Note: We are not wrestling with the following issues because we are mired in legalism or are afraid God is going to whack us over the head if we don't "sacrifice enough." Quite the opposite; God is gracious, and he displayed his magnificent grace through the death of his only Son. However, if we choose to "give something up" in order to identify in a small way with Christ, it must challenge us and make us uncomfortable, or it really isn't a sacrifice at all.
Our choice for 2012 presented immediate and continual challenges as we struggled to define what constitutes "unnecessary" consumer spending. Some items in our budget obviously had to go: eating out, paying for movies, and purchases at Joanns for my craft projects were easy calls to make.
Groceries--clearly a need--were allowed--but what kind of groceries? I admit, we cut down on some of the junk food, but still bought a number of food items that we certainly could have lived without (Blue Bell ice cream and Cheez-its, anyone?)
We also spent more than was mandatory on groceries because instead of meeting in restaurants, we had people to our home for coffee or a meal. We hosted two marshmallow roasts in our cul-de-sac. We cooked food and served it to AIDS patients who live in government housing in Oak Cliff. Romans 12:13 states, "Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality." So, we reasoned that Jesus is totally cool with us spending money to feed others and/or welcome them into our home.
I decided that beauty treatments are not essential--goodbye eyebrow waxing, hair cuts, and John Frieda Root Awakening and Smoothing Lotion (once my bottle ran out). However, Jeff insisted that his hair must be neatly trimmed to maintain his professional appearance. (As a stay-at-home mom, my hair does not have to impress anyone;) We could not think of a way to get his hair cut for free, so I sent him to Great Clips with a coupon for a $7.99 cut and style.
My mother's birthday fell within Lent. I believe it would have been very hurtful and dishonoring not to give my mom a gift, so I went to the mall and bought her the French perfume she had requested. Again, I believe offering a gift in love to the woman who birthed and raised me is totally Jesus-approved.
We tried to spend as little money as possible on gas, but we still drove two cars, including my gas-guzzling van. Jeff could have carpooled with others who work for his employer, at least on some days. I made several local trips to see friends that could have been eliminated. I could have bicycled to pick my girls up from school every single day. We decided not to take these extreme measures but instead opted to use Jeff's car, a small sedan, whenever possible.
Every day presented new questions--"Is this a want or a need? Can I do without this, at least for a few weeks? Can I borrow this item from a friend? If this is not a need, does it demonstrate God's love, help others, or build community?
These questions forced me to think differently, since I had abandoned my usual MO of walking mindlessly into a store and swiping a credit card for whatever I wanted/needed/expected/deserved. This experience has been exhilarating, challenging, fun, frustrating, and thought provoking. I have learned I can pluck my own eyebrows and that I don't have to immediately replace my trusty black sharpie when it runs out of ink.
On a more serious note, I feel there was space created in my life so that I could see my relationship to money and possessions from a fresh perspective. God spoke to me about a lot of different things that I am usually to busy to hear because I am composing my errand list or roaming the aisles at Target.
My eyes have definitely been opened to some surprising revelations I am certain I would have missed if our family had not observed Lent in this way. The next few posts will be about what I have learned from this journey--lessons that are at times profound, at times embarrassing, at times funny, and at times surprising. Stay tuned!