I'm also giddy because I disliked the book so much that I'm doing a jig because it's over. Now, in saying that, I'm not sure whether or not I should apologize for not liking a book that Stephanie suggested. What she said when she recommended it was that she was curious to see what I would think. She knows me well enough to know that there was a chance I wouldn't like it. The possibility existed!!
If you are unfamiliar with the premise of 7, it can be summarized in the subtitle: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. Basically it's the documented experiment of Jen Hatmaker to live life more "simply". It's also a loose attempt to convince you to live your own life more simply. I tend to find that suggestion annoying no matter who is making it. I'll tell you why in a second. But to get back to telling you what this book is about: it's about 7 months of Jen Matmaker's life attempts to eliminate excess food, clothing, household goods and social media. It's also about an attempt to grow her own food, eliminate trash waste and, ultimately, develop a deeper relationship with God.
I have to tell you that the entire time I was reading this book I had the following passage from Scripture in mind:
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1
In other words, we need to be careful not to re-order our lives according to a set of "homemade rules" that aren't required of us in scripture. We are free to live "simply" or with a bit of "excess" as befits our situation and personal conscience. Trying to convince others to live exactly as we do because it is somehow "right" is actually wrong.
Which leads me to my chief complaint about the call among some Christians that we ought to all "live simply". What exactly does that mean? Usually when I hear another Christian make an impassioned plea for others to "live with less" or "be content" or "avoid excess", etc., there is a familiar tone in the voice that I recognize. While I appreciate that people feel passionately about "living simply" I would respectfully request that they remember the above scripture and take care that their passion for simplicity is not evolving into some type of false humility. I suggest that "living simply" is going to mean different things to different people and as Christ didn't lay out any particular example of what a simple home looked like, I think that's ok.
I really think the call to "live simply" should be carefully considered. I hear it being used as a weapon more often than not and besides, I really don't think we should be judging people by only a glimpse of what we see of their lives without understanding the ins and outs of how they go about spending their money or time and for what reasons. (Not that Hatmaker was judging. She was not!!!) For instance - our family makes a regular habit out of hosting large groups of people. Tonight we are hosting our the main dinner portion of our church's Christmas progressive dinner. Because we often host large numbers, I have collected/been given a lot of dishes for place settings. I've probably spent about $30 total on my dishes and the rest have come as gifts. However, I discovered in preparing for this meal that I was about 12 bowls short of what would be needed. My husband and I discussed it and opted to go to the Dollar Store and purchase 12 more bowls as, in the long run, we'd be making good use out of them. When I was standing in line, a lady started remarking about the amount of bowls I was buying and how I must have a very large house with a lot of storage space. Assumptions. I do have a large enough house, but I have minimal storage space. I don't house piles of crystal in my house but I did need 12 bowls at the dollar store to tend to an immediate need. I wasn't even at Target; I was at the Dollar Store. Is buying an additional 12 bowls excess? To some it is, yes. But to some of us it isn't because we have a need, based on our lifestyle and what we feel God has called us to (in our case, hospitality of large numbers). Is my relationship with God right in purchasing those extra bowls? Yes. It is. (Although talk about an awkward moment in the checkout lane.)
Note that there is nothing wrong with trying to live in such a way that frees you up to live the life that God has called you to and for some that might mean not having extra dishes in their cupboards. There is everything right about that. Certainly "things" and "stuff" have a way of stealing our attention from the things in life which really matter. Scripture commands that we remove things from our lives which distract us from our relationship with Christ, primarily. (Mark 9:47; Matthew 19:21 to give a few examples.) We should always be examining the relationships/people/circumstances in our lives and asking God to show us what is distracting us from Him and take appropriate steps to prioritize what is truly important. But to be clear, God doesn't ask all of us to sell literally everything that we own in order to have a relationship with Him. A few may be asked to do so but it would be under pretty remarkable circumstances. (There were, after all, only 12 official apostles who were called to literally follow Him around, leaving behind their lives.) This to say - yes, be aware of what is keeping you from having a right relationship with God. At the same time, I don't think we should be feeling guilty for owning more items that another Christian thinks we ought to own.
A third concern that I have about this book is that at the beginning of 7 Jen talks about how each month is set up like a "fast" of sorts. During one of the months she gives up all but 7 ingredients from her diet. For that one month she fasts eating only seven ingredients. Then another month she focused on reduced spending wherein she didn't go out to eat or mindlessly shop. A couple of times friends invited her to go somewhere with them but she'd respond, "Sorry, 7!" as a reminder of her ....fasting project? Experiment? But two things about this lacked in consistency: if the friends then offered to pay for her to eat out, she would go out with them. (So if she is learning to simplify her spending habits but is helping her friends spend money on her behalf I'm very confused. Especially if we're calling it a fast.) She used the words "experiment" and "fasting" interchangeably and when you do that you are presenting two interpretations for what you are saying. If she's experimenting then ok, fine, I get it, she wants to share her experiences. If she's fasting then there is the scripture which tells us that if we fast we should have cheery countenances about ourselves and not make it a matter of public concern or awareness. (Matthew 6:17-18) So which was this? A fast or an experiment?
I really don't know that this book should exist. Which is not to say that the conversation should not exist . . . just the book! Jen shares of her experiences in a very conversational manner. If I were conversing with her over a cup of tea or coffee, I wouldn't mind this at all and would have taken a greater interest in what she had to share. However, since she's writing down her thoughts, I felt like she could have taken the time to offer the counter arguments, as well as a lot more scriptural proof and teaching to validate her reasons for making the choices and decisions which she made. Instead it felt like Hatmaker had a whim and a contract to write a book, and why not this idea rather than another? Do we publish books just to publish them?
The bottom line to the "simplicity argument" is that I think you must set yourself up in a state that works for you and your family to love God, love His people and serve in whatever form or fashion He asks of you. It's not about reducing, reusing and recycling; it is about a right relationship with God. Eliminate the "stuff" which distracts from this; gather the tools necessary to do your work.
I'm going to keep my dishes, still go out to eat with friends when the schedule allows for it, collect good books for my children to read, give good gifts to others (at Christmas time and for no good reason at all) eat healthy, yummy food all of the time (and serve it to others) and enjoy the life which God has given me to enjoy without guilt or apology. I will also do all of the above with thanksgiving, acknowledging that none of my life is remotely possible without God's desire to bestow such wonderful, good gifts upon me. He has made my pathway what it is, just as He has made Hatmaker's pathway what it is. Our lives aren't supposed to look the same. Her "simple" and my "simple" no doubt look drastically different and that's ok. She can be an arm and I'll be a leg in the Body of Christ. I might need more dishes than her and she might need more cowboy boots than me. She has been placed where she is in life "for such a time as this" just as I have been placed where I am for good reason. If we are both simplifying for the sake of relationship with Jesus Christ then it is all good.
I think Hatmaker has the best in mind with this book. I took issue with her ambiguous theological arguments in parts, as well as her practical application (stemming mostly from her theology) but I don't fault her for trying to deepen her walk with Christ. That's the most important thing and she shouldn't guilt away from that any more than I intend to. With three sets of dishes or one, I am the Lord's (and the dishes are the Lord's) and amen.