Monday, November 17, 2008

Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread

Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

For days now, the prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray (as recorded in the King James Version of the Gospel of Matthew, chapter six) has spooled over and over in my mind. My thoughts always hitch at "Give us this day our daily bread."

As I circulated through aisle after aisle at the grocery mega-store this weekend, piling my cart with a stockpile of food for the coming week (that I could make stretch for a month or more if absolute need be), I recalled my daily shopping trips to the corner grocery outside our apartment building in Seoul, South Korea, back when we were missionaries there. The entire store would have fit inside my current bedroom--with several feet to spare. But despite the compact quarters, I could always find the fresh (really fresh) fruits, vegetables, rice, eggs, and basic necessities our family needed to eat that day.

My first episode of re-entry shock after our move back to the States occurred on my inaugural trip to the grocery store. After the simplicity of a limited cereal selection between puffed rice or puffed wheat, I now had literally hundreds of options to choose from. And then I moved to the bread aisle. And the dairy case. And the row of toilet paper, where I had to decide between quilted or lotion-coated. I'm telling you, the trauma of over-choice had me in tears. The check-out clerk didn't know whether to hand me a tissue or call the men in white coats to come and take me away.

One of my life's most freeing experiences came as we prepared for our move to Korea. The mission director informed us that we would only be allowed to ship one 9x9 container with our household goods, and that included a washer and dryer and all we needed to set up housekeeping for a family of seven. This meant selling off everything we owned that wouldn't fit in that metal box. (Our parishioners all acted very sad when my husband announced his resignation as their pastor in order to move to the mission field. But they all showed up early for our big garage sale--and dickered for the cheapest prices!)

At the end of that day back in 1989, as I watched the last of our accumulated household goods being carted off down the driveway, an overwhelming sense of peace came over me. Ah, sweet freedom. Freedom from having to dust and clean and repair all those things.

I'm not sure when or how it happened, but over the past twenty years, our accumulation of things has multiplied far beyond the original quantity of that pre-Korea garage-sale inventory. Over the past many, many weeks, I've spent my evenings in our basement storage room sifting through box after box of collected things as we prepare to transform the storage area into a bedroom for Baby Kai and his mommy, Kim. Rather than a source of pleasure, our stockpile of possessions has become a burden. The thousands of decisions I must make to determine what we need to throw out, donate, or keep has brought me to the verge of tears many a night. Through all of these exercises in over-choice, I've learned one valuable lesson.

Excess does not necessarily equal abundance.

Let that sink in. I don't need to expound.

Jesus told us to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread." I wonder, if wrapped up in this lesson of trusting God to sustain us and provide for our needs TODAY, He is also trying to teach us the importance of living simply? When we hoard resources in anticipation of "needing it another day," are we voluntarily enslaving ourselves to the worry and upkeep all these goods require?

"Give us this day our daily bread" applies to the writer-life as well. Focus on today's necessities. . .keep your writing priorities as simple as possible. Tomorrow's word count and plot holes and character flaws and all those other choices will demand your attention soon enough. Amen.

(P.S.--The picture above is NOT my junk! Just a reasonable facsimile.)


Cathy S, said...


Your story resonated with me.

While in college in 1980 I studied for a quarter in England. Fifty-two U.S. students lived in London at an old hotel. We each had a big suitcase and the contents had to last us about a dozen weeks. We went the winter quarter.

If the weather was cold, we simply layered our clothes under our jackets. The facilities for washing clothes and even taking baths were severely limited compared to the ratio of people. We mainly had little faucets in our rooms to wash off and to rinse out our clothes. The whole hygiene concept in that country was different. It was refreshing.

At the end, we took a three week tour of the continent. I don't even remember washing our clothes on the whole trip. It just wasn't that important. :)

I had a glorious time.

I have no idea how I came to be a person with so much stuff! And I'm still not that materialistic.

But you brought back fond memories of me as a girl who lived out of a suitcase for three months and experienced the world.

Marcia Gruver said...

My mom was a hoarder. She kept boxes of nice things tucked away in closets and drawers. She was "saving" them.

Finally my dad asked, "Saving them for who? Your next husband?" She promptly unpacked everything and started to use it. That was her liberating moment.

Beth Loughner said...


Your blog has so much truth tucked inside. Although most people feel sorry for missionaries who have to drastically downsize, the missionaries see it as an unexpected blessing. James Dobson had it right when he said the more we own, the more it owns us in precious time and finances.

I really tried to capture these thoughts in my HS book, "Thunder Bay", when a missionary is forced home by political unrest. Like you, she had a hard time re-entering what she called "so much excess".

Thanks for the reminder.


Mary Connealy said...

Hi, Susan. Okay, I'll go clear out my house, too.
The weird thing it, I think I did this last year. Seriously, I threw away like.......a JC Penney's store worth of old clothes, when I was done, the closets were still packed BUT ONLY the closets were packed. The rooms themselves were okay.
Now, somehow, the rooms are back to packed.

I've got too many copies of my books in one room. I've got to get that under control and stop buying so many author's copies.

My sister spent a year in Ghana as a missionary and she had to do this, strip her possessions down to the bone. She loved it and she SWORE that when she came home she'd never amass stuff like that again...well, oops. Somehow the possessions crept back up on her.

She said the first time she went to a grocery store after she got back she needed to buy shampoo.
She went to the shampoo aisle and was just absolutely overwhelmed, she could NOT figure out what to buy. She ended up leaving, almost running out of the store.

Vickie McDonough said...

Preach it, sister! As soon as I finish my upcoming deadline, I'm clearing out some stuff--to make way for new Christmas presents. No, seriously, it's sad to say, I need to get rid of a bunch of books. I literally have a whole closet full of them. I keep thinking if we lose power for weeks like we did in last year's ice storm of the century, I'll at least have something to do--as long as I have enough light to read by.

Erica Vetsch said...

I've experienced that cathartic rush of jettisoning STUFF, though not to the extent of being able to fit all my remaining belongings into one tiny box.

A very thought provoking post. Excess really doesn't equal abundance.

Enough is as good as a feast.

Becky said...

Ugh, Susan, you don't know how the clutter in my house and garage has been nagging at me for weeks (months). I just need that window of time to clear it out, because I do feel I'm ready to pitch it all if I just had TIME!

Susan said...

Let's make a deal, Becky. I'll help you clear out your junk if you come help me with mine! LOL Actually one of the hardest parts of this task is having to do it all pretty much on my own. Where are all the other folks who helped collect this stuff when I need them, huh???

Kim Vogel Sawyer said...

A flooded basement last December helped me toss out lots of "stuff." No choice--it was ruined. Most of it I don't miss...except the photo albums. I'm still mourning their destruction. *sigh* But yes, as soon as I find time, I am going on a major pack and stash mission. It does get ridiculous...

Carrie Turansky said...

Hi Susan and All,

I recently read a great book by my author-friend Mindy Starns Clark - The House the Cleans Itself. Mindy is not naturally organized, but she has developed a great system. It has helped me quite a bit.

I am the kind of person whose house looks fine to visitors, but if you opened my closets or cabinets, look out! With Mindy's suggestions,I have been working my way around my house, cleaning out, and organizing. It is a wonderfully freeing experience. I love the changes I have made.

Lynette Sowell said...

I always tell my daughter "less is more."

Sometimes more is just...more.

With Thanksgiving coming soon, I'm not thinking of all my useless clutter. I'm thinking of those I share it with and the intangible gifts God has given me. :)

Karen said...

So glad you pointed out that the picture wasn't your junk. 'Cause that little green guy sure looked like you might be harboring an ET ;-)

CHickey said...

My husband and I have begun slowly paring down as our children grow older. And it feels good!!!!

Susan said...

Karen, there's absolutely NO TELLING what my basement is "harboring!" I wouldn't be at all surprised if ET were to peek out from under the stairs. :-)