Monday, March 14, 2005

Living the Simple Life with Gratitude, Not Guilt

I recently checked a book out of the library entitled, Living Simply with Children: A Voluntary Simplicity Guide for Moms, Dads and Kids Who Want to Reclaim the Bliss of Children and the Joy of Parenting by Marie Sherlock. This sounded like my kind of book. My goal for Sadie (and our future children, D.V.) has always been to offer her a complete, old-fashioned kind of childhood - safe, secure, loving, carefree, wholesome, preserving her innocence, etc. I have long thought that the best way to do this is to live simply - taking joys and sorrows as they come - not complicating her young life with too many flashy toys or overwhelming situations - providing a haven against commercialization and materialism - instilling to the best of my abilities a sense of gratitude based upon strong faith. So far, this lifestyle has been easy to provide, but I know it will get more and more difficult as she gets older and more independent. So, I'm always on the lookout for tips from other parents for achieving this goal, which is why I picked up this book with more than a little interest.

Unfortunately, I was only able to get through the first three chapters before I had to give up in disgust. The lady who wrote this book seemed to have a chip on her shoulder that was a cinder block. Within the first three chapters that I read, she mentioned the current Bush administration three times, never flatteringly. Now, I can understand not liking the Bush administration, but what in the world does that have to do with raising children simply? I mean, I don't like some of the things that have been a part of this President's policies, but in some ways the administration has enhanced my ability to live a simple life. For instance, the tax cuts he advocated have been a real help to our family - any extra money we have to use in our single-income household or give to a charity of our choice is a welcome blessing and takes us closer to the kind of lives we want to live.

Another thing that really bothered me was the attitude throughout the three chapters that seemed to say that we should live simply because most of the rest of the world is in poverty and it's (somehow) all our fault as Americans. Many of the parents whom she quoted in the book were raising their children with this guilt-based philosophy, which I hardly think is a simple way to raise children. What is simple about weighing down a childhood with a sense of guilt everyday? That seems like a way to burden children that is unconscionable. How can children grow up with a sense of optimism and joy under such a dark cloud?

How much better would it be to raise children with gratitude instead of guilt? How much better to instill the virtues of earthly stewardship upon their hearts than the fear of ecological devastation? How much better to teach children to give much because they have been given much by God than to see third-world poverty as somehow their fault? How much better to choose walking and bicycle riding for transportation because of health and family-togetherness than to view automobiles as gas-guzzling destroyers? How much better to introduce them to living with and among animals and let their natural love for God's creation shine through than to somehow say that humans and animals are at odds, with humans always in the wrong?

To me, living simply is about making choices that will enhance your child's innate sense of wonder and joy at the world around them. I think that humans are naturally rather simple - God certainly made us naked and in a garden; what's more simple than that? I think that sin is what leads us to complicate our lives - that desire to over-think and over-do and over-use - to always be looking past what He gives to more, more, more ("I'd rather fight You for something I don't really want, than take what You give that I need." --Rich Mullins, "Hold Me, Jesus"). Also, the sin of wanting to be in control over everything, including other people, to "play God" in other words, is what leads to things like poverty, genocide, mass-disease, etc. If people everywhere were free, if they had economic liberty and political liberty and religious liberty, you would not see such widespread inequality among the nations.

I'll never forget the horrible problem of the starving Ethiopians in the 1980s. For a while, you couldn't turn around without seeing a tragic portrait of a starving child with a bloated belly besieged by flies and filth staring piteously out at you from a magazine cover. Developed nations everywhere, and the United States in particular (as always), sprung into immediate action - poured out their hearts and emptied their wallets at the plight of these innocents. My school had a fund-raiser to send money to a group who would send food to these poor souls. With great zeal, I eagerly followed the news stories of the relief efforts. I was horrified that children should die for lack of food and clean water. Food and supplies were sent in crate after crate after crate - and what happened? If I remember correctly, most of it sat, rotting on the Ethiopian tarmac, unable to reach the needy because a corrupt government was blocking distribution; the rest, I believe went directly to that corrupt government's storehouses and coffers. That taught me a fundamental lesson I shall never forget. I learned that there is not poverty in the world because Americans (read: Christians - those are the only Americans that the gloom-and-doomers like to blame for our manifold "evils") do not fulfill their call to action on behalf of the poor - there is poverty because most of the poor live under such wretched oppression - unable to receive that which Americans (Christians) so freely wish to give.

I do not feel guilty at all for the blessings I enjoy daily, but I am humbled by them and grateful for them. I think that if I were to feel guilty for these gifts, it would be an affront to the Giver. Living life well with a full and giving heart is the greatest proof of His grace. Because my heart is so filled with gratitude, its desire is to serve Jesus as He wills. This is the only way I've found that leads to joy and fulfillment, and it is because the Way found me that I can truly say that I have all that I need in this life. And what is more simple than that?

1 comment:

Serena said...

What an excellent article! I loved your insight.
Love and shalom,