Reader Writes - September 2018
This caught my eye, and the eye of tens of thousands of others apparently by the way it went viral on facebook. Retirement at 32 with ‘extreme frugality’ said the headline from some utopia like Vermont. This couple had turned their backs on the gruelling professional treadmill in Boston and headed for the woods. They woke up to the reality of their lives; exhaustion, little quality time for each other, racing flat-out to pay a mortgage (lucky people to own a house), and this was supposed to be success. They swapped it for ‘extreme frugality’ and insecure work, but a life together that had more meaning and joy.
We can probably recognize the attraction. They sought financial independence with a simpler life of purpose in a setting they found healthier and more meaningful. They had taken some bolt croppers to the shackles of consumer culture where we often feel compelled to buy our way to happiness and acceptance. Many will take some convincing but they report ‘far-reaching advantages of frugality’. Unavoidably they needed to learn domestic skills they might have had little time for before. House maintenance, gardening, food production, wood cutting was not so much as novel but an unfamiliar luxury. But more than that they enjoyed doing things together; they became teammates with unified goals. In this egalitarian partnership they discovered each other’s gifts and talents. Friendships, community and neighbours all became vital components of an enriched life.
None of this is surprising in the least, yet for this experience to go viral on facebook shows that many people long for something more meaningful in a consumer pressurized society. At heart must be the simple truth that we have evolved and developed for community. For tens of thousands of years Homo sapiens has sat around fires in family and tribal groups telling stories, sharing learning, combining gifts and celebrating resources. We are made for community and companionship with the time to nurture the relationships that develop within these bonds. The Christian will also immediately recognize that we are also made by and for our Creator. As the enigmatic writer of Ecclesiastes puts it, “he has put eternity in the hearts of man”. That restlessness for God in our hearts was put there to trouble us until we reach out and find him. We are made for relationships, with each other and with our God.
It’s tempting to envy our Vermont couple. In Wendell Berry’s words (a writer they probably know), may they be ‘faithful and unafraid, frugal and bountiful’. Courage is sometimes needed to be faithful to principles, and frugality may lead to being bountiful in many ways, especially in a spiritual sense. But we don’t have to flee to the woods to find this life of deeper meaning. We can step right over our utopias and find something more satisfying even than “retirement at 32”; we can invite God into our lives right where he has already put us. The divine relationship turns all relationships into something more three-dimensional. Our gifts, our work, our relationships all have a new purpose and meaning. So why isn’t this news trending on facebook? Perhaps because it has been heard and disbelieved before! Lord, I’m ready to give it a go; please come into my life and make me your follower, wherever you’ll have me go and whatever adventure you will set before me. Amen.