I have a friend who, after listening to me, said, “I think you have a bit of a monk and a mystic in you.” I have been thinking about that recently as I ponder another transition in my life. I am in the last few months of an interim pastorate in Grants Pass, Oregon. Given the length of time it takes to find pastoral work that is satisfying, fun and provides a modest livelihood, I have been engaged in the search process for a number of months now.
I admit that as I face the uncertainty of the next step I have gotten rather used to a healthy paycheck. For the first time in my working life I have enjoyed the luxury of eating out when my schedule was too tight for cooking, putting a little money into a small IRA, and treating family and friends to meals just because it makes me feel good to be generous.
But the truth is my friend is right, “There is a bit of a monk and a mystic in me,” and despite having enjoyed the luxury of a comfortable income these past two years I know that if it comes down to it I don’t really need it.
Four years ago I downsized dramatically, donated about 90% of my belongings to St. Vincents, and house sat for a year. The income I saved on rent paid for the cycling trip to Italy, Greece and Turkey in 2014. It took me a while to find employment again, but when I did I had replace a few items I had donated. While I had to purchase a few furnishings when I moved into my 2-bedroom apartment, I kept it at a minimum–a bed, a couple of bookcases, and cookware was all I needed. I remember a few years ago that I began thinking, “All I really need in my life is my guitar, my bike and a few really good friends.” At the time I dismissed it as unrealistic and slightly delusional. “You can’t just ride bikes and play guitar. You have to make a living!”
But the older I get the more I am beginning to believe that my soul is trying to tell me something with this yearning for the simple.
- How much of our working life is spent supporting a lifestyle that doesn’t really feed us?
- How much time do we spend repairing, protecting and polishing up possessions that keep us chained to things that don’t truly satisfy?
- How often do we complain that we can’t just pick up and go because we have built a house and lifestyle that demands our daily attention?
I remember a few years ago when I was the pastor at Eastminster in Portland. A man we fondly called John the Painter came to us during a particularly heavy rainstorm. He had been sleeping in the campground when the 3-day deluge had hit and wanted to know if he could sleep on our property in exchange for a little work. In the end he wound up staying a full six weeks in an extra room in the church while he repainted the entire inside of the church. It was a good deal for him and for us!
But what I was struck by when he was there was that I had a certain attraction to him. John lived pretty free and somewhat easy life. He traveled around the country going where he wanted when he wanted. When he ran out of money he just stopped and offered his carpentry and painting skills until he had enough money to hit the road again. He had family in another state and every few months he returned to his grown children’s homes and reacquainted himself with grandchildren. At first it seemed an irresponsible lifestyle, but I knew my soul recognized something in him that also lived in me.
I doubt I would ever be as comfortable as John was living out of a tent, trusting that work would show up when he ran out of money, and having no backup plan for emergencies. But I recognized that there was a soulful way that he lived his life where most of his day could be dedicated to the things he enjoyed and that attracted him. He didn’t have to wait for a weekend to explore a new place, or save up enough to go on vacation while holding down a mortgage. Exploring and discovering new things and meeting interesting people was a lifestyle for him. The simplicity of his life afforded a breadth and depth of experiences that most of us will never claim.
I write this because I am reflecting on this coming period when I’ll be facing another professional and financial transition again. I have to admit that I have enjoyed being able to go out and eat sushi, pay $30 for a concert ticket and put a little extra into that measly retirement account. If I had a choice I would live modestly (as I have here), but still enjoy a healthy income.
But having a livelihood in the church is no guarantee these days. I can feel myself preparing for the possibility that there will either be no work or only part-time work. And I am struck by the fact that even if a comfortable livelihood is not waiting for me that I’ll be okay. My friend is right. I do have a bit of the monk and the mystic in me.
Like a monk I really only need a bed, a desk and a lamp.
And like the mystic I could be pretty happy with just my guitar, my bike and a few good friends.
Everything else is just a gift.