(left: me. Right: published author, big time blogger, paid speaker. I’m not jealous or anything)
Several weeks ago I went to hear Jen Hatmaker (Christian author and blogger) speak. A friend of mine had told me about her book, 7, where she attempts to reduce the excess in seven areas of her life as an experiment. I thought the concept was pretty interesting but a little extreme. After I heard her speak I decided to read the book to see what this craziness was all about.
Well, it was crazy and extreme but also eye opening and an interesting read. In her book, Jen describes what seems to be a bit of a personal crisis and recognizes seven areas of her life that seem a tad out of control. Food, clothes, possessions, media, waste, spending and stress. She focuses on each item for one month and reduces that excess down to seven. For example, month one, she eats only seven items of food: chicken, eggs, whole-wheat bread, sweet potatoes, spinach, avocados and apples. Someone call the loony bin, this girl must be koo-koo. How in heaven’s name could anyone eat the same seven foods for one whole month and survive? Oh wait, people all over the world do it on less than that while Americans toss away enough food in one day to feed a remote village in sub-Saharan Africa for a month.
Trying to break down all seven chapters here would take too long. Let’s just say that this experiment in excess is not for the faint of heart. If you are super comfortable in your way of life and level of consumption, and aren’t too concerned with how we treat God’s creation, then this book may not be for you…or maybe it’s just for you. It forced me to take a long, hard look in the mirror and evaluate exactly what I’m doing (or not doing) to better my community and lift up those who have less than me. There were some chapters where I finished and felt like I just received a much needed kick in the pants. Don’t get me wrong, I loved this book. Jen Hatmaker has a hilarious style of writing and can deliver a difficult message with grace that makes you think yes, Jen, I’m going to empty my closet tonight, bring home a troupe of homeless for dinner tomorrow and give away my furniture to the struggling family across town and do it all with a smile on my face and a song in my heart.
No, I didn’t give away all of our furniture but I did a cleanse of my closet. I had what I thought was quite a hefty pile of clothes and then I turned around and saw that I hadn’t even made a dent. I started to clean out the toys and quickly retreated because it all threatened to fall on top of me like an avalanche in the Himalayas. I’m determined to revisit the play room but I’ll need a sherpa to help guide me.
Jen Hatmaker grew up in the church, is married to a pastor and active in her church community. “Church speak” comes very naturally to her so I wasn’t surprised to read about how much God is working in her life, how much she loves Jesus or how she prays over every major life decision from which country to adopt a baby, to where to meet her girlfriends for lunch. If you know exactly what I’m talking about when I use the phrase “she was moved by the Spirit” then you would be right at home with Jen. For those who didn’t grow up in an evangelical environment, “church speak” can be a little alarming and overly touchy-feely at first. You’ll get used to it.
Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:
Month 1 – Food
“I’ve researched super foods and organic produce. I’ve prayed over my choices and here they are: Cheeseburgers, tortilla chips, fresh salsa, mozzarella sticks, veggie lovers pizza, dark chocolate, coffee. I’m kidding, people. These are some of my favorite foods, and I will miss them sorely.”
Month 2 – Clothes
“I suspect God is more glorified in a humble room of earnest worshipers than a massive production designed to sound “relevant” to the listeners but no longer relevant to God. When the worship of God turns into a “worship experience,” we have derailed as the body of Christ.”
Month 3 – Possessions
“Sometimes the best way to bring good news to the poor is to bring actual good news to the poor. It appears a good way to bring relief to the oppressed is to bring real relief to the oppressed. It’s almost like Jesus meant what He said. When you’re desperate, usually the best news you can receive is food, water, shelter. These provisions communicate God’s presence infinitely more than a tract or Christian performance in the local park.”
Month 4 – Media
“I don’t want to be addicted any more, and I certainly don’t want my kids slaves to these compulsions. “Researchers worry that constant digital stimulation like this creates attention problems for children with brains that are still developing, who already struggle to set priorities and resist impulses.” New York Times.
Month 5 – Waste
“If I’m taking cues from many mainstream evangelicals, then only Democrats and loosey-goosey liberals care about the earth”…”I’m beginning to wonder if the unprecedented consumption of the earth’s resources and the cavalier destruction of its natural assets is a spiritual issue as much as environmental.”
“But as certainly as God created man in his image, He first created the earth….He balanced healthy ecosystems with precision and established climates and beauty….So why don’t we care for the earth anywhere near to the degree we do our bodies? Why don’t we fuss and examine and steward creation with the same tenacity? Why aren’t we refusing complicity in the ravaging of our planet?…Why do we mock environmentalists and undermine their passion for conservation? Do we think ourselves so superior to the rest of creation that we are willing to deplete the earth to supply our luxuries?”
Month 6 – Spending
“the earth is groaning, and we’re putting coffee bars in our thirty-five million-dollar sanctuaries. Just because we can have it doesn’t mean we should. I marvel at how out of place simple, humble Jesus would be in today’s American churches.”
“I see three easy shifts we could make, starting today: One, nonconsumption…Two, redirect all that money saved…Three, become wiser consumers.”
Month 7 – Stress
“Kahil Gibran said, “Work is love made visible”; What if we approached our work as an opportunity to show love?”
“You know what’s lame? Jealousy in a grown woman.”
Strike what I said earlier about this book not being for you if you are comfortable in your way of life. Regardless of your level of comfort, savings or spending or lack of regard, or zeal, for the environment…my recommendation it to read it. It’s good to squirm every now and then. It’s good to take a look inward, reevaluate, then look outward with fresh eyes.