Driving a used car is one way to simplify.
Driving a used car is one way to simplify.
I met a woman who was sponsoring a child in Guatemala. She went to visit the child and his family to see how they lived and how her contributions were impacting the child's and the family's lives. She was astonished, first, at the level of poverty in which they lived and, second, at what a difference a small donation could make.

She wanted to do more, so she told the agency handling the sponsorship she wanted to buy the family a refrigerator. She failed to notice the family had no electricity. After some intense education, she realized the gift was inappropriate and bought the family a cow instead.

Sometimes when we have so much we fail to see what people really need. It seemed obvious to that woman that they needed a refrigerator because everyone she knew had one. Having a refrigerator wouldn't even be considered "living simply" since it was an absolute necessity to her -- until she was helped to realize that it wasn't.

If we could simplify our lives, maybe we could finally see that we don't need most of our "trappings." I'm certainly guilty of trappings. I have a mania for pens. At any given time, like right now, I am carrying a dozen pens in my purse. Surely I don't need a dozen pens, but some of them just have the "right" feel as they glide across the paper.

We do that with all kinds of things. Some people do it with electronics, making sure they have the latest gadgets on the market; some folks do it with clothes or shoes. How many pairs of shoes do you have in your closet right now? Do you know? When you count them, see if the number surprises you. It might. We all have more than we need of almost everything. And still we want to acquire more.

Living simply would be the polar opposite to the way many people live these days, unless a "wake-up call" brings the real world into focus for us.

I know a priest who said he couldn't wait to buy his first new car after he was ordained. And he did. However, after making that purchase, he volunteered to serve in Central America and spent six years as a pastor there. After his experiences there, he decided he would never buy another new car. He decided it wasn't necessary, and a good used car would be fine. Over the past 50 years, he has kept his promise to himself and shared the money he saved with the poor.

Living simply doesn't mean "living without," although that might not be a bad idea. It means living wisely, realizing so many people have so little of what we have that it would be in our best spiritual interest to dispense with some of the truly unnecessary baggage that we continue to accumulate.

Instead of adding to our goods, we need to look at what we have and make an effort to stop gathering or accumulating and start sharing and living the life of a Gospel-centered Christian. So many people benefit when we take the time to really see our world and how a little help can make a huge difference.

The writer is editor of The Messenger, newspaper of the Diocese of Belleville, Ill.