There’s a lot of work to enjoying an ordinary life. But it can be a lot simpler than we wish it to be.
I’ve always been a fan of small pleasures. I believe with all my heart that God exists precisely there.
And things amass in my life to no end. As far as I can see, anyway. The older I get, the more I become weighed down with the responsibility of things. The burden for the need to collect them. The escape from having to answer why, and then being humbled by the true answer.
As I gaze around my space, I feel that answer.
Like most of us, the hurdle into adulthood brought about significant changes for me. Everything I thought I knew about God, the world, and myself was dramatically called into question with the realization of truths I couldn’t pretend to have not heard or seen. Social justice, a term I had never heard before I reached my twenties, is now consistently on my mind.
But after the overwhelming realization of the injustices of where and how my clothes were made, who harvested my vegetables and how far they traveled, or how the metals in my phone or the diamonds in my ring got out of the earth, I slowly began to look inward. Living a life of justice and concern and care for the orphan and widow requires more than buying your clothes from the thrift store or shopping at the Farmer’s Market. Because a life of religion that honors God has to be deeper than that. It has to transcend that. My living has to be a reflection of all the things I say, the things I say I want in life. And suddenly, buying new shoes from Goodwill or recycling old toilets into flower pots become mere items in a long list of being a good citizen of God’s earth. There is so much more, and I’m so overwhelmed. So I back off. And I just look.
And it starts with looking. It starts with asking why you buy the things you buy. What affect it has on your life. How it contributes to your health, or doesn’t.
For me, it starts with practical questions.
What do I want for breakfast?
Something quick and easy. Well, that’s an easy answer for much of our world. Who doesn’t have cereal as a staple in the American Household? Cereal’s great. Until about two hours later, when my blood sugar starts to drop again, and I chastise myself for not getting up fifteen minutes earlier to make a real, wholesome meal.
But granola! A bowl of granola with yogurt or strawberries or just milk itself always provides me with more substance than a mere bowl of cereal. But it costs me. I can buy a bag that will last me the week for about 4 or 5 bucks. But When I make it myself, I’ve bought the ingredients for about the same price, and it usually lasts me for several weeks. I give myself extra points for using local honey when I make it, and yes, that’ll cost you about 8 bucks, but you also get an extra natural weapon against allergies, and the satisfaction all white people like of directly supporting the maker and supplier and, you know, buying local and stuff.
But that’s one aspect, and once you start there, it doesn’t stop.
Well, what about my laundry detergent? Buying liquid is apparently 50% water (or that’s what they say. I haven’t felt like confirming it for myself). So we look into powdered detergent. But what about the chemicals??? Oh my, the chemicals!
(I never knew what that meant, and my mother would roll her eyes in my usual place trying to decide if it’s worth it to point out that everything in the world is made up of chemicals or just to sit back and enjoy the conversation)
Basically, I’m making my own detergent now. Or, I’m going to. The ingredients are still unopened on my kitchen counter. But in my defense, in order to make a mix of detergent that will last you until your youngest child graduates high school, you have to put it in something. And as we are still newlyweds and haven’t the years behind us like my parents to fill with stacks and stacks of emptied ice cream buckets that will never be thrown away, I may have to just utilize the cookie jar.
And then there is store-bought bread. Now, I don’t think I have to explain to any conscious soul why home-baked bread is better than everything, but everyone still buys bread. My mother has this theory that store-bought bread is to be blamed for the high divorce rate in America. You see, back in olden, pre-feminist times, mothers stayed home and baked bread all day. That’s literally how the day was spent. Houses were always clean, and the kids were in school, so all there was for a woman to do before third-wave feminism was apparently the first thing ever in the history of the world to tell her that her capacity in life exceeded that of staying home all day, if she wanted it to, was to bake bread. With cinnamon. The kneading process was a way for the wife to work out her frustrations at her kids, the mop, or her kids, and then the husband would come home, and upon smelling the freshness of bread just coming out of the oven would immediately forget everything he was mad about at work, his clients, his boss, or his boss. But when store-bought bread was invented, how was each spouse to resolve a day’s frustrations? No kneading for mom, no fresh, kissed-by-God bread smells for dad, so the marriage just can’t last with all these frustrations piling up that homemade bread would normally save.
I cannot stress enough how valuable fresh bread is for the world.
Anyway, I try to make bread from scratch if I can. And if I can’t or don’t, then we go without.
And that, my dear readers and friends, is a primary piece in the puzzle of living and eating sustainably and seasonably. If you don’t have it, go without. Test yourself to see if you really need all the things you think you need in your life. How many of us have to clean out the fridge on a regular basis, not because of the general muck that builds up on heavily used surfaces, but because you’re out of tupperware, and it’s all currently storing your garbage that is all somehow a different color than when you last saw it three weeks ago? We live in a land of plenty, and when I think about how much of that plenty is rotting un- or barely-used in a landfill somewhere while the citizens of other countries and regions are suffering because that very plenty was taken from them for us to not use and let rot in a landfill somewhere, I just don’t feel like eating or buying anything ever.
Every day I see the need for my life to be simpler. We can’t enjoy the little things, because we’re saturated with the little things. Remember when having a coke was a treat? I don’t, because by the time I came along, fast-food was a staple.
Chocolate’s another big thing for me. I love Almond Joys and Reese’s, and M&M’s, but where do those cocoa beans come from, and who harvests them? Have they hit puberty yet? No one seems to know. And I don’t know what’s scarier. The possibility that child labor and hostile work environments are utilized for such things or the fact that no one can guarantee whether or not they were.
Fair-trade chocolate is expensive. So I obviously can’t afford it like I could the candy at Love’s truck stops or the Kroger checkout lane, but if I enjoy it sparingly, it’s more likely to feel like a real treat to me. Eating a piece of chocolate becomes an exciting thing that I would look forward to.
It’s a very slow process, and one that’s taking me years to fully grasp and live out. It’s practically impossible to live a life untouched by the injustices of the world. It’s really inconvenient these days to go without a cell phone. Many of them very likely have metals mined by suppliers who treat their workers with hostility. Sometimes, I want chocolate chip cookies now, and have to buy Nestle’s from Walmart. Sometimes, I didn’t plan ahead for my meals, and I just want something that will thaw and be ready in five minutes.
But when I start to back up and soak in the little details that make up the world, – like what goes into bread? What’s the process of making things? Is there a way to do it myself? – and once I work to make it a part of my everyday life, the little things and the time it takes for the little things to come together start to become a beautiful design in my world. And suddenly the little things are all I need out of life.
I can hope and dream and plan for spectacular travels and wonderful recognition, but I don’t have to live off of them. I don’t need as much as I think I do when I look at the value of the small things. I would rather pay 10 bucks for one handmade mug instead of going to the dollar store to get ten for the same price because those who are compensated for the ten cheap mugs are not the ones who made them. Unfortunately, it feels like a luxury to be able to live that way. When you’re barely getting by, you can’t afford to care about where your things came from. You need essentials now. But every time I make the choice to go with convenience at the expense of someone else’s wellbeing, I pay into that vicious cycle. I can’t completely disconnect myself from that, but I have to start somewhere. Jesus said that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. It’s here. And it’s still coming. One day, we will all eat and drink and live without the social injustices of our days, but until that happens, I want to live in a way that reflects my belief of the Kingdom being at hand. Meaning, I want to take the steps I can to live in this new world that’s here now and still coming. I don’t want to mindlessly move about taking part in horrible things because it’s convenient because, well Jesus will fix everything when the New World gets here.
But no! Jesus is fixing things now. With us, Jesus is in the process of restoring and recreating the brokenness of our lives and our world today. Let’s live as if we believe that, as if this new world is happening now, and every time I make the choice to make my own bread or buy fair trade clothes, I’m being a hand in making that new world happen. And then an ordinary life becomes not so ordinary, because we’ve realized that we’re part of something bigger. And it starts with the little things. That is where the texture of life is. That is where the fabric – made up of simple threads, little things, that amounted to nothing on their own – becomes beautiful.