Surrounded by bullet-riddled homes, most still lacking electricity and indoor plumbing, I walked the streets of Gorazde with Aida (Ah-EE-da). At just 14 she had seen more in her life than I ever may. Aida was Bosnian by her father’s line. Her grandmother, however, was a Croat and one day, normal as anything, she boarded a bus in the center of town. No good-bye; no I-love-yous or clues of what was to come. She just got on a bus. The next morning Aida’s street was bombed. Her father’s business looted. Her friends scattered. Glass and debris littered every surface. Only then did Aida realize that all the Croats from town were gone. They had all gotten on the same bus with her grandmother the day before.
I remained silent, unable to comprehend and not knowing what to say even if I could speak. After a few moments, Aida asked me: “Are you rich?”
“Oh, no. I’m not rich.” I made some disgusted face and guarded myself, having been warned most people around the world believe every American to be wealthy. I had been distributing food and clothes all week and wasn’t prepared for personal hand-outs.
“I’m rich. Everyone here wants to be me.” She went on to talk about how her father owned a jewelry shop and they had one of the nicest homes in the whole valley. I visited her home where she slept on the floor, where pillowcases pretended to be curtains over glass-less windows. She fed me sweet cheese and bread with a side of Nutella. “See? I’m very rich.”
It has been 16 years and that memory still shakes me. I remember her rotting, blackened teeth as she proudly smiled and offered me a gold ring for free — because “Americans love gold.” I remember how skinny and malnourished she was and yet — She knew she was rich and I protested, hemming and hawing for fear someone might hold my comfort against me.
It was an encounter similar to this that spawned Jen Hatmaker’s “7.” An undeniably poor child called her rich. It made her uncomfortable, just like Aida’s statement made me uncomfortable, and sent her on a quest of sorts. She launched a social experiment that turned into a spiritual journey.
7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker
Here’s the experiment: Jen identified seven areas of excess in her life and sought to fast each for one month.
She wasn’t the only one who did it, either. The experiment included her husband, family and a council of friends who also journeyed with her. Each fast took on its own form and pushed her to understand culture, society, justice and God’s perspective on all this in a new light. She chronicled all that in her book: “7.”
So what were the seven areas? I’ll tell you!
- FOOD: Jen chose to eat only seven foods for the entire month (chicken, avocados, sweet potatoes, spinach, apples, whole wheat bread and eggs). The Council chose to highlight seven different countries where poverty is highest and eat only their national foods.
- CLOTHES: Jen picked seven articles of clothing to wear for the entire month. I can’t remember exactly what the council did. Something about sustainable products and survivor-crafted items, I think.
- POSSESSIONS: The goal was to give away at least seven personal items each day of the month. Jen ended up giving away WAY more than 210 items! The purpose, of course, being to eliminate excess, but also to have personal contact with those in need, to share what we have in tangible ways.
- MEDIA: The Hatmaker family chose to fast from seven different media sources. (Personally, I don’t know that I have that many media sources, but … they did it!)
- WASTE: This month focused much on eco-friendly habits: recycling, gardening, composting … stuff like that. As part of eliminating waste, their family of 5 restricted themselves to one car. Pretty cool.
- SPENDING: Jen chose seven stores — and only those seven — to patron for the month.
- STRESS: This was by far my favorite month. In this month the Hatmakers fasted from busy. In other words, they made rest and Sabbath a priority. She practiced 7 daily pauses of prayer and reflection.
So, that’s the basis of the book, but what did I think?
It took me a long time to get through this book. Parts of it read very quickly, but others required a lot of internal processing. In fact, I’m still processing much of it, determining how I might apply this to my life. It’s a LOT to take in!! As a result, I get a bit schizophrenic with my conscience. The grocery store offers prime example of this.
I start off like a normal person: list and pen in hand; calm, friendly expression upon my face. I hum along to the over-played 80s song that welcomes me to the produce section, but then I see the tomatoes, and the battle begins.
Organic is better for my family’s health and the environment. Local is better for my community and the economy. Generic and imported is better for my budget. Do I take care with my spending? My health? My carbon imprint? My time? With a big sigh, I grab the local-organic choices and promise not to stop at Starbucks on the way home.
I face the same battle at almost every station. Grass-fed beef for $20/lb or over-processed meatloaf for $3/lb? All-natural, organic chips for $5/bag or chemical-laced substitutes for $2/bag? Health and nutrition vs. budget. Environment vs. convenience.
I don’t think I can even tell you about the coffee aisle. It’s just too raw. Too personal. I might stand there for a solid 10 minutes trying to choose between all sides of my conscience and the 80 options before me.
Fair Trade means no slavery but more money. RainForest Conscious means better for the environment, but it’s not Fair Trade and it’s still expensive. Organic is better both for the local communities and my health, but it only comes in K-cups which are bad for the environment. I love my Keurig, but I hate waste and therefore use refillable cups. Of course, none of my favorite flavors meet all these requirements and we’ve barely touched on the budget issues!!
I want to be wise. I want to be informed. I want to be responsible. And I don’t want to go broke in the process. This schizophrenic lifestyle has been my daily struggle since reading “7.” It’s a good problem, but not one I feel entirely equipped to manage.
Back to the book. It reads like her blog. It’s written like a diary. There were times I definitely associated more with her council members (closest friends) than with her, but the journey was great.
I struggled with the idea of such a public fast. I mean, she had a book deal for this before she had even finished half of the experiment and writing so openly about self-imposed sacrifices felt … staged, at times. But I love Jen! I love her heart and I don’t think any of this was done with a “Hey, look at me!” mentality. It is a fine line, though.
In the end, I am nothing short of challenged. I highly recommend this book.
You can purchase it from your local bookseller or find it online HERE.
TALK TO ME: Let’s share some ideas of how we might stem our excess. What might we be able to do to balance the feast with the fast?
(If you missed my previous post about fasting and feasting, click HERE. In it I offer a lengthy excerpt from one of the chapters of “7” that really, truly impacted me.)