God is always messing with my little family.
Two years ago, our baby church plant housed over 80 evacuees from Hurricane Ike; we took in twelve of them. We’d moved our three kids into our bedroom, washed sheets, blew up mattresses, rolled out sleeping bags, and readied the house for an onslaught. As carloads arrived and we welcomed them in, one ten-year-old boy walked in our home, looked around with huge eyes, and hollered:
“Dad! This white dude is RICH!”
For years I didn’t realize this, because so many others had more. We were surrounded by extreme affluence, which tricks you into thinking you’re in the middle of the pack. How can I be socially responsible if unaware that I reside in the top percentage of wealth in the world? (You probably do too: Make $35,000 a year? Top 4%. $50,000? Top 1%.) Excess has impaired perspective in America; we are the richest people on earth, praying to get richer. What does it communicate when half the global population lives on less than $2 a day, and we can’t manage a fulfilling life on 25,000 times that amount? 50,000 times that amount?
It says we have too much and it is ruining us.
Enter: Seven, a crazy little project in the Hatmaker family. Seven months, seven areas of excess, reduced to seven simple choices:
Month one: Food – We ate only seven foods. For the love of Moses!
Month two: Clothes – We wore the same seven items of clothes. No, I am not kidding.
Month three: Possessions – We gave away seven things a day that we owned.
Month four: Media – We took away seven forms of media, gaming, and social networking and went radio silent. The kids feigned aneurysms.
Month five: Spending – We spent money in only seven places. (We missed you, Chick-Fil-A!)
Month six: Waste – We adopted seven substantial habits for a greener life, including gardening, composting, extensive recycling, and buying only thrift or local.
Month seven: Stress – We followed the Seven Sacred Pauses, pausing for prayer and worship seven times a day, in addition to observing the traditional Sabbath each week.
How do I summarize Seven, an experiment that has forever altered our lives? The practice of reducing and simplifying has left us with a huge list of reforms and new habits and practices. Not to mention the crash course I’ve received on the economy and capitalism and alternative fuels and sustainable farming and neurological processes and industrialized food and local economics and consumer trends and ancient liturgy. I’ve read precision analogy by global economists and rhythmic prayer poetry by a monastic nun. I’ve digested articles by farmers, food lobbyists, social activists, missionaries, financial advisors, marketing analysts, pastors, insurgents, doctors, ecologists, waste managers, priests, advocates, nonprofit leaders, documentary makers, politicians, revolutionaries, troublemakers, and dreamers. I’ve ingested information through a fire hose and find myself sputtering and gasping. However, after curbing my appetites for so long, I’ve discovered my appetites have changed.
My heart is so hungry to raise children who aren’t addicted to the American Dream, but to the Kingdom of Jesus. I don’t want them to undergo a radical experiment in their 30’s just to undo the damage already done. Before life saddles them with spouses and children and careers, and self-absorption becomes nearly inevitable, I want to give them a worldview that begins and ends with the mission of Jesus.
Seven taught us that we can reduce, live with less, treat the earth and its inhabitants with integrity, and sacrifice none of the good parts of the story. In fact, there is a better story than we ever imagined. Evidently, there is more than the American Dream. Jesus has invited us into a radical, exciting, dangerous, and unpredictable adventure, becoming Good News to the poor and proclaiming release for the captives.
What’s next? We’re not sure. Seven was a preparation; not an end in itself. We aren’t living in a van down by the river. I’m not sewing my kids’ clothes. I’m still wearing makeup. But God has rendered our hearts, and we will never be the same. We sit now in the starting blocks, ready for what is coming, saying, “Lord, teach us to be Repairers of Broken Walls and Restorers of Streets with Dwellings.”
Seven Things My Kids Learned through Seven
• They could go without Xbox, PSP, Wii, the Disney Channel, email, and texting, and the earth would not be sucked into a black hole of quantum nothingness.
• They can give away a ton of their stuff and not only never miss it, but still be stunned by how much is left.
• Not spending money at a single restaurant, theater, store, or event for a month is haaaaaaaaard. (Okay, maybe that was my lesson.)
• The only way to keep squash bores from wrecking your freshly planted summer squash is by cutting them out with a knife and squeezing them between your fingers until they pop. Which zero children would do. So they learned how to pull weeds.
• Even though one son declared, “You’re ruining our lives!” at the beginning of 7, by the end, even he made a long list of best moments.
• Their favorite element was observing the Sabbath, beginning with dinner Friday night; the fancy dishes, the candles, the readings, the big meal…they were over the moon.
• Even when you strip away a lot of the glitz and excess, the precious parts of life remain. We laughed, played games, took walks, put on plays, cooked together, read books out loud, went to Farmer’s Markets, gardened, created, and grew together. For the win…Seven.
Annual US spending on cosmetics: 8 billion
Basic education for all global children: 6 billion
Annual US and European spending on perfume: 12 billion
Clean water for all global citizens 9 billion
Annual US and European spending on pet food: 17 billion
Reproductive health for all women: 12 billion
A report from The United Nations: “Today’s consumption is undermining the environmental resource base. It is exacerbating inequalities. And the dynamics of the consumption-poverty-inequality-environment nexus are accelerating. If the trends continue without change — not redistributing from high-income to low-income consumers, not shifting from polluting to cleaner goods and production technologies, not promoting goods that empower poor producers, not shifting priority from consumption for conspicuous display to meeting basic needs — today’s problems of consumption and human development will worsen. The real issue is not consumption itself but its patterns and effects. Inequalities in consumption are stark. Globally, the 20% of the world’s people in the highest-income countries account for 86% of total private consumption expenditures — the poorest 20% a minuscule 1.3%.”
Jen Hatmaker lives in Austin, TX with her husband Brandon and their five children: three the old-fashioned way and two adopted from Ethiopia. She is the author of nine books including A Modern Girl’s Guide to Bible Study and Interrupted. This project resulted in her latest book: 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. Check out more of what Jen’s doing on her website http://jenhatmaker.com/