Money, Material Possessions, and the Mennonite Mentality
by Nancy Mehl
When I first agreed to write an article about the Mennonite view of money, I must admit to being a little hesitant. Except for their commitment to helping those in need and their core doctrine of pacifism, today’s modern Mennonites aren’t much different from any other Christian church. So how could I write about money and the Mennonite mentality in a way that would be interesting? And then it came to me. Simplicity. Simplicity is the heart of the Amish and Conservative Mennonite life. Even if it’s not as prevalent in the more liberal Mennonite Church today, no one can argue that the Mennonite Church has roots that are firmly anchored in this lifestyle. Can society today learn something from the idea of simplicity? Can it affect the way we see life? The way we see money? The answer is a resounding, “Yes!”
First of all, let’s talk about money itself. Among more conservative Mennonites, living simply means living with less. Buying only what you really need and rejecting excess expresses the core message of simplicity. But how do we apply this to our modern, busy lives? Are we supposed to quit our jobs, become farmers, and give up all our possessions? Of course not. There’s nothing wrong with having money and things. The problem is allowing money and things to have us. However, if you’re worrying about how to pay the bills, and if your closets and storage areas are overflowing, then perhaps the idea of simplifying your life is one that will benefit you. So, how do we redirect our course? How do we simplify? To begin, we must ask ourselves this question: What do we really need, and how does this differ from what we want?
Today’s world is busy and full of noise. A lot of us are concerned with obtaining the next new electronic toy. We’re plugged in, up to date, and unfortunately, tuned out. Texting has taken the place of conversation. Television has replaced family time. Keeping up with the Joneses has put us in debt, kept us awake at night, and stolen our joy. More and more people are becoming dissatisfied with the results of runaway consumerism. There’s a yearning in our culture to find a way out of the confusion. A call is going out across our nation to simplify. We may not connect this current trend to the Amish or the Mennonites, but the correlation is there. This is most evident in the recent surge of interest in Amish and Mennonite novels. We want something better. Something simpler. Something manageable. Online sites are popping up all over the Internet that call for minimalism. One site, The 100 Thing Challenge, encourages people to whittle their possessions down to one hundred items. Wait a minute, don’t stop reading. You don’t have to pick one hundred things and get rid of the rest. The number isn’t the important part of the equation, it’s the idea that we can choose to live with less.
Looking more closely at our Amish and Conservative Mennonite brothers and sisters bring clues to ridding ourselves of the chaos. Before we go any further, let me say this upfront. Personally, I have no intention of giving up electricity. If you want to sweat in the summer and heat up water for a bath once a week, go for it! (Please stay downwind from me.) But let’s discuss another way we can simplify life without cutting out the things we feel are necessities. One of the most important steps to making our lives better is to declutter.
In preparing to move to another state, I began to suspect that someone had been sneaking in at night and dropping off all their junk at my house. When I mentioned this to my husband, he snickered. That didn’t bode well. Could all this stuff really be mine? Thirty-six year of living in the same home had given me a chance to fill every nook and cranny. Just because you have extra space, it doesn’t mean it’s there for you to stuff with…stuff. However, somewhere in our minds we allow that thought to filter in. When my husband told me we might have to rent an additional storage unit (we already have one) to cram in all the extra packed boxes, the sinking feeling I already had forced me to look honestly at my situation. The sad truth is that there are only two of us living in this house. Okay, three with the dog, and although his toy box has toys that never see the light of day, I’m not going to blame him for this mess. I probably couldn’t get away with that. Could I?
So how, you ask, do I declutter? I don’t have all the answers, but I can at least give you a place to start. There are lots of books and Web sites dedicated to this subject. Research. Find someone who speaks to your situation and follow their advice. Some of it may be helpful. Some not so much. I read a blog by one man who said he’d only had one suit for twenty-five years. It’s the only suit he ever wears. Okay… Maybe that’s going a little too far. My friends would probably give me a wide berth if I only wore one outfit, and I wouldn’t blame them. But for advice that’s a little more practical, you might consider this from another decluttering expert: If you haven’t used something in thirty days, get rid of it. Uh, oh. There goes two-thirds of my stuff. Sigh. So…where to begin?
A quick look in the closet will reveal some truths we all need to confront. That dress you haven’t worn since junior high? Probably not going to be tossing that on anytime soon. The fringed jacket from the sixties? Trendy then, but now it would look better on that cowboy guy who wanders around New York City in his underwear. (If only he’d wear it. Or anything.) Go through your closet and find a way to reduce the clothes and shoes (yes, ladies, I said shoes) down to something more manageable. Remember our Amish/Mennonite friends? A Conservative Mennonite woman may only have five or six dresses. Maybe less. Two or three different pairs of shoes. Okay, I just lost most of the women reading this article. Take a deep breath. I’m not suggesting you adhere to this number. Just get rid of the clothes and shoes you don’t wear – or won’t wear. And be honest. How about donating them to The Salvation Army? Or a local women’s shelter? If you’re a man, what about a local mission that works with homeless men? A few years ago, my son donated some of his clothes to the residents of a low-income housing complex. A man who’d just moved in and had nothing, took them gratefully, thrilled to find nice clothes in his size. Castoffs to my son. Christmas to the man who needed them. Now obviously, you can’t apply the thirty day rule to seasonal clothes. Wearing a thick sweater in one-hundred degree temperatures will make you uncomfortable – and alone. Unless you use a really good deodorant. Keep some for winter, some for summer, and some for those in-between times. The idea is to finally wave good-bye to the items that you know will never escape the confines of your closet.
Can we apply that thirty day rule to other areas? For example, how many videos do you really need? When’s the last time you actually watched something from your collection? Do you belong to Netflix? Yes? So basically you have videos taking up space that you can order from Netflix any time you want them? Does that actually make any sense? Or are you keeping all these videos because you believe Netflix will be the first company taken over by aliens when they invade, hoarding all the videos for themselves? This is just an example, but the idea is sound. Begin to question why you keep certain things. If you can’t justify it, you probably don’t need it.
What about your kitchen? I probably have forty coffee cups. I only regularly use three or four of them. Now this is where it gets personal. I love coffee cups. I collect them. But here’s the question I’ve begun to ask myself. Someday hubby and I will leave this earth for our real home and all these coffee cups will stay here. I’ve asked God if I can take them with me, but He’s been strangely silent in this area. I could almost swear I heard a big sigh. Hubby assures me it’s just the wind, but I’m not so certain. Since it seems that God isn’t willing to transport my coffee cup collection, or my grandmother’s ceramic cat collection, or my mother’s silver, or my set of Jadeite dishes, or my angel collection, or any of my three hundred books, or the boxes full of my other grandmother’s jewelry, or my… Well, let me stop here. You get the idea. All of these things are important to me. But my son, an only child, gets a glazed look on his face when I mention leaving all of this stuff to him. I’m pretty sure he’s wondering how much it will cost to rent a large storage facility to keep all of it when I’m gone. You see, there is a guilt factor here, especially when it comes to getting rid of family heirlooms. Or in some cases, family junk. In our minds, our late relatives will roll over in their graves if we get rid of anything. It isn’t true. I’m convinced that someday, when I leave this earth and walk those golden streets, bathed in the light of His love, the last thing on my mind will be my coffee cup that states “I’m so happy here, I could just barf.” Leaving behind a bunch of stuff for my son and his wife to sort through isn’t the legacy I want to leave behind. Instead, I want them to remember that I loved God and them. That I valued them above…things.
Jesus said, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Simplifying our lives will help us to put what’s most important in first place.
This brings us to the real reason we need to get out of debt, rid ourselves of excess, and free ourselves and our money from the burden of stuff. Serving others. Giving away those things we don’t need to people who would be blessed by them. Having more money to give to worthwhile charities. Making a real difference in the lives of other people. Would you rather update all your electronic gizmos – or buy a water well for a village overseas whose children are sick and dying due to unsafe water?
Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” True abundance isn’t in hoarding treasures up for ourselves. It comes from giving. Making someone else’s life better. He also said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Simplifying our lives means deciding what our real treasure is. Is it in amassing stuff? Or touching souls? I’m thankful to our Mennonite and Amish brothers and sisters for giving us an example to follow.
Now…anyone out there who needs that “barf” coffee cup?
Nancy Mehl lives in Wichita, Kansas, with her husband Norman and her very active puggle, Watson. She’s authored fourteen books and is currently at work on a new series for Bethany House Publishing. The first book in her Road to Kingdom series, “Inescapable,” came out in July of 2012. The second book, “Unbreakable” released in February of 2013. Readers can learn more about Nancy through her Web site: www.nancymehl.com or her blog: www.suspensesisters.blogspot.com. You can contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org. She is also active on Facebook.