Busyness seems to be about the only constant thing in our lives. We spend a great deal of time and energy keeping ourselves occupied with long work hours in hopes of ‘getting ahead’ in our lives — both professional and personal. We equate idleness with laziness, and value productivity and efficiency above all else. Having more means working more, and anyone with less simply hasn’t earned it.
Being busy is just part of being a normal human being. Same goes with debt. Student debt, home debt, credit card debt, and bills on top of bills on top of bills… these are all things that normal people just deal with. “It’s good debt,” we tell ourselves as we struggle to balance a mortgage with car payments, utilities and the cost of raising children. Debt keeps us focused and on task — it’s just something ‘normal people’ deal with.
But for others, like filmmaker, author and activist Jared Brock, a ‘normal’ lifestyle of constant busyness and debt-chasing stopped being appealing.
Jared, along with his wife Michelle, is one of the co-founders of Hope for the Sold, an organization that advocates against the sexual exploitation of women around the world. Together, they have created films such as Red Light Green Light and Over 18, films that explore the legalization of prostitution around the world and the harmful effects of pornography respectively. Jared is also an author of such popular titles as A Year of Living Prayerfully and the 31-day devotional Bearded Gospel Men.
But in the last several years, he and Michelle have also adopted a lifestyle of simplicity, choosing to eschew the cultural ideals of owning a big house and multiple cars in favour of a modest dwelling in a co-operative mobile home community. And while certainly not without its challenges, Brock describes his current lifestyle as “pretty luxurious, once you get used to it.”
Brock says the genesis for he and his wife Michelle came during a backpacking trip to Lake Nicaragua in Central America during their early 20s. The lake, once considered a “national wonder” according to Brock, was at that time covered with plastic water bottles. Later that same day, the Brocks witnessed a legless teenager using a plastic straw to extract water from a rusty fire hydrant, something Jared describes as a perspective altering experience.
“The combination of environmental degradation and human suffering just broke me. I knew I needed to start making practical changes immediately,” he says.
But what does this look like?
“Simple living is about creating a margin of time, energy, and money to focus on living out your kingdom calling,” says Brock. “For my wife and I, this means living in a co-op trailer park, not owning cell phones, sharing one used car, not having debt or Netflix, etc.”
But while this might seem radical to ‘normal people,’ Brock insists that this re-structured lifestyle has actually been immensely advantageous for the type of life he and his wife Michelle strive to lead.
“Simple living is about creating a margin of time, energy, and money to focus on living out your kingdom calling.”
“We have tons of time to work on the projects that we feel God has called us to,” he says. “It’s important to remember that the water we flush down the toilet is cleaner than most of the world’s drinking sources. We’re quantifiably rich. I literally never take things like clean water and fresh socks for granted anymore.”
But beyond issues of environmentalism and social justice, Brock says there’s a very clear spiritual component to the idea of simple living, a practice that he says leaves him more open to God’s calling than a lifestyle of busyness and debt-chasing ever could.
“My favorite verse is Psalm 90:12: ‘Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.’ Literally: Realize that life is short and learn to live well,” he says. “I don’t want to miss whatever God wants to do in and through me.”
“I also love the old poem by bearded gospel man C. T. Studd,” he adds. “‘Only one life, it soon will pass, only what’s done for Christ will last.’”
While he doesn’t expect everyone to adopt the idea of simplicity anytime soon, Brock does think that there is an onus on people who consider themselves Christians to, at the very least, think about how they might un-complicate their own lives.
“Christians are called to adopt a stewardship mindset, not a consumerist mindset,” he says. “If we spend our time and money the way everyone else does, is Christ really making a difference in our lives? The Great Commission isn’t the white picket fence American Dream. We need to be radically different. Our life should naturally make people ask questions.”
Brock admits that his way of life is definitely outside the mainstream, and is likely to still be seen as a little ‘on the fringe’ by most people. At the same time, he questions the way of life that many individuals and families currently find themselves in, and challenges people to think about whether or not their currently lifestyle is really working for them.
“Most people are living wildly outside their means, drowning in debt, no room for giving or service. It’s easy to label minimalists and simple-livers as granola-crunching hippies, or in our case, trailer trash — but is rampant consumerism really the kingdom way?”
Brock admits that it hasn’t always been easy to maintain such a different lifestyle, and there are things he sometimes misses about his old life, though he adds that overall the drawbacks haven’t been enough to make him seriously reconsider his way of life.
“A few times a year — mostly on the road — we really wish we owned a cell phone. But everything is a cost-benefit analysis. “I’m more concerned about digital addiction than not being able to flag down a tow truck.”
Skeptics may point to the fact that Jared and Michelle don’t have any children of their own as a reason for doubting whether or not a life of simplicity is really possible, especially for people who already have kids. After all, it’s one thing for one person or even a couple to sell their possessions and move to the forest. When asked how doable a lifestyle of simple living is when kids are involved, Brock admits it might be challenging — but it can still be done.
“I have a few friends who seem to be succeeding,” he says. “They live in smaller houses in less-alluring areas, drive older cars or cycle, and limit their outside commitments in order to focus on running churches and ministries or developing communities or kingdom businesses.”
He adds that some parents might see a simpler life, particularly one with more financial freedom, as a way of actually enhancing their ability to be parents.
“We have a pair of friends who save up their money so they can adopt Ethiopian orphans. They have three so far. Their kids are so cool… certainly more interesting than a massive mortgage payment.”
Brock says that for his family, rejecting a ‘normal life’ in favour of a simplified lifestyle was “a no-brainer.” And while some may still find it difficult to sacrifice the cultural pressures to live a lifetime of chasing financial comfort and security, he suggests that there might be a better use of time if people would consider that maybe, just maybe, there’s another way of life that might serve them, and more importantly the Kingdom of God, a little bit better.
“Time and wealth are both finite resources. Life is short, bitterly so, and you can waste much of it climbing the corporate ladder or chasing counter-Christ ambitions,” he says.
“Alternately, you can ‘sacrifice’ a little bit of comfort and a few possessions and gain a wealth of time and money to re-allocate towards your kingdom calling.
“As Jim Elliot said: ‘He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.’”