In this world where some people have so much, and an overwhelming majority have too little, I believe it is our social duty to live simply.
Because I was raised in a Mennonite home, simple living has been one of my values since childhood. At least in theory. As disciples of Jesus, Mennonites are called to care for the underdogs, the outcasts, and the needy. We are to give to all who ask of us, even to go so far as selling our possessions and giving the money to the poor.
The Mennonite Church has many organizations that work toward social justice and sustainable living. Our churches are heavily involved in soup kitchens and Habitat for Humanity projects. Even our cookbooks express the value of simple living with titles such as “More with Less” and “Extending the Table”.
So, as a Mennonite, I am a venerable expert of simple living. Or so I thought.
Six weeks living two miles above sea level in the Peruvian Andes with a Quechua-speaking indigenous family completely changed my perspective on what it means to live simply.
Living simply is literally living on less than a dollar a day. It is living with 7 in several one- room buildings made of mud and straw. It is eating the same meal and wearing the same clothes every day. Simple living is having nothing more to sit on than some rough-hewn benches that double as the chicken roost.
I lived with a Peruvian family that truly lived a simple lifestyle and found that life was rich. Where material comforts were lacking, I found an abundance of kindness and generosity in the people I was surrounded by.
Upon returning to the United States, I was overwhelmed by our wealth and extravagance. What had seemed like a simple lifestyle before now seemed busy and overwhelming. The mundane tasks of each day were full of complicated decisions. What to eat? What to wear? And as I readjusted to the fast-paced days that are the American norm, I became increasingly aware of the privileges we have.
Everything from our cars to our toasters are shiny and new. We have chairs to sit in that not only have backs, but are soft and plush. We have clean water to drink and a rich variety of foods to eat. We have absolutely everything we need, and so much more.
Not one day has passed since I have returned to the States that I have not been thankful for all the blessings of comfort I have undeservedly received. But while I am grateful for the comforts we have, there is a part of me that feels it is too much, that I could be happy with far less.
I have many plans for simplifying my lifestyle; some are more realistic than others, but it is my hope that I will be able to lead an increasingly simple lifestyle and in some small way work to correct the reality of our global economic disparity.
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