How Can We Live Simply in a Consumer Culture?
Simplicity: Absence of Complication
Synonyms: Classicality, clean lines, ease, integrity, purity, modesty …
Admittedly, last week I was materialistic. I’d signed up to a discount website which sent daily emails offering massages, meals and mini adventures for cut prices. Helicopter rides and pearl necklaces shone from the screen. Suddenly, I realised how unrealistic I was being ... I unsubscribed.
Our culture encourages us to want more. The last make-up advertisement I saw stated that once they’d tried the product, women ‘couldn’t live without’ it. Will women die or be somehow inferior if they don’t buy it? Obviously this is melodramatic, but subtle messages can have an impact on our attitude of heart.
We want more things – and we want more time. We have instant meals and instant messaging. We’re all running to escape ‘time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near,’ as Marvell puts it (To His Coy Mistress). In themselves, time saving devices are wonderful. Yet when they cause us to cram fruitless activity into our lives, we’re not honouring God. Fast-paced lifestyles can cause us to be so hurried that we are never still for long enough to properly listen. As John Ortberg says, ‘Love and hurry are fundamentally incompatible. Love always takes time, and time is one thing hurried people don’t have.’ (Ortberg, The Life You've Always Wanted).
There are many practical things we can do to develop a simple lifestyle. However, it is important we try to cultivate an inner simplicity first. Jesus suggests this inward reality will be realised when we ‘seek first his kingdom, and his righteousness ...’ (Matt 6:33). As David prayed, we cry ‘give me an undivided heart Lord, that I may fear your name’ (Psalm 86:11). It can be tempting to rush straight to our wardrobes, piling up rarely-worn clothes to give away in a military style. Yet without first pausing to check our heart attitude, this can become ‘deadly legalism,’ as Foster warns (Foster, Celebration of Discipline.) It's better to be motivated by enthusiasm than by guilt.
Once we have cultivated this inner simplicity, what practical things do you think we can do to express it outwardly? Here are a couple of ideas:
-Avoid impulse buying. Check your motivation when shopping. Simplicity doesn’t mean buying only cheap things. A quality, expensive, ethically-sourced product is better than a cheap one that will soon break.
-Give things away that you haven’t used in a year and have no sentimental value.
-Look around you and appreciate God’s creation – notice the wildlife, plants, flowers and trees.
-If you are becoming addicted to something, do your best to give it up. In everything we do, let’s try to do it all ‘for the glory of God,’ and seek first His kingdom (1 Cor 10:31).
-What are your thoughts? Do you agree that we need to develop an inner simplicity first, or does the inner attitude follow more easily when we begin practical steps to simplify our lives?