Seven months to rid yourself of excess – clothes, shopping, waste, food, possessions, media, and stress in order to make more room for God! Based on Jen Hatmaker’s book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, the women of ODPC whittle it down to the magic number seven. Each month, participating members adopt seven lifestyle changes to combat busyness, materialism, and overindulgence. If the topic of the month is food then the idea is to eat only seven types of food. What about clothes? Rotate among seven articles of clothing. In an effort to reduce waste, take on seven green alternatives. Shopping? Spend money in only seven places. For possessions, give away seven things. And last but not least, take a moment (and a breath!) with “seven sacred pauses”. Described as the “social experiment turned spiritual”, the mutiny against excess considers how God can increase when we literally decrease the clutter in our lives. So how did the women of our church fare as they staged their own mutiny? We hear from the women themselves as they share their experiences with the lucky number 7.
I wanted to change in my chaotic life, to set my own rules and this was an easy way to do it. I knew going into it that I wouldn’t meet much of the [the experiment’s] objectives. The media month was particularly poignant, especially as it related to my family. The process made me think about media more and be more conscious in general.
I had no intention of reading the book. On the first meet-up day, I just happened to be talking to Pastor Tae, who invited me to the meet-up. I decided to attend just to spend time with other women and intended to participate in the experiment a la carte style. But [the 7 Experiment] gave me opportunities for God time and people time. I realized how much control and space each of these areas take up in one’s life.
I had tension in my life resulting from too much – a behavior of excessiveness. The book discussed things that I always thought and felt, but never acted on. Another objective of my participation was building relationships, community, and friendships. I met some of the month’s objectives, but other months had unrealistic expectations. For instance, living out of one duffle bag would be unrealistic.
My motivation for doing the 7 Experiment was to bond with a group of ladies at church, some of whom I already knew but mostly potentially new friends who could help me on my ongoing quest to be closer to God. My earthly goal was to just get through it and prove that I could display discipline and grow spiritually. There were times when I felt closer to God or, at least, times when I felt that He was speaking to me. I just needed to listen and process. There were other times when I kept questioning why I was doing this because I found myself focused more on the possessions or what I was being deprived of as opposed to honing in on my relationship with God, and growing in Spirit. Two months stuck out to me. The clothing month in September really blew me away. I thought it would be more difficult to rotate only seven items of clothing, but I felt free. I also realized that no one really cares what I wear, and no one really notices. The most spiritual month for me was media month in November. The quietness of the month allowed me time to reflect, pray, meditate, and contemplate on all things. That month was really the great spiritual opportunity.
I wanted to know if it was possible to artificially make an environment where we can change things and plan. I wanted the group to challenge each other to change, give up things, and face their struggles. The stress month was the hardest but most meaningful month. I didn’t think this month would apply to me but it ended up being the most stressful month, and “taking a meaningful Sabbath” was difficult. Now, I try to do something special on Sabbath days.
I heard about [the 7 Experiment] and wasn’t initially into it. The sense of community and specific action points made it attractive. I felt stuck, wanted a change, and wanted to connect with ladies at our church on a deeper level. I thought there’s be more practical implications, but it brought good changes to my life. It helped me separate from my roles, like being a wife or mother. It freed me from guilt. I am sad to see this club coming to an end. Food month was the best month. I kickstarted a few things from a health and holistic perspective. I focused on healing from within and liked the accountability with the other ladies. Also, as a result of the media month, Korean dramas have less of a stronghold on me.
The practical months weren’t an issue having come from Seattle. Coming to VA and ODPC, fitting in (not personality-wise) but society-wise was a growing concern. For one, people seem upper middle class for the most part and second, whenever I challenged people to make lifestyle changes, people wouldn’t understand me. In this group, I saw a group of women that wanted to make an impact and made me feel less alone in my desire for change. I found it very comforting to know that there are other women who think about these areas [of excess], and try to do something about it. On the other hand, the location was hard for me; coming from Annandale to Centreville for meet-ups was challenging. Possession month was the best month. I have negative thoughts about donation places like Goodwill because I think that $5 for a shirt is still pretty expensive for people without money. So when the ladies got together to donate their goods to a battered woman and her children through a non-profit organization, it was meaningful. The woman actually wrote a letter back to the ladies – her daughter was so happy with some used pink cowboy boots that Linda Quarles had donated.
After kids, and ten years of marriage, our family had too much stuff. Husband and wife stuff. Children stuff, from birthdays. Stuff everywhere. I felt stressed with the need to get rid of stuff. I even tried to just move things around and find a place for everything. I reflected on what it’s like when going on missions, where all the missionaries take is a backpack. I was also reminded of the verse about the camel not being able to go through the eye of a needle. I had an option now to do something about things through a physical change. One disappointment was a lack of permanent change. For instance, after media month is over, the family is back to being on media all the time. Media month was the hardest and best month. Everybody in the house loves media. Jeff and I argue about how much is too much, and how much is too little. Ever my oldest Josiah wanted to participate. Surprisingly, there were no tantrums from my children. As a result, the family had quality time; we found it possible to do this, to cut out media, and it was a great realization. Possession month was also good. So often the motivation for giving can be impure whether it is to write off for tax purposes or the need isn’t specific to a designated family. However, in this case, the group gave to a specific family and gave them specifically what they needed. The motive was pure and it was a good feeling to give.
Jack and I have talked about excess in our lives for years. We discuss how we can make it real for our kids and help them realize what a rich life they have. Another objective was unity within our family. For instance, during Christmas, we gave no presents to our kids, and instead, gave to Compassion. We were looking forward to being a community, which was an unexpected gift, and then continued prayer that stems out of it. Food month was the best month. I broke some deep strongholds surrounding my life. I did a cleanse. Things that had strong grips on me aren’t gone but have definitely been loosened.
I wanted to get to know other people, deepen relationships, and challenge myself. The 7 Experiment revealed the uglies in my heart. For instance, the hardest month was clothes month. I got so caught up in the seven articles of clothing and sticking to it that I had to be reminded of the idea of the Pharisees and how they focused too much on rules. I realized following rules was becoming the objective. Media month was the best month. My whole family participated in it. They put together a lot of puzzles as a family instead of watching TV.
The book resonated with me; the author’s life stage, status, feeling of excess in life, and spiritual understanding. I had no real goal, I just wanted to experiment and see what came up. The whole experiment impacted my life more than I had expected. It didn’t happen for every month, but the ones that stuck, really stuck. The clothing and possessions months were good because I physically decluttered and cleaned out my closet, and doing it with all the other gals gave it a sense of the community as we shared our struggles and challenges together. God revealed more deeply the reality of a “me-focused” lifestyle. This made more space for an others-focused and acting for others mentality. The food month was tough; I almost broke down on my first grocery trip. One, for not being able to have and want what I wanted (which made me feel totally spoiled and childish) and two, because God broke my heart for all the people of the world who don’t have the luxury we have: a grocery store full of choices and an abundance of food! Everything we read in the book are things we already knew, but to actually experience fasting through the seven areas hit several levels beyond just knowing them in my head – it hit my heart and moved it in a way I think it would Christ.
Reported by Joanne Yi