I spent this past weekend on retreat with my two housemates and the coordinator of the Boston YAV program at the Agape Community in Ware, Massachusetts. (If you’d like to see more, check out their website here). Agape is a community of Franciscan Catholics that have committed to a life of intentional community and nonviolent pacifism. I realize that is a big sentence and a seemingly unrelatable way of life, but I believe you can always learn something new if you’re open to it. This community lives (almost entirely) on solar energy, wood burning stoves, and homegrown food out of their garden. This simple-living, back-to-the-earth lifestyle seems to be a trend lately, and I can’t say that I hate it. One of the core tenants of my year of service as a YAV is simple living, although we definitely use electricity and grocery stores.
Simplicity is different for each person. For some, it’s solar energy and a vegan diet. For others it may be eating out less or taking shorter showers. It seems to be widely agreed upon by people that simplify their lives that joy is a dependable result. How is it that having less earthly luxuries can make people more joyful? Jesus is pretty clear in his teachings that his followers must give up everything to follow him. Somehow over the years we’ve rationalized that down to tithing 10% which is even a stretch for most. I am definitely not saying that we should all give up our houses and jobs. We don’t live in a world where that’s feasible. But maybe we should take that lesson a little more seriously. There’s some truth to Biggie’s lyric “mo money mo problems”. The Advent season is closely paired with buying and consuming as a way of showing love. I would invite you to think intentionally about places in your life where you can simplify, especially during this time of year. Maybe you donate some clothes overflowing from your closet. Maybe you make coffee at home and donate the $5 usually allocated to Starbucks. Maybe you just turn off the lights in the rooms you’re not using. Simple living doesn’t have to be as radical as it is usually seen. I’ve read a few books about simple living so far this year- Animal, Vegetable, Miracle; A Year of Plenty; and most recently Living More with Less. They’re all great messages, but they may seem a little extreme for the average person. I’m not suggesting you must be a hermit to live an ethical life. Instead I would encourage you to view your habits as a way of expressing your values. Word on the street is that it will make you happier.