“Who is a missionary?” I asked my class, not too long ago.
They came up with a variety of answers: someone who preaches in a foreign country, someone who has very little, someone who doesn’t make money, and the list continued.
It was difficult for them to wrap it all up neatly. Several wanted to insist that you had to leave the country. I think it was because it fit their idea of a missionary better. Flying to a foreign country steeped in poverty seems far more missionary-esque than serving on a college campus.
“FOCUS sends people to college campus and calls them missionaries. Are they?” “Do they get paid?” “They fundraise their salary.”
Many were on board with that. But for them, there had to be some type of leaving happening–going to a new place, even if they would begrudgingly accept work in the United States.
“What does a missionary do?” I asked. “Preach the Gospel.” “So who could be a missionary?” They discussed for a while. One said, “You?” “Am I a missionary?”
The whole issue of pay came up again, some saying that would disqualify me from missionary status.
This past week, one of my classes watched a movie about the life of Mother Teresa. At one point, right after Mother Teresa had left the Loreto convent, she was shown clearing out her room at a host family’s house. The owner told her they had a lot of spare furniture she was welcomed to use during her time with them. She responded by saying that she needed simplicity so that nothing would distract her from her work with the poor.
I don’t know if that scene happened exactly like that in real life, but her words struck me. Even if she didn’t say that, her life showed that she lived that reality. Perhaps even more impressive, though, was the idea that simplicity gives freedom. It wasn’t a new concept to me, but it was a new concept when I considered it in light of the saint of the slums. Mother Teresa needed poverty in order to be committed to caring for the poor. That may not seem profound to you, but hearing those words evoked a question within me: what makes me think I have more discipline than Mother Teresa?
Her God-given mission was to help the poor. Knowing her own humanity, she knew she had to give up creature comforts in order to remain focused on her mission. Her life of poverty provided the freedom to be generous and sacrificial with her life and time. Material items distract. Compelled by the love and thirst of God, Mother Teresa knew she could not afford to be distracted by lesser things. She created space in her life that could be filled by the presence of God. Fewer possessions crowding her heart yielded greater room to the concerns of the Lord.
Something I gave up for Lent this year is online shopping. Yet I’ve come to realize in the past week that buying too much stuff isn’t the most prevalent problem. Yes, I could probably fill a six-foot bookshelf with the stacks of books piled around my room. The thing that is harder than not buying things is not even looking for them.
My younger sister jokes that for fairly large purchases (like a food processor or an iPhone) I start talking about them six months before I get around to buying them. I’ve never been much of an impulse buyer. But this Lent I’m giving up browsing, shopping, and slowly placing items in random online shopping carts. I have had to catch myself at least two or three times already from following links to Amazon or sites with random household products.
Why am I doing this? There are two primary reasons: I spend unnecessary time scrolling through websites and I don’t like what looking at so many material things does to my heart.
The first is the lesser of the two. It is important, though. Time is a treasure for which it is difficult to account. The minutes can slip away quickly as I look at what other books will fit nicely into my library. Or as I scout out birthday presents for family members in advance. If I am continually feeling like I don’t have enough time, then perhaps I need to evaluate how I invest my time.
But that second reason, that is probably what caused me to stop with the shopping and browsing. We live in a very materialistic world, but I’ve always felt fairly simple. That simplicity, though, seems to be more an idea than a practice. And I don’t like that it seems to be a quality I think I have but actually do not. Gazing at all of the things I don’t have yet might like to, makes me feel unsatisfied with what I currently have. Continue reading “Lent: When You’re Little Enough that No Virtual Window Shopping is a Sacrifice”→