In 2008, a nine metre statue was unveiled in St. Pancras Station, London, depicting two young lovers passionately embracing. The ‘Lovers Statue’ dramatically portrays the relief of a deep longing finally satisfied through another’s devoted presence.
What makes this statue so interesting is that its base highlights certain hallmark scenes from the history of St. Pancras Station. One such scene is a smaller version of the main statue, but with a difference. This time, whilst the couple is passionately embracing, the young girl peers over her partner’s shoulder to gaze lovingly at her mobile phone!
This comparison is a striking critique of our generation’s habit to exchange the power and depth of the moment with a loved one, for possessions.
When we take time to reflect on how we live, it can reveal scary results. Many of us devote significant time, thought, money and fears on items that ultimately mean little to us. In contrast, minimal attention is focused on what we truly value unless circumstances shock us back into reality.
In an attempt to leave behind this surface-level experience, our youth group at Titirangi Baptist Church is taking a year to explore spiritual disciplines, as a way to connect deeply with God and one another. We are discovering how Jesus enables us to “articulate more human ways to live." (1) One such way is through simplicity.
When we think of simplicity, we likely have in our mind getting rid of possessions to live a stripped-back, bare and quiet life. There is some truth in that definition, but it’s missing its core component, at least when following the way of Jesus.
Jesus defined simplicity as letting go of what we don’t need to enjoy that which is most important.
We see this particularly in the Parable of the Pearl (Matthew 13: 45-46). The merchant found fine pearls of great value (the kingdom of God) and sold everything he had to buy them. Simplicity does just this. It is the choice to ruthlessly release surface-level living for the deep life. Simplicity is the call to embrace true wealth.
We learn from Jesus that we are rich when we give our lives and our love to meaningful relationships.
We have been made to love God with every ounce of our being and to love our fellow man (Matthew 22: 37-38). Thomas Merton said it like this, “love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone - we find it with another." (2) Likewise, Augustine famously said, “you have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you." (3)
The advertising industry plays on this state of restlessness. We are sold the lie that a product will satisfy our longing. But Jesus calls those who have surrendered to this lie fools! (Luke 12:13-21)
Simplicity is in vogue right now. I’ve read countless lists of ways to simplify life to maintain peace and contentment. But without Jesus’ vision it makes the end goal of simplicity our own well-being. This brings its own sense of restlessness. Jesus mentions that we find our lives when we lose them. By carrying our cross we pour out our lives to God and others to embrace a simple, sacrificial, yet rich life. Simplicity asks us to consider what we need to let go of to create space to enjoy the meaning of life found in relationships. Our response can lead to radical generosity.
When we dedicate our lives to those who mean the most to us it gives us a very different perspective on what we own. We see our possessions as what they are. They aren’t worthy of claiming our hearts. But so often our lives and our homes are cluttered with that which we don’t need.
There are many people in our local community who don’t have half as much as we do but live needing what we own and never use! That’s why Jesus said, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” (Luke 3:11)
Challenged by this passage, our youth group sought to live simply and generously by running a project called “Have2Give1.” This is a project created by Mark Scandrette of ReImagine (4) which aims to pool together items such as clothing, bedding, books, toys, tools and give them away to our local neighbourhood through a free garage sale.
To facilitate this project, we asked our wider church to help contribute quality goods alongside that which our young people could muster. We then promoted this to local schools, community groups and our neighbourhood social media pages and particularly asked for those who needed help to come along.
This preparation caused me some stress. What if we couldn’t gather enough items to offer our community? What if we gathered too much and hardly any of our community arrived on the day? What if folk who were actually quite well off wanted to take advantage of this? What if our young people actually didn’t turn up to run the day?
We set up the stalls in the car park of the local primary school after our morning service. After we had set up and divided all the items (which now also included beds, firewood, cabinets and home cooking) we gathered the young people (who came out in force!) to pray. As we were praying for our neighbourhood to receive what we had gathered, a lady cycled into the car park. She then explained how she really needed help and entered our prayer circle as we were praying to God for our neighbours to attend!
We had around thirty people come from our community and it was as if God hand picked those who needed help. Those who came could not believe how all these items could be given for free. We had one lady in tears at how we were helping her and we were so blessed to receive letters of thanks from every member of one family who came along.
At the end of the day our young people were blown away by the experience. They concluded that this is what it looks like to follow Jesus! Their eyes were opened to the true worth in front of them; not their possessions but people!
This was a one off project and the challenge for us is how we maintain a lifestyle of generosity. But I think it begins by loosening our love of what we own by living simply. Generosity is the beautiful by-product of a life lived richly with others. We find out life’s meaning not by or for ourselves, but with another.
1. Richard Foster. 1984. Celebration of Discipline. Pg. 71. UK. Hodder & Stoughton.
2. Thomas Merton. 2002. Love and Living. Pg. 27. US. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
3. Augustine. 1992. Confessions. Book 1. Pg. 12. US. Barnes & Noble.
Matt Vaine is the Youth Pastor at Titirangi Baptist Church, Auckland.
Photo Credit: Anatoli Styf/Shutterstock.com
Scripture: Unless otherwise specified, Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.