This past year I have had the privilege to begin writing more at my job. Including writing a book review of "7" by Jen Hatmaker for our monthly magazine Chatter . Please enjoy the post below. It was printed in the February 2013 edition, which can be read in it's entirety here.
7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess
By Jen Hatmaker
Reviewed by Victoria Andrews
In time for Lent, IBC’s own communications assistant Victoria Andrews shares her thoughts on “7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess” by Jen Hatmaker. Warning: Do not read “7” if you don’t want to be challenged about what you spend, how you eat, and what you do each and every day. Do not read it if you don’t want to laugh so hard you cry. Do read “7” if you’re looking for a new way to approach Lent this year.
I am a single woman in her twenties. I work for a church (read: not rich). I live in an apartment with a roommate and my dog, Gracie. Before “7,” a trip to the grocery store and my morning routine were a lot simpler. When I got “7” in the mail from a good friend, I had no idea that my life would be affected so much. I read it in January of 2012, and identified with the author when she said, “See, I am an extremist. I don’t learn lessons easily, subtly, or delicately. I cannot be trusted with loose boundaries.”
“7” is the story of how Jen Hatmaker (along with her family and six of her friends dubbed “The Council”) chooses to remove excess from her life. Jen describes the experiment that became “7” as “an exercise in simplicity with one goal: to create space for God’s kingdom to break through.” She picked seven things: clothes, shopping, waste, food, possessions, media, and stress. She then spent a month focusing on eliminating, simplifying, and changing. For example, during the “food” month, Jen and her husband (the children didn’t participate in two of the months) chose to eat seven simple foods. In the “waste” month, the whole family gave up seven items a day, for a month. That’s 210 items out the door if you are math-challenged like me. During the “stress” month, Jen took on seven sacred pauses, stopping to pray seven times a day, each time with a different focus on God’s work in the world.
The majority of the book is written in blog/diary style, with each month comprising a chapter and each chapter broken into her reflections on a handful of days from that month. I am pretty sure Jen and I should be BFFs as it frequently felt like she was inside my head while I was reading. Jen is starkly honest, open about her failures, and wonderfully sarcastic and funny in her writing.
My “7” Experience
By February of 2012, I found myself deciding to do a modified “7” challenge for Lent. For six (long) weeks, I gave up something different each week. I chose my weeks based on a question Jen asks in the book: “What in my life, if taken away, would alter my value or identity?” I did not like the idea one bit of giving up my clothes, or chocolate, or my multiple hair products. I got downright snippy, in fact, when a friend texted me the idea of eliminating seven products for a week. I think I sent her back a text along the lines of, “I hate you” (sorry Amy!), because as soon as she suggested it, I knew it was going to hurt. And I really liked my comfortable (non-frizzy hair and five coats of mascara) life. I launched into Lent knowing it would be hard, but looking forward to what God was going to do in my heart during that time. And I wasn’t disappointed. I saw God work in powerful ways through the items given up, and those weeks changed how I view my place in the world.
My takeaway from this book, and from my own “7”-themed Lent, was to recognize first how blessed I am. I am often distracted by the fact that so many people have so much more than me, but I don’t often let myself be broken over the billions who have less. Yes, billions. Also, it helped me to loosen my grasp on things standing in the way of pursuing Christ. I took a step back and identified some serious idolatry going in my life from my possessions to my morning routine, and “7” helped me to begin the process of breaking free. Learning to live on less and to have more room for God to work is a beautiful thing. I have a long way to go, but I have started the journey.
This quote from the conclusion of “7” nicely summarizes the book and my thoughts:
Love God most. Love your neighbor as yourself. This is everything.
If we say we love God, then we will care about the poor.
This earth is God’s and everything in it. We should live like we believe this.
What we treasure reveals what we love.
Money and stuff have the power to ruin us.
Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with God. This is what is required.
“As I reduce, He is enough. As I simplify, He is enough. He is my portion where food and clothes and comfort fall woefully short. He can heal me from greed and excess, materialism and pride, selfishness and envy.”
“What if all my silly, little individual purchases do matter? What if I joined a different movement, one that was less enticed by luxuries and more interested in justice? What if I believed every dollar spent is vital, a potential soldier in the war on inequality?”
Best “LOL” Moment
“One thing is for sure: my carbon footprint will always lead back to Sonic until some tree-hugging hippie discovers a non-Styrofoam vehicle to deliver the icy perfection that is the Sonic soda. Sorry, planet.”
Best “Is Jen Hatmaker in my head?” Moment
During month five, Jen begins talking about her three “alter egos,” which perfectly sum up a weekly argument I have in my head. Here is a brief snippet:
“Sometimes my Organic personality, Sage Moonjava merges; and my top priority is to buy real food with wholesome ingredients…But other times my ‘buy local’ personality Ryvre materializes…however, my third alter ego, Freedom Shakra, is trying to unhook me from the corporate machine… The competing voices confuse me, and I’m not sure which personality should dominate. This leaves me a mess half the time, and I manage to feel guilty one way or another, no matter which purchasing propriety wins the day.”
Read the conclusion first. The way Jen concludes her book helped me see her heart and perspective so clearly, and thus to see the book differently.
Also, don’t re-read it right before Christmas (like me). Your 3-year old nephew will not understand why he is getting a card saying his present was a chicken donated through Samaritan’s Purse rather than the Tonka truck of which he was dreaming. “7” can be very convicting, so it’s good to remember your life won’t look like Jen Hatmaker’s, and it shouldn’t. Jen speaks to the fact that God is writing your story, not Jen Hatmaker.
Consider taking a page from “7” and picking something to remove in your own life to create space for God to speak. Lent is upon us and is a perfect time to fast and reflect on the sacrifice of Christ. You don’t have to clear the calendar for the next 7 months in order to hear God. Pick one or two (or 6) things to strategically remove or add into your life this Lenten season as a way to create space and as a form of worship. “Even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love’” (Joel 2:12-13).