Do you think you live a life of profligate excess when it comes to food, clothes, possessions, media, spending, waste, and stress? Probably not. You’re maybe even on the minimalist side compared to other people, right?
In her excellent and thought-provoking book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, Jen Hatmaker turns that common comfort level upside down. She and her family took seven month-long fasts in the seven areas I named above, paring each area down to seven items for the month and seeing how God would use the extra time, extra money, extra possessions, and extra mindfulness. The book contains her writing about what they learned.
The book is not prescriptive in the least – Hatmaker doesn’t think every family should attempt this, or that if you do your areas of concern will be the same. Chances are you will not agree with all of her conclusions or feel compelled to replicate her family’s choices. That said, you will not fail to be challenged to think deeply about how you live in the world and how others live.
I was really convicted by the ways the author writes about the poor and marginalized in her community and around the world. I actually cried at three places in the book (and it’s really rare for me to cry from books) and that itself reminded me how often I am too busy to be heartbroken about the things that break God’s heart. It was amazing to read how God used the family’s fasting to make them more aware and open to ways they could serve as a family.
Of course we grow accustomed to thinking of our own consumption relative to our society, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have areas of excess and unreasonable focus. For example, I used to congratulate myself that our house is not cluttered, but then when we thought we would put the house on the market I started digging in to closets and took no fewer than EIGHT van loads (yes, van loads) of stuff to Goodwill. Did we have excess? You bet.
Speaking of Goodwill, Hatmaker makes the excellent point that if you can, it’s great to find specific people or groups who need what you have rather than dumping stuff off at Goodwill. For example, during the month her family purged over 1,000 items from their home (and she says they still had way more they could or should let go of) she found out that a single mom and two kids in her child’s friend group were barely making it with a teeny room rented and not much else. Within a few days of finding this out, the Hatmakers and some other from their church completely furnished the apartment and brought clothes for the kids and so forth – not broken down junk, but actual nice stuff they took right out of their living rooms. The little girl turned to her mom and said “Mom, these people are Christians.”
Throughout the book, Hatmaker writes well and with humor and humility, and makes the motivations behind the family project clear. I found the book challenging – both in my perspective on consumption and on the way I think about other people in my community and around the world. I think just about anyone in the West could benefit from thinking deeply about these topics, whether or not you decide to go on a similar fast. For it’s thoughtfulness and unusual perspective, I think I will put this book on my top reads for 2012 list.
If you read 7, let me know what you think. I’d love to discuss it with someone!
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