Q: In the introduction of your book you get right to the point and say that the only way to get more out of life is to choose less. What does the average person need ďlessĒ of?
A: The easy answer is less stuff, less activity, less out of control schedules, less of me. But choosing less of these isnít an end in itself. The bottom line is to have less of those things that get in the way of my finding real joy, purpose, freedom, and lasting relationships.
Q: Ultimately, everyone wants to lead a life that matters, one that touches others. You suggest that investing your time in a person is a surefire way to leave a fingerprint on their soul. Please elaborate.
A: My life and the lives of my children are markedly different because of the priorities a man I never met instilled in his children. My fatherís father died before my parents ever met, yet his thumbprints are all over my soul. In my book I tell the story of how this Oklahoma dirt farmer with an eighth grade education who struggled to survive during the Dust Bowl had a dream for his six children. He wanted them to go to college. This was before the days of Pell Grants and federally subsidized student loans. Even so, the dream took hold and is now touching the third and fourth generation. Thatís the power of influence. Thatís what living a life that matters is all about.
Q: Why do values, integrity and passion define a life that is worth passing on to others?
A: The world already has enough self-centered, ego-driven, spoiled-rotten moral relativists. We donít need to add to the number. Values, integrity and passion define your character, and character sets the agenda for your life. What you do flows out of who you are. And who you are rubs off on those closest to you. So the question we need to ask ourselves is simply, what kind of influence do I want to have on my friends and family? Personally, I want to make a positive influence that lasts forever. To do that I need to look to the One who embodies what I most want to be, and that is God Himself. If I want my children to love God and be like Him, the best thing I can do is to love Him and imitate Him myself.
Q: You say that the quest for happiness can be like an 800-pound gorilla on our backs. What are some examples of ďgorillasĒ that most of us face in our daily lives?
A: You can hear the gorilla in almost every advertisement devised by every marketing firm on Madison Avenue. ďYou deserve the bestÖ. Havenít you earned this?.... You deserve a break today.Ē
The gorilla of the quest for happiness is all about me, myself, and I. What do I want? What do I need? Me. Me. Me. The problem is, all of the things we think will make us happy donít work. In the summer immediately prior to my senior year of high school I bought a beat up 1966 Mustang convertible and then spent the next ten months restoring it. By the time I was finished this car was cherry. It was my pride and joy. But, I could never relax when I drove it anywhere. I was so afraid that someone might chip the paint or that someone might steal it. Then one night while pulling up to a stop light I pressed in on the clutch and an electrical fire broke out under the dash. I saved the car, but I had to pour many more hours into it. One day it dawned on me: I didnít own my car. It owned me. Thatís what the gorilla does. It holds out all of this stuff as a path to happiness, but it doesnít work.
And in the end the stuff ends up controlling our lives rather than the other way around.
Q: In the book, you talk just as much about downsizing possessions as you do the need to downsize my opinion of myself. Why is having a heart of humility a key component of being a servant to mankind and to God?
A: Jesus said that the path to greatness in His Fatherís eyes is to take the smallest place in the eyes of people. He didnít just say this, He lived it. Right before He died on the cross we find Him washing His disciplesí feet, which was a task reserved for the lowest of servants. Jesus embodied the principle that those who wield the greatest influence in the lives of others are those who serve, not those who demand their way. Humility and taking on the heart of a servant means putting other people before myself, just as Jesus did. Instead of thinking about how I can get people to do what I want, I look for ways to meet their needs. This sounds upside down in our world where people will do anything to get their way, but deep down we know this is true. Think about the people who had the greatest influence on your life. Think back to the teacher or the pastor or the neighbor who shaped your priorities and your character. Most likely, those influencers were people who took the time to pour themselves into your life. In a word, they were servants.
Q: You provide ten real-world action steps for people who want to downsize their lives, including live below your means and de-accumulate. Of those ten, which one(s) do you think is the most difficult to achieve? Which one(s) is easiest?
A: For me personally, Step Five is the hardest, which says: See your money as Godís possession, not yours. My natural default position is to think of my stuff as my stuff. When I open my wallet I do not automatically think of that ten dollar bill as Godís ten bucks, not mine. As a result, I think nothing of blowing it on whatever strikes my mood (which is why I donít carry much cash with me. Ever.) However, when I stop and realize that everything I have came to me as a gift from God, my attitude toward the way I use my resources changes. The easiest one for me is Step, uhhhhh, probably none of the above. All of them have degrees of difficulty. Even the last one, Donít become a legalistic jerk, is hard. The moments when I best live out Godís priorities for money and possessions, a little spark of pride starts growing inside of me. If I am not careful, before I know it I will start feeling spiritually superior to those who have not yet been enlightened. And when that happens I have to go back to the drawing board because that legalistic pride just undid all of the positive gains my changed attitudes might have produced in my life.
Q: How can thinking of ďtimeĒ as a treasure change a personís perspective?
A: Many of us treat life as though we have an unlimited amount of time at our disposal. If I donít get around to those important things I needed to do today, itís no big deal. I can get to them tomorrow. Or the day after that. Or eventually. Sometime. However, when I understand that I have been given a limited amount of time on this planet, and that every moment is a treasure I can waste or spend but not save, everything changes. The Bible tells us to make the most of every opportunity time presents to us (Ephesians 5:16). Thatís the principle here. I need to get up everyday and find the best way to invest this treasure of time, so that it yields the maximum results. I never realized how precious this treasure was or how fast it passed by until my children started grade school. One day my wife and I turned around and two of our girls had moved off to college and the last will join them in just a couple of years. None of us have all of the time in the world. Our supply is very short. The question we face is whether or not we will use it wisely.
Q: One of the bookís chapters is titled ďFinding peace in the minivan.Ē How can we instill the concepts of Living with Less in our children? And, in what ways have you practiced this with your family?
A: I chose this title because I used to drive the minivan taxi service every day. My wife went back to college after our youngest daughter started first grade, and, since my schedule was more flexible, I was the one who picked up the kids from school and took them where they needed to be. When I was a pastor I arranged my schedule to do most of my work while the kids were at school, which allowed me to be a stay at home dad when my wife was at school and later when she went to work. This chapter, like the rest of the book, grows out of these experiences. My wife and I learned through all of this that the main way we could instill the principles I write about was to give our children ourselves instead of stuff. We maximized our time as a family by limiting our girlsí schedules. They could play sports or participate in school choirs and plays, but we didnít let them try to do everything at once. We also put a premium on family vacations, even if they were nothing more than spending a few days exploring the vacation hotspot of Brown County, Indiana. To do this we scrimped and saved and cut corners by eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on the beach rather than eating out for every meal. Today, when our girls talk about their favorite memories, they donít talk about going on a whale boat off Cape Cod, but about making sandwiches on the beach. This helped me realize that my wife and I didnít need to give our daughters everything, as long as we gave them ourselves.
Q: What are some things that interfere with a personís pursuit of Living with Less?
A: I entitled one of the last chapters, ďThis Ainít No Doris Day Movie,Ē to let people know that choosing to live with less will not result in some perfect little life where everyone lives happily ever after. There is a price to be paid and barriers to overcome. I know because I lived this before I could write this. Choosing to live with less means what it says, less. My wife and I made the decision to live on one income so my wife could be a stay at home mom when our first daughter was born. It was the right choice, one we never regretted, although living on one income meant living under a lot of financial pressure. I worked for sixteen years as a pastor, always choosing to serve small churches so that I would have more time for my family. Again, I would make the same choice again, even though serving in a small place meant a lot of professional frustration and boredom. Everything comes with a price, and this is especially true of living a life that lasts longer than you do, a life that matters in the lives of others. You just have to figure out which means more to you. For me, I would rather work in an obscure little corner where no one ever noticed me and have my life matter to those who mean the most to me, rather than having my career consume my time and leave nothing for those I love. It all comes down to which you want most.
Q: In Proverbs, the writer says that sterling reputation is better than striking it rich. Isnít this what Living with Less is all about?
A: Absolutely. Our lives will all end someday. Everything we worked to accumulate will be divided up or sold off. Other people will come in and take over the jobs we used to fill. As much as we donít want to think about it, most people will forget we ever lived. However, the one thing that remains is the lasting impact of godly character and a good reputation. What matters most in the lives of others is the character we pass down. Nearly twenty years after my motherís father passed away I ran into an old friend of his who said my grandfather was the finest man heíd ever known. That, to me, is the definition of a life well spent. That is what living with less is all about.