The Big Exhale: Reimagining Being Human

Where do you come up with your most creative insights? For me, it’s when I’m moving — walking, running, cycling, you get the picture. At the end of October, I was out on a walk, traipsing through the forest, and venting internally about how my finances had gotten out of hand. I had said yes to too many things and realized I could no longer say yes to the people who mattered more. In a moment of humility, I asked the Lord how I could re-partner with Him in my finances. He offered, “How about a No Shop November?” The simple brilliance of the challenge awakened in me fresh hope that maybe I could reimagine my finances. What I didn’t expect was how it would renovate my heart and relationship with God.

What is a No Shop November?

It’s really quite simple: don’t shop for a month. I still paid my bills, bought gas for commuting, and purchased just enough groceries to last the month. I sought to use up what was in my freezer, fridge, and cupboards first, and then to only purchase what I needed to make simple meals. I didn’t spend money on eating out, clothes or shoes or extras, professional services, ticketed events, or anything that wasn’t absolutely essential to get through the month. Some of the items that had to wait were batteries, chocolate, craft supplies, my preferred deodorant (don’t worry, I used what I had), and a haircut.

How did it go?

To be honest, at first it was difficult. There were several opportunities at the beginning of the month where it would’ve been easy to eat out or purchase a hot drink with friends. I was tempted by the sales and offers landing in my email inbox. It shocked me how this simple challenge exposed my consumption habits. But it got easier over time. I grew in patience and creativity. And it created space for God to show up with a few surprises.

Okay, but how did this renovate your heart?

The change was gradual, but by exposing my consumption habits, it revealed my true values —
not the ones I talk about and imagine myself embodying. It exposed what my real priorities in life were, some that I’d prefer to hide and cover up. By bringing these habits to light, I recognized the gap between what I want to live for and what the raw data proved. It was embarrassing at first, but gave me the incentive I needed to make the change to align my daily actions with my stated values.

One of the daily actions I was required to exercise was patience. Waiting has a way of humbling our hearts. It required that I exercise the discipline of saying no which is not always easy. But as I worked at it, my resolve grew stronger, and I began to enjoy the strength and freedom I found in saying “no.”

I was amazed at how much more spare time I had. And so, I was free to let the creative juices flow. There were moments I needed to be really resourceful, but even in that, I discovered that I was able to utilize what I already had and produce less waste. By taking the time to be creative, I felt a huge sense of accomplishment. It was a subtle, yet significant shift from living as a consumer to a creator. Whether in my kitchen, at my sewing machine, or through finding free ways to bless my friends, I began to discover the joy of using my time to create good.

Not only did the spare time from not shopping fostered creativity, it also cultivated space to hear and receive from God. I found there was less noise in my life, so I could hear the Lord speak more clearly. One such moment was quite significant. When asking him what He wanted to say, He replied with two simple words: “I’m here.” Immanuel. It was a reminder that my greatest possession was already in my midst. The greatest gift had already arrived. He showed me, once again, how He is enough.

Not only did He gift me with His Presence, throughout the month, my eyes were opened to the presents He continually poured out. Within the first few days I was offered a free hotel stay, box seat concert tickets (including popcorn), and handmade earrings. This was followed by a free estate planning session with complimentary will notarization, lovely meal invitations from friends, and a beautiful piece of gold jewelry. I believe that God was waiting to shower me with these gifts of love when I was in a space where I could truly receive them and recognize that they came from His heart. Isaiah 30 reveals how this is the way God often works:

This is what the Sovereign Lord,
the Holy One of Israel, says:
“Only in returning to me
and resting in me will you be saved.
In quietness and confidence is your strength.
But you would have none of it.
You said, ‘No, we will get our help from Egypt.
They will give us swift horses for riding into battle.’
But the only swiftness you are going to see
is the swiftness of your enemies chasing you!”

So the Lord must wait for you to come to him
so he can show you his love and compassion.
For the Lord is a faithful God.
Blessed are those who wait for his help.

The truth is that it is easy to look to the Egypt of our day for help. We look online, to social influencers, or to our own efforts to somehow give our lives meaning and fill the void in our hearts. And yet, the pursuit ensnares us with busy care and endless effort. Suddenly everything in our lives becomes overly important and we busy ourselves with more than is actually necessary because we want to feel important. We pursue and acquire to try to become more than we are. As Alan Fadling has discerningly stated, “The drive to possess is an engine for hurry.” It’s never enough. The false saviors that we chase end up chasing us. And so, the Lord waits. He faithfully and patiently watches for the moment when we’ll quietly return to His rest and allow Him to shower us with His love and compassion.

So how does this relate to social justice?

Buckminster Fuller once said, “To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” In a sense, taking up the No Spend November Challenge created a new model for living. It shook the old structures and built new rhythms of simplicity and contributing.

Our daily patterns carve a path for either justice or oppression. The decisions we make are never in a vacuum. We can make a difference. It all begins with changing an area in our lives that is currently moving away from justice, and shifting the trajectory. The point of all this to do something. It doesn’t matter so much what you know. It matters what you do with what you know.

Easy for you to say. How does this work in real life?

I recognize that we each live a uniquely different life. A No Spend Challenge may not be possible in your current situation. However, I encourage you to consider if you can apply one of the lessons. Some suggestions are:
● Take stock of your consumption habits and look for ways in which you can live more simply
● Carve out some finances to give generously
● Exercise your patience muscle and say no (or wait) a little more often
● Enjoy being creative—using what you have first
● Celebrate what you have been given and look for daily gifts of grace
● Seek to create a pocket of space in your life where you intentionally listen for God’s whisper

If possible, I encourage you to take up the No Spend Challenge. Consider a Just January, Frugal February, or Minimal March. During the month, take note of how your heart is responding and what insights you discover. The JustUs team would love to know how it goes! Feel free to reply to this blog post so we can encourage you along the way!

And remember, it all starts with simply one step in the right direction. For as Winnie the Pooh so brilliantly said, “I always get to where I’m going by walking away from where I have been.”