In my world of Christian friends & acquaintances, there seems to always be one book that everybody is reading. In the past few years, that list has included The Shack, Crazy Love, One Thousand Gifts (although that one seemed to have mostly chick appeal), and Heaven is for Real, just to name a few. I (sometimes) get around to (mostly) reading whatever title is stirring up buzz at the moment, but whatever it is, I can rely on the fact that it will be conveniently sitting on my bookshelf thanks to my husband, a voracious reader who loves to buy books and is confident enough in his manhood to spend many a daily lunch hour browsing around Mardel.
The book that seems to be the hot topic right now is 7 by Jen Hatmaker. Subtitled An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, it’s a subversive little tome that has been sitting on my shelf for the past month. I have read the introduction and the first chapter—enough to know that reading this book is going to require some introspection and possibly action on my part (which is one reason I haven’t made it past the first chapter). The premise of the book is that over a seven-month period, Hatmaker fasts from seven areas of her typically affluent, middle-class American life: clothes, shopping, waste, stress, media, possessions and food. While I am fully on board with the idea of fasting from stress and waste, the other five are things that I am rather attached to (which, I suppose, is precisely why I should consider fasting from them).
A few weeks ago, my husband and I were invited to spend a Friday night with three other couples who are reading the book and considering action steps. I didn’t know quite what to expect out of the gathering—my husband had fielded the invitation, so details were scant. We had never met our hosts, one couple I barely knew and the other I have known for a few years as acquaintances. As we stood on an unfamiliar front porch and my husband rang the doorbell, I began to perspire. Meeting new people and walking into unknown situations are not in my comfort zone.
As I stepped back out onto that front porch a few hours later, it was with a heightened awareness that my comfort zone is in need of a serious remodel. That evening, as I stood in the kitchen munching soft tacos, I listened to the stories of people making radically uncomfortable life decisions—one couple on the journey to becoming foster parents, another couple with two small boys adopting a special-needs child from Africa, another couple actively pursuing a simplified lifestyle as they prepare to do mission work in Uganda for the second time in a year. And this was just the general get-to-know-you chatter before the subject of the book ever came up. It was a much-needed reminder that faith without works is dead, and that while God loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life, my comfort is not even almost His goal.
I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with that awareness, exactly. I’m going to read my Bible, and pray, and try to hear God’s voice. I think it will be easier to pay attention to Him if I eliminate a few distractions for a season, even if they’re good things. (Does Netflix count as a good thing? I know Downton Abbey certainly does. Dangit.) It’s merely coincidental that I have come to this awareness at the start of the season of Lent, or maybe serendipitous, or maybe providential, I don’t really know. I’ve never before fasted during Lent, and while I’d like to say that’s a result of living in grace, it would be more accurate to say that its because I’m a big weenie and I don’t like the thought of giving anything up.
I recently read a friend’s Facebook status update that said something like: “If you want to climb out of a pit, the first step is to lay down your shovel.” Ouch. There is a pit in my life that I have been praying for deliverance from, even as I resolutely scoop out another shovelful of dirt. I’m weary of halfhearted prayers and the bloat of complacency. I don’t know what Jen Hatmaker discovers during her seven-month experiment, but I guess I’ll finish reading her book and find out (let’s face it, without Netflix, what else have I got to do?). My hypothesis is that my pit and my comfort zone are more closely related than I would like to believe, and that filling the one will involve tearing down the other. But that’s just a guess at this point. Maybe not.