A fraudulent moving company disappeared with all our earthly possessions and for a year I consoled myself with what I thought were Biblical ideals of simplicity.
Then the vanished movers showed up unexpectantly with squished boxes of baby pictures, a family heirloom rocker, and children’s books (more than twelve months after they packed up our apartment for our long-distance move). Experience served like a red ink pen, editing my idea of spiritualized simplicity.
The pages of Goodnight Moon, worn with sticky fingers, held memories of my crisscrossed legs and bedtime cuddles.
The handprint Christmas ornaments I crafted each year with little fingers now growing too big, mark God’s grace of time and childhood.
The solid oak hand-me-down doctor’s desk where my husband spent many overnight hours studying for his masters is a symbol of fortitude and dreams.
I used to think the more materially modest a person was, the godlier they probably were. Jesus talks numerous times about leaving houses or belongings when following Him. But since my resurrected boxes showed up on my doorstep, and I’ve considered the stories in Scripture and I no longer think simplicity equals godliness. I think there’s a biblical principal and it all centers on the heart.
Materialism and Simplicity
In my opinion, we live in a culture that swings wide on its values. One extreme is the pursuit of materialism: we are what we own, what we think, what we do. And the other extreme is simplicity: we are what we don’t own, don’t say, don’t do.
Both perspectives are ungodly and unbiblical because both focus our hearts on stuff. In other words, when we try to cultivate wholeness from the physical world, it’s unbiblical. Our Lord says, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Yes, this passage in Matthew 6 is talking about greed and storing up for yourself material wealth, but the focus is the heart. Vanity. Pride.
I used to pride myself on simplicity. As a seminary student and ministry leader, money always seemed tight. So, I must have been living a godly life because I sacrificed materialism for small spaces, small belongings, and a small budget.
Then my mom died and we bought a house with my inheritance. Finally our own space—our own place to cultivate family, belonging, and beauty.
But, I wondered: If godliness is simplicity, am I in rebellion? Am I a sellout? I want to live large for Jesus. He says to leave houses for the Kingdom. Here I drink my morning coffee in a 4-bedroom home in a quiet neighborhood in the suburbs, watching deer walk across my wooded backyard.
In my conversations with the Lord, I’ve realized I’m not a sell-out. I’m a Christ-follower and he led me here to the north of Pittsburgh. But what about all this stuff in these boxes and in our drawers now that the swindlers brought it back?
The Cultivated Life
I think this extra stuff provides an opportunity for cultivation. I also think a balanced life that honors God is cultivated, not hoarded or discarded. I shouldn’t feel guilty about my overflowing drawers, but I should look at them as opportunities to bless others. On the flip side, the hoarded life of materialism is like the parable found in Luke 12. The man’s crop exceeded his storehouses, so he built larger towers to store his excess and accumulated for himself enough riches to be lazy for the rest of his life. God said, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” (Luke 2:20)
If a materialistic life leans toward hoarding, a simplistic life leans toward a discarded one. The person setting their hearts on the lack of things on this earth looks at material or financial abundance as something to be organized, streamlined, or purged in order to live a more mindful, centered, or spiritual life. Instead of looking at overabundance as an opportunity for generosity, they discard resourcefulness and see material life as a hinderance to a peaceful and fruitful life for themselves. This life is like the steward from the parable in Matthew 25:27, who hides his master’s money because he chose to ignore the opportunity for investment.
I think balance is possible. I call it the cultivated life.
The Christian who leads a cultivated life does not set their heart’s desire in material wealth, but also does not reject it. They assess with wisdom their God-given capacities and how their lives would most honor the Lord and further His kingdom. They consider what they own and utilize it in order to curate a life that reflects generosity, beauty, and hospitality. Like the Apostle Paul, they learn to be content with little or with much and depend on Christ for strength to follow Him—no matter what.
God used fraudsters that absconded with our boxes for more than a year to point out the own fraud in my heart. I deceived myself by thinking the simpler life allows for a godlier one rather than a life filled with material possessions or wealth.
A godly life is a cultivated one—where we take the little or lots we have—and steward faithfully for the Kingdom. For me, my Kingdom work starts in my home, where I’m slowly purging baby toys and out-grown pants and giving our excess to others. Where I will hang the picture frames I eventually find at the local home décor store. Where I welcome my neighbor in for a cup of coffee and share my love for Jesus. Is this simple? Is it materialistic? Maybe. Or maybe not. But I’m aiming for a life cultivated in pursuit of the Kingdom.
And if thieves break in and steal I now know—I can live without it all.
About The Author
Seana Scott is a writer and speaker and lives with her husband and three kids in Pittsburgh. She loves listening to people’s stories and is always ready for a cup of coffee. You can find her writing at SeanaScott.org among other places. She is working toward a degree at Dallas Theological Seminary.