Dos & Don’ts Going Forward

5You humble yourselves

by going through the motions of penance,

bowing your heads

like reeds bending in the wind.

You dress in burlap

and cover yourselves with ashes.

Is this what you call fasting?

Do you really think this will please the LORD?

6“No, this is the kind of fasting I want:

Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;

lighten the burden of those who work for you.

Let the oppressed go free,

and remove the chains that bind people.

7Share your food with the hungry,

and give shelter to the homeless.

Give clothes to those who need them,

and do not hide from relatives who need your help.

The above is a passage of scripture from Isaiah 53. Isaiah, a prophet, is telling the people what God wants to say to them, and God is mad at their hypocrisy. They had a tradition of “acting pious”: going to temple every day and making this big ceremonial deal of their no-spend mon- er… I mean, their fasting, and God is like, IS THIS THE RELIGION I WANT?

Even while you fast,

you keep oppressing your workers.

You can look real shiny on the outside, and wear all those things that makes people know: Yea, they’re good! But then you’re a jerk. You’re a self-involved jackass that treats people like crap and is dressing in burlap because it makes you look good.

Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!

10Feed the hungry,

and help those in trouble.

Sharing your food with the hungry is mentioned twice. Repetition in the Bible is kind of like, underlining, bolding, italicizing, increasing the font size, highlighting in yellow, and putting it on a magnet and sticking it on your fridge.

So … there’s that.

So here are some dos & don’ts, modified from the email I got today from Ruth Soukrup’s blog, Living Well & Spending Less.

What to do: Do a regular inventory of your pantry and freezer, so that you can use what you have, and quit storing things like it’s the apocalypse. You’ll have an emptier fridge, and a pantry that doesn’t look like Hoarders, but the point isn’t tidiness.
Why do it: You’llspend less on your grocery bill, freeing that money up to donate to the food bank, or feed the hungry some other way.

What to do: Curate your clothes. I’ve been using the Konmari Method (does this bring me joy?). You’ll have fewer clothes: laundry will go faster and putting things away will be easier.
Why do it: You’ll have more time to spend on people rather than things. 

“only spend money on items you truly need that are quality made and will last. No more buying simply because it was on sale.” (emphasis mine)

What to do: Gifts for birthdays and Christmas: DIY. Last year my brother-in-law’s girlfriend made each of the siblings cookies – seriously, so simple, and yet perfect. We ended up doing a cookie exchange because we all got different kinds. It was so much fun and memorable. I want to do something hand-made this year, crafting brings me joy. Another great quote from Ruth:

Think of ways you can give of yourself, rather than resort to another gift card or store-bought item. Learn a new craft and use those skills to create gifts for the next holiday or birthday.

Why do it: 

There is a promise attached to all this. It is God himself. Do this, get Him.

May God’s will be done.

“Then your salvation will come like the dawn,

and your wounds will quickly heal.

Your godliness will lead you forward,

and the glory of the LORD will protect you from behind.

9Then when you call, the LORD will answer.

‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply.

“Remove the heavy yoke of oppression.

Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!

10Feed the hungry,

and help those in trouble.

Then your light will shine out from the darkness,

and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.

11The LORD will guide you continually,

giving you water when you are dry

and restoring your strength.

You will be like a well-watered garden,

like an ever-flowing spring.

My name is Christine, and I am a Consumer.

Here are some reflections on the month of no spending as I near the end.

The world I live in looks like one big shopping mall

Unrequested, flyers are delivered to my doorstep almost every day. And you know what? I finally read them. I decided for our next kettle I want one that has a variable temperature setting for green tea, and aaaaaaaaaaaaggggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhh….Canadian Tire how do you know how to show me what I didn’t know I neeeeeeededdd.

canadiantireflyer

My work is within a comfortable walking distance of Yonge Street, a cornucopia of adorable unique shops and coffee shops and restaurants. I almost justified buying stuff from Roots because they had a 40% off sale. Then I realized the sale was only 25% off, and I felt strong enough to resist. Clearly my integrity has a price, and it’s 40% off.

I go to the gym three times a week in a strip mall. Even in the gym, there are things for sale: clothes, meal replacement and snack bars (chocolate mint!!!), and this past week has been a bake sale (!!!) to raise money for breast cancer.

curves bar

I pick up my medication in a Shopper’s Drug Mart, which sells absolutely everything under the sun.

I am not just shaped by my culture. I am not just “influenced” by it. I am a PRODUCT off my culture. And what does our culture make? Consumers, of whom I am the worst.

CONSUMERISM. 1. the promotion of the consumer’s interests. 2. the theory that an increasing consumption of goods is economically desirable; also : a preoccupation with and an inclination toward the buying of consumer goods.

fomo-necklace

FOMO

Even though I bought things for my dad, or for my job, and went out to social events (in order to not socially isolate myself in an attempt to spend less), I still felt like I was missing out. It felt unnatural, like I was depriving myself of something good. This is – honestly – not a challenge I could have accomplished while struggling with anxiety like I was a year ago.

And here’s the crazy thing. I’d find myself scrolling through websites, pinning things, and doing research on products, and adding items to my favourites on Etsy, because I knew the month would eventually end. Other days, I would open up a website and eventually get bored because I knew I couldn’t make the purchase. That high, that satisfaction from “getting” something, wasn’t available to me.

My entire life, it seems, has been built around deals and shopping on my way to or from other destinations. It was a habit so deeply ingrained I wasn’t even aware of how I taught myself to know all the stores in my neighbourhood and what they sold, so could mentally go through a check-list to see if I “needed” anything when I drove past.

The sad reality

I felt like I had more time. That’s right, the constant QUEST to search out and find the next thing I “needed” and to get it “on sale” (if possible) took time. So. Much. Time.

With that time I was more creative with what I already owned. I used my art supplies and started watercolour painting for the first time. I created meals I’d never made before to use up freezer foods and pantry items. I wrote a letter to my sponsor child for the first time and mailed it. I started my first sewing project in a year using supplies I already had. I even read the books I’ve been waiting to have “time” to read.

Consumerism, it turns out, makes us fairly boring people. I know the appeal – trust me, I know the appeal – it gives you a sense of security, your possessions become part of your identity. New, shiny, beautiful, functional, cool, whatever it is, you get to share in that glory when you own that thing. We strive to have the right stuff, to curate our image – which is really an image of us with our stuff.

This is u.

This is u.

But then life is short, and maybe we should be a bit more of a homebody, inviting people in to our kitchens, inviting people over to chat and play some old board games. Maybe we should have “down time” to explore the art supplies in our closet, or the books on our shelf we wanted to read. Time to be “bored” so-to-speak so that we can have some peace and rest. To have enough time to go for a walk because there’s nothing more pressing to do.

When I talk about giving money away 

The “No Spend” part of the “Living Well Spending Zero” challenge suggested that I don’t purchase things for myself. But it doesn’t say anything about giving my money away for nothing in return.

When charities asked for money, when people were fundraising, I gave, and I gave freely, without thinking too much about it, because I knew I had not spent what I normally spent on myself. I was USED to spending. It came easily. But this month, I wasn’t obsessing over what I might want/need, so I was more open to listening to the needs of others (and not surprisingly, their needs were way more compelling).  Key to this freedom to give, I believe, was that I realized just how much I had. At the beginning of the month I did an inventory. I have a drug-store’s worth of first aid and cold and headache medicine. I have a full pantry (slightly less full now, but still surprisingly full). I had a full freezer. I knew I had enough.

And I suppose when you know you have enough, you can be more free to meet the needs of others.

Would I do it again? Yes. Will and I are already talking about doing it again next year. The coolest part? I realized I could save AND give more money away, if I just didn’t buy clothes for a month or go out to restaurants. Now THAT does more for inner peace than a thousand McDonald’s coffees.

Perpetually Dissatisfied

some truth from a sermon by Tim Keller.

In every single one of us there is a raging thirst. There is an unquenchable all consuming thirst, that eventually – if it’s not spiritually dealt with, if there is not a supernatural intervention of your life – eventually you will find nothing good enough. It will make you unhappy with anything. Food from heaven, paradise itself. You will never be satisfied. We have an infinite capacity for boredom, for irritability with the best things.

This syndrome, this sickness we all have develops and progresses faster if you’re successful. The more successful you are the more you come to realize you have a bottomless pit inside. You have a black hole. An infinite vacuum. You put someone or something in there, and at first it’s great, and then you detest it. At first she’s great, he’s great, it’s great, and then you find fault, and you don’t like it, and you want it to go away.

It goes faster if we are successful, but we are all on our way. Unless there is some sort of treatment or intervention we are on our way to being unhappy with everything, nothing will be good enough. This is the reason why we’re so unhappy with where we are in our career, but would be more unhappy the further up we go. This is the reason why we’re unhappy with our spouse, or with our singleness, or with how we look. We’ll never be satisfied because there is something in your centre that is sick. There is a poison in our heart, a raging fever, an all-consuming unquenchable fire that devours everything you throw in there. And nothing will be good enough, until we get treatment. 

There are three prerequisites for healing.

  1. Trouble. The basic principle is that trouble wakes you up to your need. You don’t see what’s wrong or are willing to admit the diagnosis until you start to die.  Almost all spiritual growth happens because something comes into your life that forces you to go to the great physician. This was the first prep for the healing of any spiritual trouble, the material trouble or circumstantial or social or economic or physical trouble. Trouble that wakes you up.
  2. Friendships Kept in Good Repair. You almost never have life-changing encounters with God without friends. The way you meet God the first time is almost always through friends – friends who help you process, who listen, who argue with you, sympathize with you, that might be a bit further ahead than you spiritually. You can’t face the troubles of life, the difficulties of the wilderness without friends. They support you and pray for you and build you up. However, friendships are like houses – they require maintenance, upkeep, they automatically deteriorate and you need to work on them. Unless you’re constantly keeping your friendships in repair, saying sorry, asking for forgiveness, telling people when they’ve sinned against you or you’ve sinned against them, unless you’re continually doing spiritual repair they won’t be there for you to do spiritual healing. Soul repair is made possible by constant friendship repair. Your typical New Yorker doesn’t tell friends about their presence at church. But this whole spiritual journey will go a lot slower if you don’t have friends. You need to make friends at church. Go to small groups. Have people that can help you process and think out and work out what you’re hearing and find out how they work it into their lives. Not only does it take longer without friends, but your spiritual search may not have a successful end without friends.  “This is what I don’t like about church. All this repair work. Rubs and snubs and reconciliation. It shouldn’t be this hard!” Yes, it should. Let me show you why: (a quote by Don Carson) “The reason why there’s so many exhortations for Christians to love other Christians because the church is made up of natural enemies. The church of Jesus Christ is not made up of natural friends, but natural enemies. What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income, common politics, common nationalities, common jobs or anything else of that sort. Those are the things that bind other groups of people together. Christians come together because they have all been saved by Jesus Christ and owe him a common allegiance. In this life we should understand the church to be a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake.” The fact that keeping your friendships in repair in the church is such hard work is not a sign that it’s a bad place but actually a sign that it’s supernaturally created, better place. It’s harder in here than out there, but there are people in here that you would never know otherwise. If on the basis of Jesus you keep your spiritual friendships in repair, they are the ones that can help you, the ones that you can have strength. 
  3. The End of Blame Shifting. They know their problems are self-induced. There is not a word of excuse. “We sinned.” Spiritual healing starts when blame-shifting stops, and not til then.

What is the treatment? What is the medicine? Jesus took the poison on himself. He became sin, who knew no sin. He became sin on the cross. He got what evil and sin deserves. He said, “I thirst.” Jesus got the soul-poison, the all-consuming thirst of infinite dissatisfaction. He said, “You have forsaken me.” He got the hell of eternal dislocation. He experienced it so that we could be healed. He got what we deserved so that we could be healed.

“By his stripes we are healed.”

He carried our diseases.

Why can’t God just forgive? Whenever someone wrongs somebody, there is a loss. There is a cost. Either the wronger or the forgiver will bear the cost, but the cost doesn’t go away. Either you bear the cost or I bear the cost. No one “just forgives.” The forgiver always bears, absorbs the cost. God forgives us by lifting up Jesus, endures the infinite thirst. The eternal, ultimate, spiritual, cosmic hell on the cross.

How do we get this medicine? “Look.” “So whoever believes in him will have eternal life.” You don’t need only to be forgiven, you need to be repaired. You don’t just need to be pardoned, you need to be healed, restored to life. It’s “looking” rather than “doing.” What we need is to be born again. No one plans or strives or performs their own birth. It is the labour and love and planning of someone else. We get the medicine by stopping “doing” and starting “looking.” We’re born again in an instant. We are born by the labour and suffering of someone else.

Charles Spurgeon was out walking once, during a snow storm, and stopped in a small church.

The minister did not come that morning; he was snowed up, I suppose. At last a very thin-looking man, a shoemaker, or tailor, or something of that sort, went up into the pulpit to preach. Now it is well that preachers be instructed, but this man was really stupid. He was obliged to stick to his text, for the simple reason that he had little else to say. The text was—“LOOK UNTO ME, AND BE YE SAVED, ALL THE ENDS OF THE EARTH” (Isa. 45:22)

He did not even pronounce the words rightly, but that did not matter. There was, I thought, a glimmer of hope for me in that text.

The preacher began thus: “This is a very simple text indeed. It says ‘Look.’ Now lookin’ don’t take a deal of pain. It aint liftin’ your foot or your finger; it is just ‘Look.’ Well, a man needn’t go to College to learn to look. You may be the biggest fool, and yet you can look. A man needn’t be worth a thousand a year to look. Anyone can look; even a child can look.

“But then the text says, ‘Look unto Me.’ Ay!” he said in broad Essex, “many on ye are lookin’ to yourselves, but it’s no use lookin’ there. You’ll never find any comfort in yourselves. Some say look to God the Father. No, look to Him by-and-by. Jesus Christ says, ‘Look unto Me.’ Some on ye say ‘We must wait for the Spirit’s workin.’ You have no business with that just now. Look to Christ. The text says, ‘Look unto Me.’ “

Then the good man followed up his text in this way: “Look unto Me; I am sweatin’ great drops of blood. Look unto Me; I am hangin’ on the cross. Look unto Me, I am dead and buried. Look unto Me; I rise again. Look unto Me; I ascend to Heaven. Look unto Me; I am sitting at the Father’s right hand. O poor sinner, look unto Me! look unto Me!”

When he had . . . . managed to spin out about ten minutes or so, he was at the end of his tether. Then he looked at me under the gallery, and I daresay with so few present, he knew me to be a stranger.

Just fixing his eyes on me, as if he knew all my heart, he said, “Young man, you look very miserable.” Well, I did, but I had not been accustomed to have remarks made from the pulpit on my personal appearance before. However, it was a good blow, struck right home. He continued, “And you will always be miserable—miserable in life and miserable in death—if you don’t obey my text; but if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved.” Then lifting up his hands, he shouted, as only a Primitive Methodist could do, “Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothing to do but look and live!”

I saw at once the way of salvation. I know not what else he said—I did not take much notice of it—I was so possessed with that one thought . . . . I had been waiting to do fifty things, but when I heard that word, “Look!” what a charming word it seemed to me. Oh! I looked until I could almost have looked my eyes away.

Salvation is not subscribing to doctrine but seeing what he’s done, seeing him sweating drops of blood, seeing him taking the poison for you, now you know your worth, your saviour, the things that used to drive you and used to define you and inflate you and deflate you don’t do that anymore. Your identity has been changed. Not completely – things still drive, define, deflate – then you look again. And the healing continues, and continues, and continues. Look to him. And be ye saved.

This is hard

Day three. I suspect this is what withdrawal feels like. From a heroin addiction.

I never realized how attuned I was to the possibilities of consumption when I drove around. I imagine it comes from that genetic history of hunter-gatherers, constantly on the look-out for where there might be nuts, edible roots, and berries… except for me it’s groceries and coffee shops… those are the things I always scanning the horizon for. And now I’m hyper-aware.

It feels a bit like fasting, where suddenly you really notice just how many advertisements there are for food on television, because you’re sooo hungry.

I wonder what the hunger is that consumerism promises to satisfy?

One of the first CHALLENGES (from the Living Well & Spending Zero blog) that serves as a helpful DISTRACTION and as a practical tool is to create an INVENTORY of your FOOD.

There’s a printable, colourful PDF, or you can draw your own (like I did!)

freezer inventory

What blew my mind is the fact that I intentionally did not stock up and yet my freezer is FULL. And now I’m kind of excited. And I want that donut.

Isn’t it funny how we often have way more than we realize?

UPDATE: I did my Pantry, too.

pantry

“Pennee”

No Spend Month

September for a Children’s Minister is exhilarating and exhausting. At least it is when you’ve decided to start a new curriculum and you have to prep three classrooms-worth of materials every week. It’s been a blast so far, honestly, and I’ve appreciated so much the volunteers that have committed to teach, but these last few days have been the first time I’ve really stopped probably in two months, and that’s because I am very. very. sick.

A woman named Ruth (check out her downloadable PDFs!) has created something called, “31 Days of Living Well & Spending Less,” which I’ve signed up for in an attempt to create some space to think about my finances – right in the midst of the flurry of Halloween, Thanksgiving, and prep for Christmas. Ruth’s blog provides worksheets and a helpful sense of community and daily emails to keep you busy.

I need this. I’ve let my spending go unchecked for a good month and a half now (foregoing recording expenses because “I’m too busy” or “have better things to do”). I know I need to rework my budget. We’re one day in, and already I feel like I have some room to breath. It’s easier to halt the distracting call of consumerism when spending money isn’t even an option. Cataloging “possible” purchases on Pinterest or Etsy; the quest for the perfect purse, or justifying an iPhone 6, or new wardrobe pieces just aren’t on the table right now – I don’t have to worry about it (and I didn’t know I was worrying about it until I stopped).

If you’re anything like me, big things require some time to work up to. I came across the challenge at the end of August and told my husband about it. Emails from Ruth have helped me mentally prepare, and avoid the temptation to stock up. My hubs and I agreed ahead of time we’d buy some sweet potatoes or something to bring to Thanksgiving, but other than that, we’re committed – together – to not spending on non-essentials.

Here are the exceptions we agreed to:

  • obviously, we will pay bills and continue our charitable giving
  • OK to buy: toilet paper, milk, cheese, and fresh fruit
  • gas
  • paint for our living room (a project that’s been in the works for probably the last year)
  • we’re going to see the Martian when it comes out, as we’ve been planning that for months

There is no “good month” for this to take place, and since it’s October, we don’t currently have any plans to buy candy or celebrate Halloween with anything other than decorations we already own. I am looking forward to the challenge of using creativity and resourcefulness to accomplish things without spending money. I’m even cancelling Netflix (gasp) but it’s not that big a deal since I signed up for the free month of Shomi. 😛

I’d invite you to join me for the accountability, but I’d rather just say that I’m trying this and will keep you updated on anything interesting that develops. If it sounds appealing, let me know. It’s like a little bit of lent in October 🙂