Questioning a Life of Consumerism

by Mark Votava


I have always been drawn to simplicity.  Having what I needed and not much more is how I have lived all of my life.  I have never had large amounts of money.  I have learned how to be content in every circumstance and to trust in God as the sustainer of my life.

  •  Possessions and economic status

This has helped me to learn how to devote myself to my parish.  In my local context, I have learned to live with what I need: the basic necessities of food, shelter, clothes and relational connection.  My relationships are more important to me than my possessions, my economic status or anything else I may have.

  •  The cost to simplicity

Sometimes practicing simplicity is painful and there is a cost to it, but I am learning that even this plays a role in the shaping of our lives together.  Our imaginations become freer.  We have space to be faithfully present in our local context to love, listen, learn, and show empathy.  I am learning that simplicity needs to be the priority in our lives if we are to be in genuine relationship with one another.

  •  Questioning life

As I grew up, I really started to question life and how it works.  I began to ask myself, “Why am I doing what I am doing?”  I began to think about my motives and priorities.  Questioning the pursuit of money and affluence was on my mind a lot.

  •  How God fits into this

Thinking about how God fits into all of this was hard for me.  Sometimes I remember feeling convicted over selfish acts that disregarded God and others. I began to ask, “Why aren’t my motives in life and my priorities becoming more focused on others instead of myself?”

  •  The importance of putting others first

I wondered what would happen if I embodied this more.  I saw that the gospels had many stories and teachings on the importance of putting others first.

  •  Reevaluating how I used my time

Reevaluating how I used my time became a common practice.  Why was I watching so much TV?  Why do I need so much stuff?  Why am I so obsessed with fashion and being cool?

  •  Why?

Why was everything so fast-paced?  Why was I investing so much time in a social life with people who are like me and make me feel good?  Why was I so into sports, movies and the internet?  Why am I so focused on myself to the point of disregarding others?

  •  Gave away things, changed priorities, and shifted focus

This didn’t seem right to me, and so I started to center my life more on relational simplicity.  I gave away things, changed priorities, and shifted focus. I became liberated from the imagination of the empire and started to move more toward the communal imagination.

  •  Left my job as a teacher

When I first moved to Downtown Tacoma, I left my job as a teacher and took several jobs in the neighborhood where I made less money.  This was a move that not many of my friends or family really understood.  So I just did it without a lot of support from others.

  •  Took jobs within walking distance to where I was living

At first, I took a job as a dishwasher at a local restaurant.  I also worked at a bar as a janitor and then as a parking lot attendant.  All these jobs were within walking distance to where I was living in the neighborhood.

  •  Focusing on the relational context I was in

These jobs helped me to become more faithfully present and integrated in the parish.  I developed lots of relationships when I really didn’t know the neighborhood that well.  This shaped me tremendously by helping me not to place such a high priority on the narratives of consumerism.  Now I could focus on the relational context that I was in.

Do you have a story of simplicity to share?