Have you ever read or heard something, maybe saw something, and it made your heart hurt? A deep, raw aching that almost feels like your heart has stopped breathing and there’s this wild desperation for something to change? No? Just me? Okay, well, let me tell you, it sucks. It makes me feel so helpless, hopeless.7

This is what the book, “7” by Jen Hatmaker does to me, every time I read it. Every. Single Time. I’m on my third read through right now and why I continue to put myself through the mess that becomes my heart, I’m not sure why exactly. Probably because it combines my passion for helping those in need and the words of Jesus to help those in need. The breathless heart that comes with it is just a casual side affect. Lucky me.

Basically Jen takes 7 different areas of her life (which also includes her family because as a wife and mom, it’s impossible to separate the two) and reduces them for one month each. Cuts out the crap. Gets rid of the excess. In fact the subtitle of the book is “an experimental mutiny against excess”. We’re talking clothes, spending, waste, food, possessions, media, and stress. The end result? A simpler life. Less stuff. More money. More time as a family. Less stress and more peace. The reason behind it all? Starving children. Homeless people. An earth that is disappearing. Landfills that are taking over. Sick and tired of living a life of consumption while the vast majority of people around the world, even in our own country, have nothing, eat nothing, and die with nothing.

Before talking numbers, let me point out this book was published in 2012 so the following numbers have changed and I’m 100% sure they have not changed in a positive direction. It is only getting worse.

Each month’s area tugs at my heart, but the two that leave it breathless are ‘Waste’ and ‘Spending’.

We are a wasteful nation. I am a wasteful person. I’ve been purging our house slowly but surely the past few months (imagine trying to sort through the closets while trying to keep track of two little people who are also cleaning out everything else. and by cleaning, I mean take everything out of and make a mess, then quickly move on to the next drawer, box, container, cupboard, etc.). I normally feel very victorious doing this. We are simplifying our lives people! We have too much stuff and other people could use it. So I take it to the thrift store that’s closest to me and my burden is lightened.

Except.

Except my newly cleaned out closets don’t really stay cleaned out for long. Life continues and we just replace all that stuff we no longer used with more stuff. Stuff that we wanted. Stuff that we would use, at least for now. And eventually I’ll get to the point of purging the house again. And then we’ll replace it all. Perhaps….perhaps the problem isn’t that our house is too small or that we have too much stuff…perhaps the problem is that we’re continuing to buy more and more stuff in the first place. We are a society that says “if you want it, buy it” and “if it breaks, throw it out and buy a new one”. Heck, just about every week I’m guilty of buying too much produce and throwing some out because it goes bad before I can chop it up and eat it (not to mention those plastic bags in the produce section that we’re supposed to use-waste!). No problem, I’ll just go buy more. Kids didn’t like what I made for dinner? Throw it out and make them a grilled cheese. Meanwhile, 25,000 people EVERY SINGLE DAY (again, these numbers are from 4 years ago) are dying from starvation.

Heck, we buy cereal that comes in two packages-a plastic bag and a box to put around it. Throw the bag away and recycle the box. But do we really need two packages? All in the name of advertising (and don’t tell me advertising doesn’t work. it does, we’re all guilty of being lured to something simply because of advertising)? More waste.

More numbers:

Annual U.S. spending on cosmetics: $8 BILLION (yes, with a B)

Basic education for all global children: $6 BILLION

So we could educate the entire world’s children and still have $2 billion left to spend on cosmetics. Kind of makes that 10th color of eye shadow not seem so important, doesn’t it?

burkina-girls-cirAnnual U.S. and European spending on perfume: $12 billion (my heart…it’s losing breath)

Clean water for all global citizens: $9 billion

I. can’t. breath. We could give clean water to the ENTIRE WORLD and still have $3 billion left to spend on perfume. Jesus, please forgive me. I’m actually not a perfume wearer, but I am guilty. I am guilty of being selfish. I put my need for stuff (seriously, we don’t even NEED perfume) above the very LIFE of someone who needs clean water. Jesus says “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31.

How much do I love myself? Well, enough to make sure I have clean water. Heck, we even have enough water that I let my littles play in a sink with water just to make them happy. I love myself enough that I don’t just wear clothes, but I wear clothes that I like, are comfortable, and don’t have stains or holes in them. I love myself enough that I have a bed to sleep in at night (and the occasional nap I sometimes get). I love myself enough that I buy healthy food, lots of produce (again, that I often let go bad because I don’t feel like chopping or peeling) and eat more food than I need. I love myself enough that I drive my own vehicle while my husband has his own. Our children have enough clothes that I don’t have to do their laundry for almost 2 weeks. Our house not only provides a roof over our head, but we have the luxery of running the AC low enough to keep us cool, have TWO living areas, a kitchen that is stocked full, two bedrooms and two bathrooms. We currently have 4 lap tops. That’s right-FOUR! Not only do we have walls around us, but we have decorations on those walls. Not only is the floor covered in toys, but there are more in the other living area, the kids’ bedroom, and up on the shelf out of the way.

I’m losing my breath again.

So what do I do with this book? What do I do after reading it? Do I recycle more, donate more stuff, stop buying so much, make sure we eat all the fruits and veggies I buy (okay, let’s me honest, it’s always the veggies that go bad)? Do I give all our stuff away, sell our house and move into a one room apartment with my entire family? The above verse doesn’t say to stop loving yourself, it simply says “love your neighbor as yourself“. Okay, so what does that mean?

That’s what I’m doing this time around. I’m finding out how to love my neighbor. Maybe instead of just donating some extra stuff to a random thrift store, I find someonespecific or some organization that really needs it. A single mom who works 3 jobs just to afford a small apartment for her and her children, but the apartment is bare; a homeless couple who need a tent that doesn’t leak when it rains. Maybe instead of just giving money to a homeless resource center, I cook a meal and serve the men, women and children who come through there. Maybe instead of trying to entertain my kids with their toys that they are so bored with, we gather some up and bring it to some kids who don’t have any (It’s never too young to teach my little people about Jesus’ command to love our neighbor!). Maybe instead of letting the extra produce go bad, I put together healthy meals and donate them to an organization that provides food for low income families on the weekends, when their kids don’t get fed at school.

As far as spending and waste, do we really need a brand spankin’ new shirt? Could we shop second hand? Do we really need to buy that wall art or nick knack? Couldn’t we find a more noble cause for that money? Do we really have to use plastic bags for all our produce? What about ziplock bags for our kids’ school lunch food? Perhaps we invest in some reusable plastic containers, even if we have to hand wash them each day to fill for the next day?

I can feel my breath coming back. Slowly. I can do something. I can make a change, not just in my life, but in someone else’s. I can be the change that people need.