During my quasi-public pursuit for simplicity I have been criticized for focusing too much on first world problems. Indeed, the need to simplify implies starting with abundance: relative wealth, excessive possessions, hours of idleness saturated with mindless entertainment – the list goes on and on. Certainly I have faced my share of first world problems. However, I take a different point of view of their severity.
Jesus’ assertion that it is easier for a camel to walk through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to inherit the kingdom of God belies the light-hearted undertone in the phrase “first world problem” (see Luke 18:18-25). Long before Jesus’ time, a wise man gave us many poetic verses to describe the woes of abundance. He asserts in Ecclesiastes 4:4 that only “envy of our neighbor” can motivate us to labor (and acquire) as much as we do. In other words, as a species, we have been keeping up with the Joneses since ancient times, and no one has ever found that it worked to secure happiness or anything meaningful.
The wise man elaborates on the silliness of spending one’s life consumed by labor and acquiring when he essentially points out “you can’t take it with you” in Ecclesiastes 4:14 and 16. Really, the entire chapter is great. Fellow aspiring minimalists should check it out.
As the wise man and Jesus himself point out, the anecdote to many first world problems is to choose a simpler way of living. People are still drawn to simplicity, now also popularly called minimalism, when they realize to what extent clutter and commitments obstruct their ability to focus on what is truly important.
This life will not last. Furthermore, our precious clutter may not even last an entire lifetime. There has to be something more. Something eternal. As the clutter leaves, one begins to see the bigger picture. As time frees up, one finds more of everything that matters.
Paul says it well at the conclusion of his first letter to Timothy:
“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way, they will lay up treasures for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming of age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” (I Timothy 6:17-19)
Contemplating the seriousness of first world problems, or the ironically critical issues associated with wealth, has been the catalyst for many journeys toward simple living, including my own. As I write this, I am waiting for the results of a job search that may test my ability to practice what I preach. I would be lying to say I’m not a little scared, but I hear leaps of faith are rarely done without some anxiety. Of course, I’ll keep you “posted”. 🙂
Thanks for reading!