Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Love Your Neighbor

My cousin, Lacey, has deemed 2017 to be the year of decluttering. In addition to being my hero, she is one of my main sources of humor: she texted me a photo of a $10 my mom wrote to her for her birthday 17 years ago, and asked if I could relay the message that she would not be cashing it. Her words: "I guess I was too good for her $10 back then. I am not now".

I've always been a fan of decluttering, organizing, minimalizing, categorizing, and consolidating. Everything should have its place, and you should only have what you need. My parents might not believe that I have this belief, based on the state of my room as a child, but trust me: my things had a place. It was when I cleaned my room that I couldn't find what I needed. I knew that binder was under my shoes by my desk. That's where I was keeping it! ... Said every teenager ever.

There's just something about that feeling of accomplishment when you are able to donate a bag of items to Goodwill, toss a hefty bag out to the trash, or recycle a pound of shredded, unnecessary papers.

But it is not easy. I'm so conditioned to think that I need all of the things I have around me, even though I have less than most of my friends. I work as a nanny, my husband is a teacher, we don't buy big-ticket items unless they break, and even then, we typically buy them second-hand. We often take what others toss aside, and we don't have much sense of fashion or style, so we're not picky about what gets handed to us. Still, I've been convicted lately that I have too much. I've been torn between wanting a tiny home to force myself to only keep what is essential, and having a huge house with multiple guest rooms so that we could keep exchange students, refugees, whoever needed a place. And with all my anxiety, when I become torn on an issue, I just stay stuck and there's much ado about nothing.

One particular concept that Christ teaches about keeps getting stuck in my mind: the idea of loving your neighbor as yourself. In Mark 12:30-31, a man asks Jesus what the most important commandment is, and instead of just telling him the number one commandment, to love your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, He goes on to reveal the second as well: love your neighbor as yourself. On the surface, it's simple, but uncover it and there are multiple interpretations. For instance, most believe that the verse plainly means you need to love everyone that you come in contact with. Some flip it, and think it means to love yourself, give yourself as much grace and forgiveness, as you grant to others in your life. I've been focusing in on the word "as". What if Jesus' meaning was not just to love others and yourself too, but to love your neighbor, as in, everyone you come in contact with, as much as you love yourself, in the same way as you love yourself. What does that really look like?

What if that's spending as much of what you have on you as it does on others?

Whoa.

I've been struggling with this for months now. I will continue to struggle with it for the foreseeable future, because I want with all of my being to be not only obedient, but loving, conscious of my choices, and wise with my decisions. And as Americans, we tend to throw out most of what the Bible says about money. My preacher said it best in a sermon when I first started attending: "It's hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of Heaven... It's hard for a person who lives in Sugar Land, TX to enter the kingdom of Heaven".

Our family sends $38 a month to four different children through sponsorship with Compassion International. When I received a letter back from my sweet girl in Mexico, there was a photo attached, showing what she had spent her birthday money on: milk, cereal, and shampoo for the family. I broke down in tears. Her birthday money. She shared it with her family to buy what we thin of as necessities. So, as I adjusted our budget at the start of the year, I decided to do something radical: exactly what the Bible says, or what I think it might say: I started trying to love my neighbor as myself. I budgeted $38 for each person in my family, to cover outings, clothing, makeup, toys, whatever. It is not easy. In fact, I've exceeded my budget for myself each month. For Brooklyn, too. It sure is easier for guys to stay in budget in this country. There's so much aimed at girls as far as what we need and can't live without. But I'm trying. And isn't that all that can be expected of us?

Money is not the root of all evil, but the love of it is, and when we are hoarding what we own for ourselves, is that not loving money? Some may say that they tithe, or give 10% to their church. Others claim that they donate to various charities or associations. I do this, too. You know what else I do? Fall asleep to the audio version of Jesus' sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7) most nights. Matthew 6:1-4 reads:

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
If claiming tax deductions are not "practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them", I don't know what is. When I give to the needy, I deduct it all. We donated our van to Wheels for Wishes last year. $500 tax deduction. Boom. I donated lots of clothes, toys, books, etc. over the course of the year to Goodwill, the women's shelter, the Purple Heart, and received tax receipts for them all. Even my church offers a tax deductible charity sheet at the end of the year to make my taxes easier. My left hand always knows what my right hand is doing, and I know it shouldn't.

It's no coincidence that this is coming to a head during the season of Lent, which many Protestants don't celebrate. I never did, until college. I've given up soda, chocolate, and politics in years past, some seasons more successful than others. This year, I decided to participate in the "40 Bags in 40 Days" challenge: fill 40 bags of stuff to get rid of during the 40-day season of Lent. Rather than having a specific item to give up, you choose to give up the idea of stuff as a whole. I was energized, pumped up like I've been before about decluttering, organizing, categorizing, minimalizing, and consolidating. And just like I've done before, I started itemizing it.

I just deleted my list.

I'm saying it one time, and not to make myself look better. I know that it actually makes me look crazy, unconventional, like a fanatic, and some may even say cruel. To deny my children things they want because I'm consciously trying to spend only $38 or less on them a month? What a terrible mother I am.

Whatever. When you get called to do something, you do it. This is where I am, and I don't expect anyone to be here with me. But I'd love to talk about it.



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