About 4 months ago I received a swift slap to my face. I’ll never forget that moment, and I hope that fact never changes.
I was on my way to a get-together one of my professors was having at his house for our small night class. I was a little nervous, as I often was around this particular professor, as I tried to find my way to his house using a print off of Google Maps. I’m not the only one who got nervous around my professor. He is known to be pretty strict in class, dry, and sometimes maybe even overly harsh. I remember a look he gave me when he handed back a paper I wrote in which I completely forgot to go back and insert citations. I was almost sure I had my ticket to Heaven ripped in half for that one by the look in his eyes.
I eventually found the address, parked my car, and walked up to the front door. Even though it fit the description he gave us in his email of how to find his place, I kept wondering if I was on the wrong street. I don’t remember a whole lot between my standing on the cement steps and seeing him come to the door, but I do remember when he opened the door and I looked into his eyes.
I always had this idea in the back of my mind this this professor had some sort of animosity towards me. Maybe it was that paper I wrote, or that quiz I didn’t do so well in. Maybe he thought I was lazy. Didn’t matter what it was; I was almost certain he hated me (or disliked me just enough to still pass as a christian).
I had been to my professors’ homes before. They were comfortable, roomy, built in somewhat new developments around town, and always felt “upper middle-class-ish”. I figured this particular professor lived in the same type of place, and somehow that made me feel like my passive attitude towards him was justified because he lived comfortably.
That’s why I got slapped in the face.
All that night, since I walked up to his house, I couldn’t shake this feeling of humility. His house was eerily similar to the house I spent most of my life in. It was small, and even though only about 10 of us students who were there, most all available seating in the house between the living room, entertainment room, and dining room was taken, and some were having to sit on the floor.
I talked with people, ate some really good homemade food, made some jokes, and eventually left. I think the family I was living with at the time was out-and-about by the time I arrived back at their place, so I had an empty, quiet, dark house all to myself to let the divine hand-mark on my cheek sink in.
I’m not trying to say my professor is poor or deprived in any way. In fact, he has a lot. He has a good education; a doctorate. His huge knowledge pool regarding certain issues, historical perspectives, and theology is far beyond my own. He also has the privilege of doing some of the things that he loves doing. But one thing I noticed, which is why I bring up the house he lives in, is how much he doesn’t need.
I’m sure this sounds so simple and obvious. We all know this and have heard it, I’m certain. But subconsciously I always assumed that the more education you obtain, or the more profession someone is, then the more material things they have.
I clean windows for a living. I’m in homes all the time of people who are successful in their field of work, and it shows by how large their living rooms are, or what kind of counter-tops they have, or how dirty their teenage kids’ rooms are (interestingly, the wealthier our clients tend to be, the messier their kids’ living spaces are, on average). So you can see how I would have that mindset. A college professor lives in a nice, clean, and comfortably-sized house, and has a dog or two with a fire pit in the backyard. A high school teacher lives in a generally nice suburb of his school district. Elementary school teachers… who knows; depends on the age.
I’ve started reading more. I just finished “Christian Atheist” today, about a week after I finished “A Charitable Discourse”. I’ve just started reading “Serving With Eyes Wide Open” since I got it in the mail this afternoon. I’m slowly learning Swahili and teaching myself American Sign Language. It seems that I’m learning more at a quicker pace than I ever have before. According to present-day America, that must mean I’m on the track to acquiring more ‘things’.
I’ve seen poverty in Africa. Didn’t really hit me that hard, probably because I expected it. What I didn’t expect was to see an American college professor, whom I now deeply respect, open up his humble home to me and my classmates and completely shatter my internal paradigm for how people like “him” normally live here in the States.
I’ve been saying for a few years that the more I learn the less I know. I’ve also begun to notice that the more I learn, and the more I know, the less I need. Everything I’m learning about, coupled with everything God has been revealing to me and all the things Christ has done in my life in the last few months, only solidifies that perspective. And it’s not just a perspective of, “I don’t really need some of the stuff that I have”, but it’s becoming more and more of, “I should really start living with less”.
Simplicity, as I see it now, is a beautiful way for me to truly live a Spirit-filled life.