During this Advent season when gift buying and shopping are high priorities, I cannot help but think of St Elizabeth Ann Seton. Her popular quote, “Live simply so others may simply live” resonates within my soul. Do you think St Elizabeth Ann Seton knew (back then) that I would be going out to purchase more Wii games for my kids at $40 a pop? Do you think she knew that I was planning on purchasing stocking stuffers that would amass to some ungodly amount? Do you think she knew that I was going to shop until I dropped on Black Friday? It makes me squirm in my seat to think that I missed the essence in her quote this Advent season. I am giving myself a big guilt trip, but it is true. In the past several years, Pete and I have downsized the gifts to our kids. We have opted for a family trip to somewhere special where we have a little gift exchange. When we get to our destination, we draw names and purchase a $20 gift for that person. Now, since Katie just turned 8, we still put several gifts under the tree for her and stuff stockings, but the stocking stuffers have decreased big time in the last couple years (mostly because we don’t want to tote all that “stuff” home with us from vacation). It didn’t begin because we thought it would bring us closer to God, but it did just that. It has been a great experience. We have found the true meaning of Christmas along the way. It isn’t perfect because we are away from our extended families, but it allows us to refocus on what is the meaning of Christmas. We attend Mass on Christmas morning at a local church and soak in the wonders of the birth of Jesus in a new (church) home each year. It is not centered upon gifts and stuff, but it is centered around God and family.
This makes me think about my everyday life – not just Advent. How can I live more simply so that others can simply live and what on earth does that look like? It sounds a little scary. I can remember in my 20’s living off of minimum wage. I had just graduated from college and moved to Orlando, Florida. What a blessed experience! At the time, it seemed perfect. I ate beans and rice a lot for dinner (because that is all I could afford), and I lived pretty simply. I didn’t go shopping for wants and desires. I went shopping for necessities. My purchases were not centered on credit cards because I didn’t want to go into debt. When my car broke down (which my parents had generously given to me), I couldn’t believe the $900 charge that was slapped in front of me. I remember the mechanic saying, “This is just a quick fix. It will probably happen again.” For the love of Pete! What was I going to do? My $7/hour job was not going to pay for a new car, was it? I dragged myself out to a car dealership and bought the cheapest car on the lot. At least it worked and didn’t need repairs in the near future. I also got a monthly car payment that seemed incredibly high. Ouch. Once again, I needed transportation to work, so my purchase was out of need not desires. I lived very simply. I barely had furnishings for my one bedroom that I rented from a friend, and I had clothes that were probably from my high school years. I knew that living minimally was the answer to my life, but what I didn’t realize is that it would teach me a lesson 20 years later. Every time I think that I cannot live without something I desire, I try to remember those days in my 20’s. I try to remember that life was simple and easy. It wasn’t complicated. My parents had instilled in me the importance of living within my means. Believe it or not, that was actually possible even making $7/hour.
Now, I needed to transfer that to my life today. Living simply not only simplifies our own lives, but it helps others simply live. What on earth does that mean – that we help others simply live? Well, the way I understand it is when we choose not to complicate things with money and “stuff” then we make life a little easier for others too. There isn’t room for “keeping up with the Jones’” if there are no Jones’ to keep up with, right? We all seem to miss the boat (me especially) when we try to make things so complicated. Life on beans and rice isn’t so bad. I didn’t go away hungry. I didn’t worry about what to make that night. My refrigerator certainly wasn’t filled to the top with stuff I might never use. Nope. I had everything I needed: food, shelter and clothes.
Does this mean we should all start throwing away all of our stuff? No, but maybe a little self-inventory of what we have and what we think we “need” might be in order. It might be useful to think about what we are teaching our kids when we provide them with every little desire that they ever could imagine. It might be good to think about the lessons we could teach our kids by living off beans and rice. Beans and rice could segue into a talk on needs versus desires. In today’s society we do not follow St Elizabeth Ann Seton’s advice – live simply so that others may simply live. We do just the opposite – live extravagantly so that others will never be able to live up to your example. I don’t know about you, but I am going to make an extra effort to follow St Elizabeth Ann Seton this coming year. Not only will it bring me closer to God to live on what I need, but it will allow my kids to see that we currently live way beyond our needs (and are weighing down the scale toward desires).
Philippians 4:12:13 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.