In my first year of uni I helped lead junior Sabbath School with two friends. For some reason I was under the impression that this wouldn’t be a challenging task. I was quickly proved wrong.
During a lesson on consumerism, one of the kids piped up with a simple question that turned out to be more complex than I’d bargained for: “What’s so wrong with having stuff, anyway? If it’s so bad, why does everybody have it?”
Giving away the things we don’t need allows us to strip back the superfluous and focus on the essential, while helping those with less at the same time. It’s a win-win.
He had a good point. Apart from the odd sermon about tithing, we don’t tend to hear a lot about “stuff-owning” from the pulpit. We know what to do with the 10 per cent, but the other 90 seems to slip through the cracks. The general idea seems to be to make sure we don’t love our stuff too much, in case Jesus ever asks us to give it up. Thankfully, this never seems to happen.
But if it’s impossible for a rich man to get into heaven (Matthew 19:24), then, living in Australia—one of the world’s most affluent nations—we have a few things to be concerned about.
After getting stumped in Sabbath School, I did some research into living with less and discovered a few things:
1. Owning things comes at a cost to me
I acquire things for a reason but generally I tend to forget that these things cost more than money. I dedicate my time to making more money so I can buy more things. The more things I have, the more things I need, and the more time and mental energy I devote to acquiring more. It’s a vicious cycle.
2. Things I own come at a cost to others
Who makes the things I buy and in what conditions do they work? Are they paid properly or are they slaving away for a wage that keeps them in perpetual poverty? What impact does the production of these things have on the environment?
3. Possessions beyond what I need are burdens
Each thing that I own is another thing I have to look after—to keep clean, keep working, keep safe. It’s just another thing that clutters my home and my mind and takes my time and my attention. If I own more than I need, then I’m spending more time than I should on things that I own—time that could be better spent with my loved ones and my God.
As it turns out, living with less isn’t a new thing. The apostles championed the minimalist fad back in the early first century. Whatever they didn’t need, they gave away. They were so extreme in their minimalism that they lived together in communal houses, giving away all their wealth to those who had less—and their spiritual lives thrived.
I’m not convinced that communal living is the way to go (two years living in a dorm room was enough for me) but I do think they were on the right track. Giving away the things we don’t need allows us to strip back the superfluous and focus on the essential, while helping those with less at the same time. It’s a win-win.
Less stuff means less worry—and more time for God.
Author Max Lucado illustrates this concept beautifully in his children’s book You Are Mine. When the entire town of Wemmickville falls under the illusion that they need to own boxes and balls to be special, Punchinello spends all his time and money seeking them—and forgetting about his maker, Eli, in the process. In the end, Eli explains to him that he is worthwhile not because of the things he owns but because of who he is.
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care . . . So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29, 31).
When our sense of worth is found in the Creator and His love for us, we no longer need things to make ourselves feel worthwhile.
Sara Thompson writes from Cooranbong, New South Wales.