My real love for a simple life began after college when I spent two years living in Eastern Europe. The slower pace of living, the unhurried days, and the limited choices in housing, food, clothing, and entertainment gave me time to invest in the things I found important at that time: people, journaling, reading, studying, writing letters, and traveling. My life felt very balanced, productive, and full.
When I re-entered America, I quickly got engaged, joined a ministry full-time, got married, raised financial support, moved a dozen times, got pregnant and finally settled down in a state far away from family and friends. From the get-go, it was really hard to keep our "overseas mindset of living"...which for us meant a focus on close community/team and simple living . For the first time I could really recognize how our culture bombards us with crazy levels of advertising and seeks to keep us chronically discontent... let's face it: you aren't going to spend a lot of money on a bunch of stuff if you are happy and content!
I feel like I have to fight against a consumeristic mindset in myself, but now I have to fight it in my children! I am amazed at the level of advertising aimed at children to get them hooked on product branding. Shielding our young ones from this takes a tremendous amount of vigilance and swimming against the societal tide...which can get exhausting. Here is an eye-opening fact sheet of the influence of materialism and stress on families.
Why do we get sucked into all of this? Many times it can be plain old greed...but more often I think we all just crave a sense of worth and belonging. Having stuff that is just like our buddies makes us feel like we are connected and that we belong. We buy into trends...I feel more "acceptable" and good when I have what she has. Our kids struggle and deal with all of these same issues...how can we help them and ourselves?
I think it has to start with understanding the real heart of the Gospel and our significance and worth that is settled in Christ. Meditating on those core truths can transform us into more joyful, content, thankful, and peaceful people. We stop seeking to prove ourselves and find happiness with who God made us as unique individuals, and much of that drive-for-more is broken because we realize we already have everything that matters in Christ.
The freedom and peace of the Gospel makes us comfortable in our own Jesus-designed skin!
On a practical note, we can limit our children's media exposure. Turn off the Disney channel. Seriously. Cut out as much advertising as possible whether through TV commercials or Sunday paper advertising! Our "gimmes" were reduced drastically in myself and in my kids when we stopped getting the Sunday paper a few years ago.
Celebrate hand-made and creativity. Involve kids in making birthday gifts for friends and in Christmas gifts for family. Promote thoughtful/creative giving over Black Friday Deals. Focus on being producers rather than consumers.
Consider spending money on vacations and travel experiences over buying more stuff.
Spend time out in nature exploring a new trail as "fun" instead of going to the latest movies.
Use the public library instead of buying more books.
Model giving money and time. Giving is the ultimate in breaking chains of consumption. And it brings a deep joy to adults and children alike. Sponsor a child. Volunteer with Meals on Wheels. Take a family a meal. Set up a lemonade stand and give the proceeds away. Serve in your church.
There are opportunities all around each one of us each and every day...what if we prayed every morning with our children, "Lord, show us where to give today!"?
photo by eb78