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Living small

This morning I listened to a radio phone-in about small houses. These are tiny dwellings where radical downsizers are discovering that what they need in their lives is not more, but less. Last time out I raved about my new sciencey word neuroplasticity and the implications of it for actually getting my act together. Since then, a sort of paralysis has struck. The book I’m reading asks me to concentrate on one toxic thought at a time and systematically work through them. Now, that’s all well and good. But when all the toxic thoughts and their hangers-on decide to storm in at once, this becomes a less straightforward and linear exercise. Not unlike my lent challenge, I am all too aware of, and have been somewhat overwhelmed by, the legions of these negative ideas and patterns in my thinking. Instead of building healthy new thoughts I’ve been paralysed by the old ones.

What has this to do with small houses? Maybe nothing much. But Jay Shafer, the man described as the pioneer of the tiny house, said on the radio this morning that we all need to be editors of our own lives, to figure out what we really need and dump the rest. In conversation with a good, good friend yesterday I actually became tearful listing all the  things I want to be able to do better (or at all) to somehow feel like I’m doing okay. Accomplishments I need to achieve in order to feel acceptable. Or successful. Or even just competent. It included perfect housekeeping, wonderful nutritionally-balanced meals from scratch each night, keeping my temper at all times, keeping on top of the kids’ schedules, exercising regularly, keeping things tidy, getting the kids to do more around the house, being more available for them, having some kind of career that fits around all that…and so on…

Yes, I know. It is insane. But in my head it was all pretty reasonable. Listing those things was like reaching under the bed for a sock or something and pulling out lots of old, half-forgotten bits of memorabilia from recent and more distant past, all a bit dusty and half-forgotten. It felt like the mental equivalent of looking around my house and seeing piles of stuff I’m going to get to one day and sort through or mend or use to make a replica of the car in back to the future.

You see the problem.

I’m sick of it. So in the spirit of the small house movement, I have decided to live only with I need. No more misguided expectations or trophies to earn or polish. I have decided to take out the rubbish, dump the clutter and keep it simple, with a verse that God very kindly dropped into mind just yesterday.

He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?

To act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6 v 8

It’s worth saying that this comes from the prophet Micah, whom God uses to tell Israel that they have royally messed up, thrown his blessings back in his face and gone their own sweet way. In the previous verses, Micah suggests ways Israel can show spectacular commitment and piety, which is perhaps what lies behind my silly striving. It is because I really love God and know his love for me that I want my life to display something of his nature, which is to have it all together, to be orderly, to be present, to be patient, etc. Like the people of Micah’s time, I often torment myself with alternative visions of my life in which I am doing something so spectacularly good that no one could doubt my commitment. But that’s not necessarily what God asks of all of us. His requirements of us are more low-key and no less challenging; to live our lives reverently. it is to  act as he would act, to love what he loves, and to acknowledge Him as God.

Act Justly, love mercy, walk humbly. Once I figure out how to get started with all that, I’ll let you know.

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