Tag Archives: faith

What Minimalism Means to Me

If you spend much time in the “simple living” corner of the Internet, you no doubt have encountered many definitions and expressions of minimalism. As it should be: if you’re really going to practice something, it should be personal.

While the name “minimalism” emphasizes what you’re doing without, I think most would agree it’s about clearing out the unwanted so that you have time to focus on what you want.

Writing my life plan has helped me to focus this further. I regularly review what I’ve decided is the most important and am constantly reevaluating my life choices against that. It’s helped me pare down my grocery list, DVR and extracurricular activities. (With a lot of areas, I simply ask myself, “What one thing am I most willing to give up?” and repeat that over and over until I’m comfortable with what is left.)

Pine LakeAnother aspect of minimalism as I see it is to prioritize only what will help you reach your goals (see, the life plan again). For example, if  I want to hike 15 miles at the end of the summer, I have to work up to that, starting now. If I want to own a home as soon as it is financially healthy for me to do so, I must set a limit on how much I’m going to spend on my garden. There’s nothing wrong with a weekly 4-mile hikes or a garden full of new pots, but these don’t help me reach my goals.

I absolutely am (or want to be) a minimalist with my possessions, too. While I do periodic purges (Marie Kondo‘s method has been a practical way to do this), my main focus has been to limit what I bring into my home. By doing so, I have been focusing on long-term change, rather than having a spotless, bare-bones place in the short term.

I find that minimalism is a natural outworking of my Christian faith. After all, I worship the King who once lovingly told a rule-following young man, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21 ESV).

And in another passage I read, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” (Hebrews 12:1). While “stuff” (material and not) isn’t all that he’s talking about as “encumbrances,” I can’t help but think that’s part of it.

What does minimalism mean to you?

Why it Matters

It’s really easy in my day-to-day life–and on this blog–to get caught up in all the things that I want to do. I can easily focus my mind on budgeting or gardening and spend lots of time making things from scratch or finding ways to do without.

But I think it’s important to remember what drives these interests. After all, it’s very easy to lose sight of what really matters and why I started to make these life choices in the first place.

Motivation can be different from person to person. The following are my two primary motivations for living green financially and environmentally:

1. My life is not about me. As a follower of Christ, I believe that my life is not my own (1 Corinthians 6:19). Though I frequently fail, I want to make God the center of attention in all that I do.

How this motivates me to live green is that I honor God when I honor his creation, not using more than I need. By using my money wisely, I also have money to give back.

The recent smoke/haze from fires hundreds of miles away was a reminder of how we are all connected.
The recent smoke/haze from fires hundreds of miles away was a reminder of how we are all connected.

2. I should put others above myself. This is a hard one. While it’s not easy to put God first, at least it’s easy to see why he deserves it. But in my self-importance and arrogance, I often don’t believe that I should put others above myself.

But all I have to do is remember what Christ did for me when I didn’t deserve it, to change my attitude around.

This motivates me to make green decisions because the less resources I use, the more are left for other people: both now and in the future. By not buying as many goods produced in polluting factories where under-paid workers work in poor conditions, I’m loving others.

That’s it: those are the two things that I hope are the motivation behind everything that I do and everything I share on this blog.

Lesson of the Lunchbox

A few weeks ago I tried doing mason jar salads for the first time. As someone who loves mason jars and making my weekday meals ahead of time, it seemed like a logical thing for me to try.

It turned out really well. I highly recommend this page as a tutorial for how to organize your salad layers, as that is the most important thing for fresh mason jar salads. When it’s time to eat, I simply dump the contents of the mason jar onto a plate and have a healthy, delicious meal.

But this post isn’t about mason jar salads.

One day a couple of weeks ago I unexpectedly had my work meal provided for so I didn’t need my mason jar salad that day. I left it, my plate and fork (the real stuff) in my lunch box in the fridge for the next day.

The problem is, it was a Thursday.  I left those items in the fridge that gets cleaned out on Thursday nights (when they decide to do so). When I went in the next day, there was no sign of my lunch box.

Or my mason jar, plate or fork.

I was, understandably, upset. After all, I strive to be a good steward of my belongings (hello, blog title) and losing these items was not being a good steward. To make it worse, most likely those still-wanted items were on their way to a landfill.

It was really easy to get mad: at the cleaning crew and at myself. But then I realized that I couldn’t change what happened by stewing on it further (I had already checked with the cleaning crew and they no longer had it). So I had to give myself grace.

I do want to  be a good steward of my possessions, and there is certainly room to improve in that. But I also need to recognize that the goal is not to be perfect in my stewardship. No one is saved by my frugality or eco-friendliness. While I do hope that there are positive consequences for others by my actions, that is my secondary motivation.

My primary motivation is to be faithful to the God who was first faithful to me. If I beat myself up about not doing this or that, I’m not honoring God who already did all the work for my salvation.

I hope that every time I look at my new lunch box or at my 7-plate dinnerware set I will think of God’s grace for me.

lunch box
My new lunch box is a little bit bigger, as it also doubles as my cooler.

How it Works: Fair Trade

“Fair trade” seems to be all the rage lately, but if you are like me, that doesn’t necessarily mean a full understanding of the term.

I first became acquainted with fair trade through our church, which sold a few fair trade items once a month when we first joined.  Since this was B.C. (Before Children), I didn’t see a need for coffee.  Plus, the goods seemed grossly overpriced, so I didn’t pay much attention and certainly never bothered to buy anything.

As seems to be my trend, fast forward a few years and not only do I have a huge appreciation for the dark caffeinated beverage (splash of milk and dash of coconut oil in mine, please!), but I also have become more interested in the idea of fair trade.

So I decided to do a little research.

According to the simple definition found at Lutheran World Relief, “fair trade” is just “a trading partnership that seeks greater equity in international trade.”

Seems “fair”-ly simple (sorry, couldn’t resist!).  Help farmers earn a living wage, help strengthen communities (fair trade policies ensure that labor laws are more closely adhered to, and provide an opportunity for farmers to invest in their communities), and help the environment (through sustainable practices encouraged by fair trade), all while I get my daily dose of caffeine?

Yes please.

And did you know that the term fair trade applies to more than just coffee?  It can apply to everything from chocolate to tea, and–get this!–eco-palms for Palm Sunday services.  Impressive!

I love my coffee, but I also love to put my values in action, and fair trade is a good way to do that.  It may be more expensive, but considering all that it benefits, it seems like a relatively simple way to do my part.

Joint Book Review: Year of Plenty by Craig L. Goodwin

downloadIf you only read one “yearlong experiment” book, make sure it is Year of Plenty: One Suburban Family, Four Rules, and 365 Days of Homegrown Adventure in Pursuit of Christian Living by Craig L. Goodwin.  Over the course of a year, the entire Goodwin family takes it upon themselves to only utilize what is local, used, homegrown, or homemade.  This short, insightful book is worth a read!

Amanda’s Take

It seems like “Do X Over the Span of a Year” books have become their own trendy genre, so I was hesitant to pick up Year of Plenty; in fact, Goodwin even mentions his own reluctance to write yet another “year-long experiment” book.   That said, I am such a fan of this book, I actually own a copy –high praise indeed from a minimalist!

Like Ronnica will mention, I especially appreciated the Christian take on green issues.   Also appreciated was the discussion on consumerism that was interspersed throughout the book.

Even better, though, was the fact that the entire family was involved in this experiment of “365 Days of Homegrown Adventure in Pursuit of Christian Living.”  As Goodwin notes, a lesson the entire family learned over the course of the year was that “hands-on experience in the real world leads to changed behavior.” -p. 144

To that end, I found myself laughing and imagining what it would be like if our own family owned chickens, or were challenged to buy only local items, or traveled abroad to see global economics in action.  Goodwin’s writing is both humorous and truly insightful, and the content is near and dear to my heart, all of which make this a new favorite in my library.

Ronnica’s Take

When I picked this book up at Amanda’s recommendation I didn’t expect to love it like it I did. I’ve read lots of books where I agree with one part or another, but in Year of Plenty, I found a kindred spirit in my motivation towards green living.

I love that Goodwin calls on the important role of the church in green issues. I have long felt the same way, but it seems to be a minority opinion in the church.

For Goodwin, people and relationships are the primary motivations for the decisions he and his family make. I love that. I’m naturally task-oriented, but I believe that God should come first and other people second in any  action (or inaction).

I think we can all benefit from being in closer contact to the sources of our food. As Goodwin says, “I wonder what it would be like if all of us imagined ourselves as farmers, caretakers and stewards of the land and animals that provide us with food.” – p. 152

As you can tell, both Amanda and I highly recommend picking this book up!

Always a Hypocrite

hand striving toward the sky

Amanda and I were very intentional when we named this blog. We both strive to be good stewards of the resources in our care.

The more I read and study, the loftier my ideals have become. Most recently, I’ve focused on giving up food waste,  increasing the amount of my own food that I grow and investing in a bike so that I can increase the number of car-less trips I make.

I also want to figure out how I can eat less meat, give more money and reduce how much I own. I don’t want to forget that I still want to research how to use less plastic, buy less from companies that don’t share my values and eat less processed foods.

Easy, right?

These are all great things, but I often struggle with the thought that I’m not doing enough. I’m doing more than I did before, but by far not as much as  I want. Just as I desire in other areas of my life, I want to be perfect.

But I know that I’ll always be a hypocrite.

How could I not be? I set the standards I aspire to so high that no one can reach (least of all me).

I’m okay with that. Because each time I fail, it reminds me that I’m not the savior, but that I need a Savior. Even if I were able to live up to all my ideals (and any others that I may gain in the future), I still wouldn’t be able to save the world. I was never meant to play that role.

That said, I don’t want to go the other way, throwing my hands up in the air and saying, “Why bother?” Though I’m not designed to save the world, God has called me to be faithful to him. I am responsible for the knowledge and things he’s given me. To use these gifts however I wish would be to selfishly tell God and others that I’m  most important .

With his grace, I will continue to seek to be faithful with what I’m given with my eyes set on Christ, relying on Him for help.

Photo by paul quinn

Joint Book Review: Radical by David Platt

radicalFebruary’s joint book review is a book that both of us have read several times: Radical by David Platt. Though it’s first a book about radical devotion to Christ (as opposed to the American Dream), it’s been influential in our journey towards being better stewards.

Particularly relevant to this blog is the chapter, “How Much is Enough? American Wealth in a World of Poverty.”

Ronnica’s Take

As a member of a Southern Baptist church, I’m very thankful for people like David Platt. I hate that American Christianity as a whole (and evangelicals and Southern Baptists in particular) have been slow to recognize our responsibility to the greater world to change our consumption habits. I think this is an absolute shame. I don’t want to find my allies in green causes outside the church, but that is largely where I have found them to this point.

There are two points that Platt makes that especially spoke to me upon this rereading. The first is that American Christians have gone way off course in following our culture into obsessive materialism. Our lifestyles should indicate that there is something greater than things, but that’s a hard point to make when we live in the same 4,000-square-foot homes bulging with stuff and drive the same high-debt, over-polluting vehicles.

The second point that stood out to me this time is that following Christ demands great sacrifice. God doesn’t just want a couple of hours a week and 10% of our paycheck. He wants it all. How can I deny Him who has given me “life and breath and all things” (Acts 17:25)?

It goes without saying that I recommend Radical. I’ll end my section with a great quote:

“There is never going to come a day when I stand before God and he looks at me and says, ‘I wish you would have kept more for yourself.’ ” – p.123

Amanda’s Take

Full disclosure:  when I first delved into this book, I almost stopped reading before I hit the second chapter.  The first thought that came to mind was, “This is why Ronnica and I can’t discuss religion.”  I come from a more liberal branch of Christianity, and much of the theology Platt teaches runs contrary to my own belief system.  I especially struggle with his beliefs regarding salvation and eternal life.

So why then do I reread this book at least once a year and recommend it so highly?

For the underlying message of turning away from the American Dream toward a more fulfilling way of living out my faith.  

As Ronnica notes, the American Dream has become increasingly “increased.”  No more does the traditional view of the American Dream (working hard, succeeding on your own terms) hold sway.  These days, American Christians (and non-Christians) seem to live in a way entirely antithetical to the Gospel–huge homes, huge amounts of debt, focusing on the “me” rather than the “we” in issues like the environment.  It’s something I struggle with daily as well–it’s part of being a sinner and saint.

Platt provides a refreshing perspective in this regard, emphasizing that being a follower of Christ does, indeed, require great sacrifice.  That’s something I can get behind, regardless of the theology I ascribe to.

Although each chapter has a good “take-away message”, I agree that the chapter on American wealth in a world of poverty is the one that spoke to me the most, and is certainly most relevant to this blog.  It is difficult to follow a man who emphasized the non-earthly when the focus all around us is on the earthly.

This book is a great read for anyone needing a good, faith-based reality check on the American way.  And, on a personal note, it also started a great dialogue on faith between my sister-in-law and me.

New Year Thoughts, Ronnica’s Take

Happy 2015! Last year was such a year of change for me: new state, apartment, job and church. I hope this year will be one of establishing myself here in Colorado.

I love Christmas and all its festivities, but I also love the new start a new year can bring. It’s the promise that I can be a new person, the person I failed to be the year before.

Each new year I make up a list of things I want to do in the new year. These resolutions are supposed to guide me into that person that I want to be. Each year I was able to keep those rules for a week, a month or even several months, but ultimately, I fail.

detailed listsNo matter what rules I put in place, they’re never enough to set me on the path I want to be on. Rules and resolutions can’t save me.

As a Christian, I know that only Jesus Christ and his death on the cross saves me. In the same way, our gracious God and his power is all that can transform me into a godly woman.

But I’m a recovering legalist. I know that my self-made rules won’t make me the woman I want to be, but I return to them over and over again. I’ve only blogged here for two months, but that’s probably long enough to make that clear.

So instead of setting several rule-based resolutions this year, I’m only going to make one. May God be more glorified in my life this year as I seek Him and share the grace I have received with others.

While the rules won’t change me, Christ can. And he has promised he will. While I won’t be fully transformed until after death, I can take comfort that God will continue to grow and mold me as long as I live.

Photo by George Redgrave