Dr. Rick Rhoads is the chair of Lancaster Bible College's Church & Ministry Leadership Department. Here, he shares how a big blue mobile home taught him the importance of simplicity.
She was a 1980 powder blue skyline mobile home. Never in a million years would I or Naomi (my wife) have dreamt that we would be living in a mobile home. In the summer of 2001, Naomi and I set out on an adventure, moving our young family 500 miles away to Columbia, South Carolina so that I could attend seminary. In an effort to save money and keep things simple, we decided to move into student family housing on the campus, which during those years at Columbia, meant moving into “the village” (i.e. the trailer park).
Back in Pennsylvania, we had enjoyed renting a lovely home set in the quiet rolling hills of the country, and now our rented Penske moving truck has pulled up to “Big Blue.” Stepping down from the truck, the lot size could be measured in square feet, whereas our previous house featured several acres of countryside. Inside Big Blue was less than 800 square feet of living space, whereas our former home had almost 2,000. We unlocked the back of the moving truck and began to unload.
I went into work mode and began dutifully pulling items from the back of the truck. About halfway through unpacking the truck, I can remember Naomi standing at the back and saying, “There’s no more room in the trailer.”
We had brought everything we had owned, because . . . well, I’m not quite sure why. What filled 2000 square feet couldn’t possibly fit into an 800 square foot trailer. We were forced for the first time in life to downsize. Very quickly we made three piles in the yard.
The first pile was what we wanted to store. The second pile was filled with items we were going to give away. The third pile was filled with items which we were simply going to throw away. While packing the truck in Pennsylvania, all of this stuff had felt necessary. Now it just seemed burdensome, and being released from it felt incredibly freeing.
It wasn’t long into our time living in Big Blue that I began to feel free, even with less, or perhaps, because we had less. Free like I’ve never felt before!
I never thought of myself as materialistic but the process of moving into “Big Blue” made me realize that the more you accumulate in life, the more time it takes to maintain those things, and if you’re not careful “the things you own can wind up owning you.” Back in Pennsylvania, it would take me 4-5 hours to mow the lawn; now it only took 15 minutes. I had no idea how much financial pressure I had been carrying to pay for and maintain a home in the North East, until I sat in Big Blue writing a rental check of only $80 each month.
All of a sudden we had more time, money, energy and even relational capacity. I had never felt so free in my life to be present with God and those who were around me. During our years with Big Blue, Naomi I gained three new perspectives on the practice of simplicity.
Everything we have has ultimately been given to us by God. Some of us like to believe that our stuff is a trophy for our accomplishments or a paycheck we deserve, but in reality, it can all disappear within minutes. When we hold too tightly onto all that we’ve accumulated and accomplished, those things can become the focus of our worship. Of course, we’d never say that, but the thought of losing them becomes a controlling anxiety or fear. When we hold our stuff as a gift, we release control, abandon fear and are more free to be present for God.
If all we have is a gift, then we are simply care takers for the true Owner. Any good caretaker realizes that they need to be good stewards of what they have been entrusted to watch over. Caretakers often measure effectiveness based off the quality of their care, not the quantity of their responsibilities. The principle being, “take care of few items well, rather than many poorly.”
If we have been called to steward our possessions well then they cannot simply be held in storage for us. At the heart of simplicity is a natural desire to give or share with those who are in need. If all is a gift and we are called to be caretakers, then we must freely give and share to those around us in need.
For example, since moving back to Pennsylvania, my wife and I have used our guest bedroom as a hospitality room for those in need. We have simply said, “Come and stay, be a part of our family and heal.” It has been a blessing to see how God has renewed souls and taught our family about simplicity as well as restoration.
Questions to Ask Yourself: