Discovering Gratitude With Less
When I chose to simplify my family’s life and our home, I discovered gratitude. The reward is the freedom to focus on the blessings we have and less yearning for what we don’t. Here is how saying no and purging more made me grateful with less.
Less is not a very American concept – we believe more is always better. More money, more stuff, more activities, and accolades. But as a Christian, I know God has provided everything I need. If I can’t take it with me to Heaven, it’s literally worthless.
Six years ago, I was the picture of the mom whose said yes too often to the wrong things. Three kids, clean house, busy with volunteering and planning for perfect holiday celebrations. I didn’t know how to say no when asked to commit to something, so I was overwhelmed with constant demands on my time. To make more time, I put my kids in daycare even though I was a stay-at-home mom with no income. I felt pulled in every direction and knew I was incapable of doing any of them well. I took my frustration out on my family and didn’t even realize I was living an almost worthless life.
Sorrow Inspired Simplification
One morning, two weeks before Christmas, my best friend called to tell me her husband had been killed the night before in a helicopter accident (our husbands were Army pilots). Shock and grief consumed me and my life stopped in its tracks while I grappled with her tragedy and my reaction to it.
Then the strangest thing happened. Those two weeks were the most peaceful and joyful my young family had ever experienced.
I remember sitting outside of our home in Georgia, cradling my youngest in my arms while my older two played. My husband came home from work and parked in a chair next to me. We enjoyed the sunshine and conversation and it was downright blissful. I suddenly stopped and wondered what was I doing differently. Two weeks earlier I had been fraught with stress and now I was awash in peace and patience. What had changed?
In those two weeks, I had quit my busy life and just started living it, being present in each moment for what it was. Just like Matthew advised, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34, English Standard Version)
Sorrow forced me to sit still and suddenly I saw how a simple life could be splendid. I wanted to keep it that way forever. But how?
Looking back, I can see two key strategies that help me overcome the need for more.
First, I didn’t go back to my previous commitments. Instead, I committed to putting my family ahead of everything else, which meant prioritizing our activities. Initially, that meant saying no to everything. It was against my nature to be still, but I felt God challenging me. If I wanted to feel different, I had to be different.
I taught myself to realistically assess every opportunity that came my way. This was a real challenge for someone like me who enjoys work, service and being ‘busy.’ My husband has a talent for catching me before I fall, so he was a huge help in the assessment process. My judgment improved. Every volunteer job, extra-curricular activity or event was evaluated for its quality in our lives. And I said no many, many times.
The lack of busyness means less stress and more patience. I have fallen in love with the relative stillness of our home (not counting all the noise the kids make).
Saying no to outside demands meant I could say yes to my husband and family. Best decision ever.
Next up was the amount of stuff in our house. The clutter around us on a daily basis made me physically tense. I learned to focus not so much on keeping the house clean, but on lessening the amount of useless junk we had. Less stuff means less cleaning which equals more time enjoying our home.
We began to play around with minimalism and conducted many purges over the years. Less clutter meant more space and removing the weight of over-indulgence left me feeling buoyant with bliss.
We added another child to our family the following year, and my focus on gratitude began to extend toward teaching it to my children. Again, our culture leans toward consumerism and greed, so I would have to set the example on how to live for the Spirit and not the flesh.
“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” (Romans 8:5, ESV)
Finally, one Christmas we didn’t charge any gifts on the credit card (a first) and my kids had the most grateful Christmas ever. It brought tears to my eyes to see how truly happy they were, and to realize we accomplished that with far fewer gifts. They had learned to be grateful with less, too.
I learned to re-evaluate everything we bought or brought into our home. Just like our activities, quality was important. Now, before we allow anything to come through the door of our home we review each item, from kitchen appliances to fast-food toys. It’s a constant commitment to live simply.
We get funny looks from friends and family when we do very few extra-curricular activities, don’t accept gifts from friends for our children’s birthdays, or that we ditched cable television. It’s okay to live differently from the world because Jesus set the example for going against the grain.
Grateful with Less
If it doesn’t add value to our lives, we don’t let it become a part of them. Whether it’s an activity, a job opportunity, or a consumer item. This guarding of our time and resources is a true simplification of our lives and has brought us gratitude I didn’t know was possible this side of Heaven.
Don’t wait for a tragedy to inspire you to simplify. When we choose to live with less, we find lives filled with abundant gratitude.
2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers