How can we live simpler in a world that is demanding that we consume and do so much more? Mother and freelance copywriter, Julie Williams gives us an honest glimpse into how she is grappling with this in her own life.
A funny thing happened as I settled down to write this piece. I was going to fill it with inspiring thoughts on the art of living simply. But then I got blind-sided. By the giant log in my own eye.
You see, my story of living simply is not as simple as I’d like to admit. Let me let you in on some of my struggles, in the hope that we’ll find real simplicity on the other side of complexity…
A few months ago, our beloved domestic help, child minder, kitchen whisperer and general wonder woman of grace, Fez, was diagnosed with cancer. Amidst all the thoughts I have grappled with in response, the one that I have felt most frequently and acutely is this: “Life sucks for me right now.”
Yes. I did just write that. And I’ve thought it a hundred times.
Life sucks. For me. Right now.
As a mother with 3 small kids, and a freelancing career that I juggle between nappy changes, school runs and church meetings, I depend on Fez to keep all the plates spinning. Without her, the plates don’t spin. They just pile up and risk breeding new forms of bacteria that could wipe out half of the human race.
Life does suck when she is not around. But when did my life, and the idea that it should run according to plan, overtake my humanity? When did my (trivial in comparison) needs eclipse her own?
As I’ve wrestled with this question, I’ve begun to see just how entitled I am. And if simplicity is a superpower, entitlement is its cryptonite.
You see, simplicity is about living with others in mind whilst entitlement is all about me.
Entitlement tells us we deserve all the good things we have, and none of the bad. It helps us to constantly justify our insatiable desire for more – and to expect the best of everything as if it were our ‘right’. I may be wrong, but it seems to me that the more we have, the more entitled we can become. I’ve come to this conclusion after witnessing one too many hostile encounters between luxury sedans in the Constantia Village parking lot. In essence, entitlement is the opposite of simplicity – which is rooted in the idea that your needs are not more important than those around you. And hence, you have enough (yes, even you).
Below are three points I want to remember as I attempt to gouge entitlement out of my own life. I suspect, like pulling weeds, it’s going to be a life-long exercise.
1. I have enough. I already have all that I need. I don’t like to admit this but it’s true. Of course, there are tons of things that I would like, but I will never be happier than I choose to be right now, right here – with our siff brown couch, our chipped plates and the oldest car on our road. Replacing these things will feel momentarily wonderful, but that euphoric feeling will wear off quicker than cheap perfume, and in no time, there’ll be other things I feel I should, no, must have in order to be truly happy. Let me be clear here, there’s nothing wrong with getting nice stuff, but in acquiring that stuff, have you cut off your ability to be generous toward others? Get comfortable with the space between what you have and what you want. Settle in there, and don’t try to make it go away too quickly. Remind yourself that the purpose of this life is not to have all your desires met. He who has the most toys at the end of his life is not the winner! This is not being complacent. It’s learning the forgotten art of contentment.
2. People matter most. They matter more than stuff. Much more. And in a country with one of the biggest disparities between rich and poor, it’s inexcusable for me to be overly concerned about a new couch, and not attempt to narrow the gap at some level. How? That’s up to each of us to work out. But work it out, we must. We must aim to simplify our lives so that we can have the means to be generous and let others less fortunate than ourselves share in our good fortune. Does that hurt to think about – let alone do? Good. It should hurt a little when you punch mammon in the face. It will hurt each of us in different ways and to different degrees. Remember that this life is not all there is. And that all that will remain amidst the dust and the bones, the gold teeth fillings and the bronze belt buckles… will be the memories of who and how we loved
3. God simplified. It’s really not about me in the end. Ouch. Again. I am part of a much bigger story. One in which the true hero gave up everything to come and find me. Talk about simplifying life! Christ stepped away from everything he was ‘entitled’ to. Because of love. It’s not because of my hard work that I have, it’s because of God’s kindness toward me. I want to remember a man giving up far more than a latte – but his last breath. For me. I want to lock eyes with that man more often. And in so doing, let the things of this world grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.
– Julie Williams is a part-time freelance copywriter, mother of three and pastor’s wife. She serves on the Common Ground Church leadership team together with her husband, Terran.