You know those embarrassing moments that you keep on file in your mind? They’re the moments you half wish you could reverse and re-do. And yet, they are moments that also make you smile and chuckle a little as you slowly shake your head and groan. I had one of those moments this Christmas.
A group of friends gathered to celebrate the season by giving gifts. One of the friends had packaged her gift to each of us in a similar style gift bag with tissue paper billowing out the top. Someone suggested we take out the tissue paper of our respective gifts on the count of three. What we didn’t realize was that: 1 – the gift was actually wrapped inside the tissue. And 2 – it was fragile. On 3, we lifted the tissue out. However, I lifted mine out with infinitely more gusto and excitement than the rest.
The tissue launched and left my fingers, flew through the air and landed on the rim of my tea mug. What followed was the ear-piercing sound of shattering glass. I looked up in horror and disbelief at the gift-giver’s face, and then we all burst into fits of laughter. I apologized profusely as I unfolded the fragment-filled tissue paper. Inside were the sad remains of a shattered Christmas ball ornament.
The questions I’ve been asking lately are: how can we even recognize the need for justice unless we pay attention enough to really listen? Are we truly hearing the heart-song of those around us? Do we really see poverty for what it is?
Recently I led a vision trip to Rwanda and, as per usual, participants were eager to bring busloads of soccer balls, one thousand pencils, and used clothing to help the poor in this starving African country. We are so quick to band-aid the pain we see, not so much to seek solutions but to ease our own consciences. “We have so much and they have so little!” is a common phrase I hear when we consider those who are economically disadvantaged – until we begin to really see and hear their stories.
While in Rwanda, our team had the privilege of visiting the Azizi Life Village where we spent the day engaging with a collective of artisan women. These women have joined forces and are using their skills to earn an income and support one another in their community.
People often laugh when I tell them that I start my Christmas shopping in July. The way I see it, there is wisdom in strategically evading the raging December rush. What unfolds is a madness that can make even the most passionate shoppers cringe. While the central point of the season is celebration, we often get distracted by a society that screams at us to spend.
This shopping frenzy merely reveals an excessive culture of consumption. We consume more thinking it will somehow make our lives worth more. We fill rooms, garages, and self-storage units. We tell tales of idyllic travel and waste hours finding that online deal. We fill our days but empty our hearts.
Somehow we know there’s a better way to live. We realize we get caught up in a culture that tells us we need more to make up for the things we lack. But as we consume more, we feel emptier which leads to consuming even more. It is time to live differently. We need to consume less, because we know it steals our joy. More than that, our consumption impacts the environment, climate, and the lives of people just like us working in horrendous factory conditions. To change our consumption habits, we must not only retrain our minds, but also uncover our hearts.
In our connected world of breaking news and horrific sights witnessed almost daily, it can feel like there is no space to lament the losses we encounter. We become dull to their impact and hardened to the heartbreak. Oftentimes we prefer it that way. To be moved by every tragedy would crush us. But to refuse to be moved has even worse consequences.
If we are going to live justly in this broken world, we must allow ourselves to be impacted by what we see. Where our world pauses for only a moment, it is increasingly more important to lean into the pain and intentionally pause to lament the injustices we witness. We must give space to lament so that we are both personally changed and also moved to create change.
Out of the stillness a deep Voice speaks, “Where have you come from, and where are you going?”
She turns to see who’s there, but finds no one. There is no one for miles. She is halfway between Shur and nowhere – stopped by a spring in the desert. Her swollen feet scream for rest and her growing belly, alive with new life, demands that she refresh, at least for a short while.
In her exhaustion, she pauses to think, trying to form some sort of plan. She needs some semblance of direction for she doesn’t really know where she is going, but she knows why she is going. If only she had thought this through before she ran away.
Urban culture is currently captivated with a new phenomenon: simplicity. Many are de-cluttering their lives and embracing the capsule wardrobe, simple living, minimalism, clean lines, and bare surfaces.
We can learn a lot from this movement such as: how less is often more, how making space fosters creativity, and how simple living can reveal a rare depth of beauty.
I had a roommate in college, named Mandy, who encapsulated minimalism. Mandy kept a simple quilt on her bed, a few select clothes in her closet, and a photo of her sponsor child on the wall. She stored the obligatory stack of textbooks on a shelf, and from somewhere, a sewing machine would periodically appear on her desk to fashion a thoughtful gift. I was always amazed by how simply she lived, and how that evoked such beauty. Mandy was a clear thinker, a focused individual, an intentional friend, and consistently generous. She laughed easily but didn’t mince words. She kept her eyes keenly fixed on Christ and modelled how the spiritual discipline of simplicity bears the fruit of righteousness (or as I like to break it down) – right living. Mandy’s continued influence reminds me to pursue the most important things, which are often not tangible.