches you from what you thought you needed to get by. Some of that simplifying is done in a practical way; it is just a pain to try and pack up a ton of stuff and move it across the country. So you sell your stuff. Some of that simplifying comes in the form of interior detaching. You learn to detach from what other people will think of you. You learn to detach from relationships that you thought you relied on to get by in life. You learn to detach from comfort and familiarity.
Honestly, each of our decisions to move was extremely difficult. In fact, each time it got progressively harder. All three times, though, we had a very clear sense that this is where God was calling us. The beauty of all of the detaching, as painful as it was, is that it forced us to learn what it looks like to rely on God alone. We are not perfect at this at all, but we have certainly learned over the last three years that we need a lot less than we think we need.
The verse at the top of this post from Leviticus 23 came up in a conversation my wife and I had recently with our twenty-two year old babysitter about simplicity and discipleship. (Yes, our babysitter rules.) She said one of her professors from the evangelical college she attended recommended that she make verse twenty-two her life verse for awhile, especially in terms of how she spent her time. He encouraged her to create margins in her schedule so that if God was asking her to do something, even if it was just to spend time with Him, her busyness would not lead a lack of availability to listen to his invitation.
If you want to know what you worship, look at your calendar and your bank account. What gets the majority of your time, attention, and money?
Our culture today is a very attached one. In our Western context, there are a lot of cultural pressures that generate perceptions about what we think need and about what life should look like. Our houses need to be this big! and need to be furnished this way! and our kids need to go to this college! The never ending stream of voices and pressures leads us to craft lives that are cluttered with way more than we need. We do not even realize that we have overburdened ourselves and, in doing so, have begun to live in cages of stress that we have created for ourselves.
I think if we want to begin to create space for God in our lives, to hear His voice, and be available to respond to it, this decision has to start with our bank accounts and our calendars. Forgive me for being overly challenging, but I think that we, as lay people, need to pray seriously through Jesus' counsel surrounding simplicity and poverty and what it might mean for our lives practically. Not that we have to give everything away, or blow up our schedules, and go live as monks in the wilderness somewhere, but I think it is okay to ask ourselves the question of whether we have let the culture pressure us into creating a life that no longer has room in which God can operate.
Now, money and time pressures can be very real things that we might not have control over. But, if we have the discretion, the freedom to create a simpler life in terms of how we spend our time and money, and we are instead choosing to Keep Up with the Joneses, have we not lost sight of a huge part of the Christian call?
A graduate of two Franciscan institutions, I have always had an appreciation for the witness of St. Francis and the way of life he taught his brothers. For Francis, Gospel simplicity was not just about a repudiation of material comforts or goods, but it was instead about radical availability for whatever God might ask of you. It is only when our hands are empty that we are free to receive our mission from God.
When I look at many of the responses coming from the institutional Church to the scandals in our midst, I see a Church that is too attached. We have so much power, influence, and infrastructure, that our ability to witness to the Gospel has been compromised. In our lack of simplicity, we also lack the freedom to be radically available to the call of Jesus Christ.
Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God. The heart of the Christian life is to be able to see and know God clearly and we can only do that when our attachments are not clogging our vision.
St. Thomas Aquinas at the end of his life had a vision of Jesus Christ where He said, "You have written well of me, Thomas. What reward will you receive from me for your labor?"
"Domine, non nisi te," Thomas replied. Lord, nothing but you. To me, that is the fruit of a life lived in simplicity, freed from disordered attachments, even ones that might be licit.
Maybe our prayer today should be for a life that is agile enough, that is unattached enough, that we can accomplish the mission that Jesus Christ has set out for us to do.