The Worlds of Excess and Lack

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Take about a minute to study the illustration above. Move your eyes back and forth between the child with the iPad and the child eating off the ground. What do you feel?

This hit me like a punch in the stomach.

Shocking.

True.

How can I do more?

It says what I haven’t been able to find the words to say for a while now. Here in Central America I live in the tension that you feel when you look at this image. It’s an uncomfortable place, I admit.

I’m much more comfortable in my middle class home in Alabama, watching House Hunters on TV, surrounded by all my iThings and justifying the couple hundred dollars of recent purchases I just made on frivolous stuff for myself. I mean, I’m not rich and wasteful like those people, right?

We play the comparison game. The truth is that in the U.S. I feel borderline poor and almost convinced that I deserve more: more convenience and comfort, better service, newer gadgets, faster technology, the latest styles. But who is making me feel this lack in my life? Advertising companies? The family down the street? That friend from high school who flaunts her lavish lifestyle on Instagram? Maybe it’s time to cut those things out. I’ve recently started a discipline online of unfollowing people/media/companies that feed that insecurity in me, that insatiable hunger that tells me I need and deserve more more more. They. Are. Lies. (For parents, it might be those that convince you that you should take out a 2nd mortgage just to get your kid all those gifts for Christmas.)

As an adult (more specifically, an adult living as a foreigner in a developing country) I am fully #woke to the fact that in my family we were lavishly spoiled as children during Christmas. (which I loved as a kid, don’t get me wrong) But I think it fed that little materialism monster in me and now it’s my job to try to starve him.

It’s the reason I have a hard time answering when someone cheerfully asks, “Do you love living in Honduras?” Well, part of the time, yes, but not because I’m thoroughly enjoying myself or super comfy or even “living the adventure of a lifetime.” My lifestyle here is very different and a lot of days are hard. It helps keep me grounded and more aware of the majority world’s reality and I value that far more. In the states I can easily and comfortably forget the suffering of those outside my door – the ignorance is bliss kind of thing. Even when I go back home and spend an extended length of time I start to forget. We humans have such short attention spans.

Here, the suffering is unavoidable.

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Now that I have seen I am responsible. – Brooke Fraser


If you’re still wondering if you might be considered rich or not by global standards, Screen Shot 2017-11-27 at 1.20.26 PMcheck out the Global Rich List and see how you compare. I can bet you’re at least in the top 3% richest in the world. 😉

  • sidebar: It certainly isn’t a USA vs. majority world problem either. Economic inequality is sometimes the most extreme within the borders of one single country. The gap between rich and poor in Honduras is painfully obvious.

I just finished reading the book 7 by Jen Hatmaker – I’m behind the times, I know. The tagline is “an experimental mutiny against excess.” Yes. It encouraged me (Again. I will forever and ever need these reminders) that there is value in living more simply and that most of the things we think we need aren’t really necessities but, in fact, excess. The premise of the book is to free ourselves of the bondage of materialism while at the same time opening our eyes to the needs of others around the world. liberation + solidarity.40e6ebd24f7c0e79951a2463ca2290e6--truth-quotes-a-quotes

A good friend of mine used to say, “The most important things in life aren’t things.” Amen.

A few years ago I blogged about something similar after reading Jeff Shinabarger’s book More or Less.

I wrote, “the real kicker is that the kind of life I live here (Honduras), which at first I considered sacrificial, is still seen by many around me as living in abundance. That blows my mind.” The car I felt embarrassed to drive during college now looks like a huge blessing when I consider that most families here do well to buy one used shared vehicle. And mine was one of FIVE vehicles that my immediate family owned – practically unheard of here in Honduras.

I’m caught between these two worlds – but I want so badly that they understand each other.” (Full blog post here.)

My great frustration in life is feeling misunderstood. (My Myers-Briggs [INFP] and Enneagram [4 w 5] personality type results confirm this) So, as if to complicate things even more I decided to move to and marry into a new country and culture and language. Communicating effectively and achieving “being understood” is even more challenging yet at the same time more rewarding when it happens.

And it’s not just on the Honduras end. Sometimes it’s hard for family and friends back home to relate to my daily life (no fault of their own) or to understand that the values, norms, and status quo in Honduran society are different. It gets tricky trying to balance two different value systems. Small talk becomes even more painful when you have so much heaviness weighing on you. Very few in the states truly understand the plight of an average individual trying to make ends meet in a developing country like Honduras and even fewer truly grasp the reality that: The poorest 40 percent of the world’s population accounts for 5 percent of global income and the richest 20 percent accounts for three-quarters of world income. The inequality is staggering and it’s an inequality that has actual faces and names here.

Did you know? The money spent on diet plans in the U.S. alone could feed all starving children around the globe? The 60 billion dollars spent on Black Friday in the U.S. could solve the food crisis TWICE and the water crisis 6 TIMES?

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The wonderful thing is that statistically, Americans are more likely than any other country to voluntarily give to help the poor in other countries. Ironically, those with lower incomes actually give a higher percentage. We could improve on the fact that there is still 33% in our country who do not donate to charity at all.

On my previous short-term trips I would come home to the U.S. to my big comfortable bed and just cry because I didn’t know what to do with what I had just experienced. I knew something was terribly wrong with how I saw the majority of Americans living – their skewed priorities, their indifference to “outsiders.” Unfortunately after a few weeks, those strong feelings of unrest and conviction would start to wane. The awareness that 62% of the population of Honduras live below the poverty line would fade to the background of my consciousness because it was no longer right in front of my face. I would continue with my life and get caught up in the same trivial first world problems. I now consciously choose to keep it in the forefront of my mind no matter how uncomfortable it makes me.

I also choose to keep speaking up about it. I’ll be like that annoying dripping in the kitchen sink that just won’t. shut. up.

You’re welcome.

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal.” Matt. 6:19

What are some practical ways you liberate yourself and your family from the bondage of materialism and/or stand in solidarity with those suffering in and outside our borders?

*Two other life changing books on my shelf regarding this topic are Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ron Sider and The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns.*

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Redefining ENOUGH: want vs. need

I hope this post causes you to 1.) be more generous with what you have and/or 2.) value what you have more.

These past 10+ months in Honduras have been shaping me and causing me to form new habits and abandon old ones. There are a lot of things that I was used to back home that I am doing without here and that is certainly character-building. But the real kicker is that the kind of life I live here, which at first I considered sacrificial, is still seen by many around me as living in abundance. That blows my mind.

I’m caught between these two worlds – but I want so badly that they understand each other. People in the U.S. would say, “Oh my gosh, you have to work in the heat without AC sometimes?” and “Ugh, you have to throw your toilet paper in the trash??” and “You have to walk everywhere you go?” But they should know that that is the least of this country’s worries. I have people here in Honduras ask me in disbelief, “You mean in the U.S. you own a car?” And I just nod my head and feel embarrassed because it is my second car, the first of which I got before I turned 16. It is one of the 5 total vehicles owned by my immediate family. I don’t know many people in their twenties who have their own car here much less anyone who got a car on their 16th birthday. That is basically unheard of. If a family here shares a single car, they are doing fine. And I feel even more absurd when I think about the more recent times I was embarrassed to drive my first car because of the chipped paint and a broken sun roof and manual locks and windows. At times I’ve been a brat.

I just finished listening to a wonderful audiobook about reevaluating what we consider enough in our lives, especially concerning material possessions. I downloaded More or Less by Jeff Shinabarger for free on Noisetrade.com and it couldn’t have come at a better time in my life. Whether you think you’re living in overabundance or not (I would venture to say that you probably are – if you don’t agree, see how you stack up next to the rest of the world by comparing incomes) I would challenge you to read this book and consider how to free yourself from the slavery of excess and begin a life of radical generosity instead.

I used to feel uncomfortable writing or talking much about others’ wealth because I really don’t want to come across as condemning monetary success. I believe God blesses us to bless others. But, I think we should all do a little self-reflecting and ask for God’s discernment… and maybe the Holy Spirit will whisper to a few of us and say, “What are you thinking living this ridiculously lavish lifestyle while the rest of the world is suffering??” giving

In the book, Jeff highlights a few stories and challenges (experiments as he calls them) of several people he has met who are doing out of the ordinary things to free themselves of excess in their lives and live in solidarity with others. The chapter that convicted me was on clothes. This segment of the book featured a girl who decided to go as long as she could wearing each item of clothing she owned, one outfit a day, to see how many days she would last without repeating an outfit. It took her 156 days.

I can only imagine how long I would last with my wardrobe. I don’t have to count my clothes… I know I have too much. The sad part is that every time I go out I actually convince myself that I need something else. Now, I do not spend outlandish amounts of money on clothes. One way that I justify buying things more frequently is because I use coupons and go straight to the clearance aisles or shop second-hand. I never buy anything original price and I avoid name brands. I even still wear a pair of jeans and some black high heels that I have had since I was 16. But I realize that I have too much stuff. Just because the cute pair of platforms are on sale doesn’t mean that I need a 23rd pair of shoes. So I am starting my own little anti-consumer-mindset challenge. It is something that I have kind of been trying out for the last year since I’ve lived in Honduras anyway. In the last 3 months I have not bought a single item of clothing. To some, that is a great feat. To others, it would be a dream to be able to buy a new piece of clothing every three months. I will be moving back to the U.S. (for an undetermined amount of time) in about a month and I know that the temptation to purchase will be a lot stronger there. I am going to go through my closet(s) and give away everything that I don’t truly need. I am going to evaluate if there really is anything I should purchase (such as for a new job, one of the three weddings I will be attending in the upcoming months, etc) and starting from August through November I am taking a pledge to purchase no more clothing for myself. I probably will not understand the true challenge of this until I touch down on U.S. soil but I’m willing to accept it. Even when the challenge is over I hope to have altered my spending habits enough to create lasting change in my purchasing decisions.

Now are there trivial things that I want? Of course. Always. Which is why I keep a Pinterest board full of those wishes. But I am determined to detox my materialistic worldview until I am truly satisfied with the “bare necessities.” And this starts with redefining what really is a need and what is a want. I used to think a car was a need. I used to think air conditioning was a need. I used to think hot water was a need. Now, after almost a year in Central America… these all look like luxuries to me. Now, believe me, I can still turn into a diva when the power or wifi goes out or I run out of uncontaminated water to drink. But I have come a long way in the last year. 🙂 This challenge for me has several purposes:

  1. to live in solidarity with my second home, Honduras, and the majority of the world’s population
  2. to refocus my spending on more important things
  3. to be willing and prepared at a moment’s notice to meet the need of someone else

According to Find the Data, 65% of the nation of Honduras lives under the poverty line. I don’t want to be caught wasting my resources while my brothers and sisters are struggling for their necessities.

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Would you join with me on a challenge of your own? Have you done something similar?