Coins clenched in hand

In church yesterday we were asked this question:

What would your life look like if you were freed of NEEDING things?

When Jeremy and I were first married, we lived on a sailboat for 10 months. Let me tell you that while this might sound glamorous, it most certainly wasn’t. It was very adventurous, and I am very glad we did it, but it was far from glamorous.

There were quite a few things that most of us deem essential to daily life which were not a part of our life on the boat. For example: TV, phone (this was waaaay back before the days of internet and ipods and cell phone service), mail, showers with fresh water, refrigeration. We didn’t eat out and we didn’t do much laundry and we ate a lot of canned food and we didn’t buy much because we were almost always away from civilization.

Oh, but it was such a great experience. To realize that we needed so little to enjoy life together was empowering. The simplicity of our lifestyle during that year gave us a lot of freedom. Freedom from the burden of things. Less things meant less to keep track of, less to maintain, less to repair, less to clean, less to upgrade. Our goals were reduced to getting from point A to point B (typically about 20 miles per day), arriving where we were going to anchor for the night, having a simple supper and celebrating the fact that we had survived that leg of the trip (believe me, given how little experience we had, it was a miracle when we made it safely to our destination each day.) Then a game of Scrabble and early to bed, because once the sun was down, there was not a whole lot to do.

And, for a newly-married couple, living together for the first time, another major benefit: Forced complete reliance on each other. There was nowhere to go — absolutely no one to complain to — if we were frustrated or angry. The furthest we could get away from each other during an argument was exactly 31 feet (because that’s how long the boat was.)

Coming back to American culture via Cape Canaveral after staying in the Bahamas for 3 months was an onslaught. The noises, the lights, the crowds, the limitless opportunities to spend money! We had hardly even stepped foot on shore for months. It all took a couple of weeks to get used to again, but not nearly as long as it should have.

I remind myself of that year when I get caught up in what I think I NEED. Sometimes watching tv or walking into a store makes me think that everybody but me has some marvelous, incredibly essential commodity. Or my insecurities come from some artificial ideal regarding what I should have accumulated by this stage of my life. For example, I feel ashamed when I invite people over and my couch has a big hole in it from the cat’s scratching. And I’m embarrassed by not having a proper guest room to offer my in-laws when they come to stay. Shouldn’t I have these things by now?

To feel these inadequacies day in and day out — and to manage the clutter caused by the stuff I have and my anxiety about letting go of things in case I might need them later on — all of this causes an unbelievable amount of stress. It makes me wonder if these things are really worth having.

We often feel like we don’t have enough money. We feel anxious about paying our bills and planning for our future. But compared to the rest of the world, we are very wealthy. I have made a commitment to myself this year not to slip into my old habit of saying, “we’re poor.” Or, “we can’t afford that.” Because in our case, we do have some choices. And many people in the world do not. But it is very hard work to believe that what we own — or do not own — does not define us.

So, we need frequent reminders of the difference between what we want and what we actually need.  And I think it’s ok to want things, by the way. It is simply very important to acknowledge the difference between wanting and needing. When my kids say that they are starving, for example, I want them to appreciate the difference between what they are feeling — a little bit hungry — and starving. It’s not that they shouldn’t eat because other kids don’t have enough to eat, but that I want them to understand the difference. We truly have all that we need. Actually, abundantly more.

The question we were asked about what would happen in our lives if we were freed from needing things was a powerful reminder. It captured my imagination. I saw myself with all of the burdens of expectations and fears and insecurities surrounding money lifted from my shoulders. I can choose to view my life from a perspective of abundance rather than one of scarcity. Over time, and with God’s help, I believe that I really can do this.

Friends, may you and I be rich in the things that hold true worth. May we give without fear. May we love without limit. May we know who we are and why we are valuable. May we be radically changed by gratitude.

And here are a few more great reminders:

The Angel Foundation offers critical financial assistance to adult cancer patients and their families in the Twin Cities. They provide grants of approximately $500 – $750 to cover non-medical necessities like housing, utilities, and groceries. Last week alone, The Angel Foundation received 51 applications for financial assistance from families who are dealing with urgent financial need in addition to a cancer diagnosis and treatment. “Growing numbers of people simply can’t afford to get the care we know they need,” Seffrin says. “We hear about a growing number of people turning down treatment…One in four cancer patients or their families said they used up all or most of their savings to pay for treatment, according to a 2006 survey by USA TODAY, the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health.” Read the full article here.

The Michelle Project provides comprehensive support to low-income families striving to achieve self-sufficiency. Most of the families in this program are led by single, working mothers who struggle to provide their children with a safe place to live, food on the table, and an education. They are incredibly grateful for jobs that pay $10-$12 per hour. I have no idea how I would support my family on that kind of wage. These women are very courageous in the face of incredible obstacles to financial security…not to mention doing it all on their own. Study finds median wealth for single black women at $5

Feed My Starving Children (FMSC) volunteers pack nutritious meals made up of rice, soy, vitamins, and dehydrated vegetables, and FMSC partners with relief organizations worldwide distribute these meals to starving children. Diarrhea is the number 1 cause of death of malnourished children. Diarrheal diseases accounted for 16% of deaths among children under the age of 5 worldwide in 2004. Each serving of FMSC’s MannaPack costs only 13 cents to produce. In 2009, more than 416,000 volunteers joined FMSC to pack over 96 million meals for children around the world. You can help pack meals for Haiti’s starving children at Southdale Mall on the weekend of May 21st/22nd. For more info, click here. If you want to join us, we’re going in celebration of Jesse’s 13th birthday on Saturday, May 22nd from 11 am to 1 pm.