Special Young Writers Report
By Elizabeth Hohnecker, Bergen Community College Student
The day after Hurricane Irene hit the East Coast, I was at a friend’s house near the Ramapo River in Northern New Jersey. We took a walk down his road to see some of the damage caused by the flooding. Having lived in the Northeast my whole life, I had never seen waters this high after a flood. Almost whole houses were underwater. Boats were floating down a river that once was someone’s backyard. Street signs were barely peeking out from under the water.
Shocked by what I saw, I began to think about my possessions and what I value most in life. What if my home was destroyed? What would I mourn losing?
When I was 13 years old, I spent a week working at a church in a blighted neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY. While there, the leaders had us partake in “Poverty Day.” We were each given one quarter to spend on food and a survey to fill out while we ventured around the city looking for answers to some of the questions, such as: “Where is the closest homeless shelter or food pantry?”
Some of the survey was more personal, and one section stuck with me to this day. We had to calculate how much our bedroom was worth. Now, I have a pretty small room and I would never have considered my family very “wealthy.” But let me tell you, after adding together my electronics, clothes, furniture, and just “things” I’ve accumulated over the years, my room is worth a lot.
|These use to be treasures, in New Jersey
What is my point in telling you these two stories? Simply this: Seeing massive loss of possessions to the flood drove home how easy it is to treasure wealth, amidst a sea of global and local poverty. I wonder if we could stop for one moment and think: What is our treasure in this life? Where is our heart? What riches do we desire to gain, you and I?
We are rich. Don’t believe me? Well, I’m writing this – and I bet you’re reading – while sitting on a comfortable chair, on an expensive computer, in a home that keeps the heat and cold out, with a stomach filled – probably beyond what it needs to be satiated. But think about these statistics:
Against this backdrop, I’m seeing more people of my generation who are linking a life of reasonable simplicity with the call to live in a world where so many are poor. This means to live with a strong sense of gratitude, not wanting more, but living simply and humbly in view of God’s great riches he has given to us through Christ. In the words of Kenneth Boa, from his book, Conformed to His Image: “A mindset of simplicity helps us resist the cultural endorsement of extravagance and consumption that entices us away from gratitude, trust, and dependence on the Lord.”
What does this simplicity look like in action? In my opinion, we start with disposing of what we don’t NEED. Before I go out shopping for new clothes, I like to sort through the ones I have already. Nine times out of ten, I end up donating clothes I don’t need instead of buying more because I come to the realization that I could clothe an entire family with what’s in my dresser alone. There are countless organizations, or even people you may know, that will be more than happy to take hand-me-downs. Once I get rid of the excess “stuff” in my life, I feel more appreciative of what I have.
|Rethinking: What do I need? What can I give?
Once you have a real sense of how much you have, look for needs that others have. The apostle James writes in his letter to the twelve tribes of Israel, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warm and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?”
If we claim to love God, we must love others, and if we claim to love others, we must show it through our actions. Just as our Lord Jesus has blessed the poor and the needy, should not we also show that same love and compassion to those whom he has put on this earth? What makes us more deserving than anyone else? Does our living in this rich country make us somehow entitled to live selfish lives? While we ignore the reality of the sin of gluttony, we stuff our faces, while a large portion of God’s children are starving.
I’m learning that there are consequences to all our life choices. We must learn to use what resources we’ve been given to feed the poor and take care of the needy. We must not overlook the glorious riches that we have in Christ, because of the material riches that will fade so quickly. Because, as Jesus said: “Where you treasure is, there your heart is also.”
I wonder: If what I possess in my room is my greatest treasure, will it one day be found floating on the river?
“For where your treasure is, there your heart is also.” Matthew 6:20