Do you feel trapped in the machine of excess? Jen Hatmaker was. Her friends were. And some might say that our culture is. Jen once considered herself unmotivated by the lure of prosperity, but after she was called “rich” by an undeniably poor child, evidence to the contrary mounted and a social experiment turned spiritual journey was born.
7 is the true story of how Jen (along with her husband and her children) took seven months, identified seven areas of excess, and made seven simple choices to fight back against the modern-day diseases of materialism and overindulgence: food, clothes, possessions, media and technology, spending, waste, and stress.
So, what’s the payoff from living a deeply reduced life? It’s the discovery of a greatly increased God—a call toward Christ-like simplicity and generosity that transcends a social experiment to become a radically better life. Revised and updated to reflect newer challenges of modern life, 7 is funny, raw, and not a guilt trip in the making, so come along and consider what Jesus’ version of rich, blessed, and generous might look like in your life.
Related collections and offers
|Publisher:||The Crown Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
This is all Susana’s fault. She had to trot out her little social experiment, “Pick Five” right when God was confronting me with my greed, excess, materialism, consumerism, envy, pride, comfort, insatiability, irresponsibility, and well, there was other stuff but I want you to like me, so I’ll shelve the rest for later. (Did I mention “need for approval”?) Let me back up. My husband, Brandon, and I have undergone profound transformation in the last three years. Let me sum it up: God really messed us up. We were happy-go-lucky; Brandon was a pastor at a big ol’ church making excellent scratch, and we spent our money however we wanted (on ourselves). We were climbing the ladder, baby. Fortunately, we didn’t have to worry with the poor because we were paid pros serving the saved. We spent so much time blessing blessed people, there was nothing left over. Besides, that wasn’t really “our thing.”
Then, let’s see, a bunch of stuff happened, the Holy Spirit leveled us and laid our motives bare, we turned into crazy people, yada yada yada . . . we started a new church centered on justice. Sorry for the gaps, but it’s too much (but my book Interrupted will walk you through the thrilling account of God turning our world upside down).
Our adventure in relearning the essentials of faith, Austin New Church, has been on the ground for two years. It’s a little faith community that has, quite simply, changed my life. Our mantra is “Love your neighbor, serve your city.” Taking a cue from Francis Chan, we take the Scripture “love your neighbor as yourself” seriously, and we give away half of all we receive. We won’t spend more on ourselves than our poor neighbor.
A poor church plant operating on half of its intake means we rent a worship space with dancing frogs painted on the back wall and carpet that saw the Nixon administration. Our front door won’t open properly, which resulted in one guy leaving during church to get something, not being able to get back in, and sitting on the curb until service was over. Our parking lot looks like it was hit by an earthquake—and then patched up by drunken monkeys. We have no support staff, no secretaries, no copy machine. Our band is almost entirely homegrown. When we needed a drummer, one of our guys reported playing “a few times in college.” He was on stage the next week where he kicked over a cymbal and accidentally launched a drumstick into the crowd. These are deficiencies most pastors would never stand for (or most churchgoers), but we won’t buy carpet at the expense of orphans. $10,000 for a new parking lot could fund a hundred thousand tree seedlings to reforest Africa’s decimated land and stimulate their local economy. It’s kind of a no-brainer.
But before you launch a parade, let’s revisit my description in the first paragraph. Granted, we descended many rungs in the last three years, and transformation did not come cheaply or without pain. We suffered loss—relationships, reputation, position, security, approval, acknowledgment—all the stuff I used to crave. But here is what I gave up the least:
I might have disagreed two years ago when having a conversation with a homeless man was the most uncomfortable situation I could envision. When God first sent us to serve the poor, every moment was awkward. Each confrontation was wrought with anxiety. In Interrupted, I made this statement:
“I thought I’d never be happy again.”
However, God changed me and grafted genuine love for the least into my heart. I looked forward to every encounter, rejected service that was labor-intensive rather than relationally focused. I became a girl who loved the marginalized. I couldn’t get enough of them in my personal space.
So what used to be comfortable (being a big fat consumer Christian) became uncomfortable; then what was uncomfortable (engaging the poor) became comfortable. Follow? Perhaps I gave up emotional comfort for awhile, but then God affirmed Himself as our provider, established the vision He gave us, and taught me how to love. The uncomfortable turned into our life’s mission, and we would never go back.
That said, a new tension began lurking. The catalyst was the week we housed twelve evacuees from Hurricane Ike. Our little church, four months old at the time, took in eighty strangers from the coast that had nowhere to go. We moved our three kids into our bedroom, washed sheets, blew up mattresses, rolled out sleeping bags, and readied the house for an onslaught. As carloads arrived and we welcomed them in, one ten-year-old boy walked into our home, looked around with huge eyes, and hollered:
“Dad! This white dude is RICH!”
For years I didn’t realize this because so many others had more. We were surrounded by extreme affluence, which tricks you into thinking you’re in the middle of the pack. I mean, sure, we have twenty-four hundred square feet for only five humans to live in, but our kids have never been on an airplane, so how rich could we be? We haven’t traveled to Italy, my kids are in public schools, and we don’t even own a time-share. (Roll eyes here.)
But it gets fuzzy once you spend time with people below your rung. I started seeing my stuff with fresh eyes, realizing we had everything. I mean everything. We’ve never missed a meal or even skimped on one. We have a beautiful home in a great neighborhood. Our kids are in a Texas exemplary school. We drive two cars under warranty. We’ve never gone a day without health insurance. Our closets are overflowing. We throw away food we didn’t eat, clothes we barely wore, trash that will never disintegrate, stuff that fell out of fashion.
And I was so blinded I didn’t even know we were rich.
How can I be socially responsible if unaware that I reside in the top percentage of wealth in the world? (You probably do too: Make $35,000 a year? Top 4 percent. $50,000? Top 1 percent.) Excess has impaired perspective in America; we are the richest people on earth, praying to get richer. We’re tangled in unmanageable debt while feeding the machine, because we feel entitled to more. What does it communicate when half the global population lives on less than $2 a day, and we can’t manage a fulfilling life on twenty-five thousand times that amount? Fifty thousand times that amount?
It says we have too much, and it is ruining us.
It was certainly ruining me. The day I am unaware of my privileges and unmoved by my greed is the day something has to change. I couldn’t escape the excess or see beyond my comforts though. I wrung my hands and commiserated with Brandon but couldn’t fathom an avenue out. We’d done some first-tier reductions, freeing up excess to share, but still . . . the white dude was really rich.
Which brings me back to Susana. About this time she announced her Pick Five project: only five foods for forty days subtitled “Simplified Life, Amplified God.” My first reaction was, “She’s so crazy.” (I really love food, and that will be become apparent in the next section.) But as the experiment unfolded and I heard what she was learning, I became a teeny bit enamored.
See, I am an extremist. I don’t learn lessons easily, subtly, or delicately. I can’t be trusted with loose boundaries. If God gives me an inch, I will take a marathon. Dipping one toe in doesn’t work for me; it simply hastens my return to the couch where I can return to my regularly scheduled program. I am a difficult student who is extremely bullheaded. Total immersion is the only medium that can tame me.
I was where all my best ideas happen (the shower), and in forty minutes—I apologized to God for the egregious waste of water—“Pick Five” turned into 7. It had sloppy edges and “undeveloped” is too kind, but I realized this extreme social experiment was my ticket out of nauseating consumerism. Or at least it would start the engine.
I ruminated for six months, letting it marinate, forcing my friends to discuss it with me. I started praying about what God wanted; what would move me closer to His agenda and further from mine? How could this be meaningful, not just narcissistic and futile? What areas needed the most renovation? How am I blind and why? Where have I substituted The American Dream for God’s kingdom? What in my life, in the lives of most westerners, is just too stinking much?
Seven months, seven areas, reduced to seven simple choices. I’m embarking on a journey of less. It’s time to purge the junk and pare down to what is necessary, what is noble. 7 will be an exercise in simplicity with one goal: to create space for God’s kingdom to break through.
I approach this project in the spirit of a fast: an intentional reduction, a deliberate abstinence to summon God’s movement in my life. A fast creates margin for God to move. Temporarily changing our routine of comfort jars us off high center. A fast is not necessarily something we offer God, but it assists us in offering ourselves. As Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, said, “It is exchanging the needs of the physical body for those of the spirit.”