Many of us are too busy or distracted to sustain a life of compassionate engagement. We lives lives of hurry, worry and striving, finding little satisfaction in our manic work and recreational activities. Instead of being free to create beauty, nurture relationships and seek the greater good, many of us feel stuck in lives dictated by the need to pay bills or maintain a certain (often consumptive) standard of living. We can’t have it all – the prevailing level of consumption, a life of deeper meaning and relationships and global equity and sustainability. To realize these good dreams we must adjust our values and practices and seek creative solutions. – Mark Scandrette (p. 15)
If you’re looking at the title of this book and thinking you’ve read a hundred books on this topic, might I ask you to think again. Please don’t dismiss this book as another time and money accountability/competency resource. It is not. It is much, much more than that.
Method, Purpose, Goals
Three core beliefs have shaped this book and are taken from the invitation of the gospel:
1. We were created with a purpose, to seek the greater good of God’s loving reign.
2. We have enough.
3. We can make intentional choices about how we spend our time and money.
What would it take to realign our lives around these three beliefs?
At its core this is a book about doing just that: aligning our resources – time and money – with our values and talents. Part theology and part praxis combine to make a whole comprised entirely of experiment. Unlike some resources out there that focus solely upon “financial freedom” or obtaining “financial abundance,” the Scandrettes challenge us to pursue the holistic purposes of the Creator through simplicity, gratitude, trust, contentment, generosity and sustainability on personal, communal, and global levels. This call isn’t a mere intellectual assent to particular principles, but, as is characteristic of Scandrette, is to be followed through in the mundane of our everyday lives.
Moreover, this isn’t a call to individualistic freedom. We are urged to do this with others – spouse, friend, or small sized group. Not only does this allow for accountability, transparency, and honesty, it allows for the encouragement and sustainability communal practices embody. Videos, discussion guides, and more are given within the book and/or are found online to ease us into building community.
Our attention is called to developing practical skills by which we can align our resources with our goals and values. Seven steps are given as the book unfolds in chapters by the same names:
1. Name what matters most to you.
2. Value and align your time.
3. Practice gratitude and trust.
4. Believe you have enough.
5. Create a spending plan.
6. Maximize your resources.
7. Live generously and spend wisely.
Within each chapter, stories of the Scandrettes’ journey mix with action-reflection steps. These action-reflection steps come in the form of experiments and tasks. Each experiment takes between 15 and 45 minutes and are various. The underlying design of each experiment is “to help you become more conscious of your thoughts, motives and behavior, and to risk an action that might open you up to new possibilities.” (p. 21) Due to the variety of experiments, one is able to, well, experiment. One exercise might not be pertinent, another might be much needed. “The key is to do something tangible and measurable to see what effect that action has in your life. Be specific and know that intensity is important.” (p. 21)
Tasks are longer in duration and are “specific assignments to help you develop a tangible plan for spending your time and money.” (p. 21) For each task you should devote between 2 and 6 hours as they will require more reflection and long-term thinking. By the end of the book, if you’ve completed all the tasks, you will have a thoroughly detailed and comprehensive resource for actively pursuing a life marked by freedom. Staying on track is much easier since you’ll be able to look back at your values, talents, and goals.
In the end, their hope is to give guidance and encouragement towards a life of freedom found in simplicity. Rather than the prevalent tendencies of challenge through guilt or over-the-top recommendations, their angle is that simplicity is “‘choosing to leverage time, money, talents and possessions toward what matters most.'” (p. 37) This won’t happen all at once, or by ourselves, or through reading through this book once. It is a life-long process of repetition, reflection, and action.
I loved this book. Let me say it again: I loved this book. It is simple, but not simplistic. It is challenging, but not burdening. It is difficult, but in the good sense of pushing me beyond the status quo.
This is due to the place in life my wife and I find ourselves and the book’s holistic view of life. We are in the throes of transition and “what’s next.” We now have 3 children and are facing future-oriented questions and realities unlike ever before. The timeliness of this book is tangible as it has allowed us to step back and truly ask the questions of life. Values, talents, and practices are getting honed through the extensive and penetrating experiments and tasks. All areas of life – physical, relational, spiritual, etc. – are up for reflection and action, bringing an interconnected picture of our life into view.
Practically speaking, I read the book first and then my wife. Now, together, we are working through the material with paper and pen. We will eventually type up our answers in a more cogent manner and place the resulting actions somewhere visible. 1 year goals will begin to be worked on as we work in the everyday to maintain and obtain the goals we mutually come to. Revitalization of some latent hopes, dreams, and talents in both of us have been warmly received.
Overall, I would highly recommend this book to anyone wondering what’s next, feels stuck, or is hearing, like us, the whispers of simplicity. Find some friends, a small group, your spouse, and begin the excavating work this book provides. You will be greeted by experienced and wise sojourners – Mark, Lisa, their children and like-minded friends – who speak from years of testing, trying, and applying the thoughts found on these pages.
Purchase the book here.
Full Disclosure: I received this book for free from InterVarsity Press with the condition I would read it and write a review. I was under no obligation to write an endorsement for the book; nor did I receive any monetary incentives. All words, unless cited with a page number, are my own and are not reflective of the authors or IVP.