I’m sure you’ve heard the saying. It’s always been a favorite of mine. Live within your harvest has always meant, “Don’t exceed your income” or “be content with what you have.” When I really think about it, that word “live” really implies more than mere existence. Now, that makes it interesting, doesn’t it? Live within your harvest seems to imply limiting yourself or “making do.” However, if you look at the word live as more than “exist,” you discover a whole new world of living.
I’ll confess, I’ve always kind of thought of it as a monetary thing. Since I don’t grow my own food, I don’t think of it as a “reap what you sow” kind of thing. Instead, I see it as, “Stay within your budget/resources.” So, for me, when I hear it, I think, “Don’t spend what you don’t have– stay out of debt.”
Well, I think those things are true, wise, and biblical even. However, recently I’ve had a new insight to this four word bundle of brilliance. There is more to our “harvest” than the money coming into our family coffers. As I thought about it, I came up with several things that fall under that heading.
4. Property (yard/garage/shed/etc)
6. Possessions (clothes, hobby supplies, books, etc)
Of course, there are many more to consider, but those were the first ten off the top of my head.
This one is kind of obvious, eh? We all know that not spending more than you make is simple budgeting sense. I don’t know anyone who thinks it’s a good idea to make $100K in a year and spend $110K. I mean, it’s kind of stating the obvious. On the other hand, we do it, don’t we? As a nation, we do it. Debt, even among the church, is rampant in our society. Almost no one seems immune. I’m not talking about mortgages, or even car payments. Those things are at least semi-secured by real property. If the payments for those things fit within your income, I’m not going to quibble about whether that is a good use of your money or not. Only you know. However, paying interest on that dinner out, buying a new couch at $49 bucks a month for thirty-six months, or a new dress isn’t necessarily “living within your harvest.” I know, I know, that is just a proverb… and not one from the Bible. I agree with you completely. However, scripture is full of verses to back up the principle. This is just a bunch of Bible reduced to four easy to remember words. Live within your income. Don’t spend more than you make. Be content with what you have. If you truly cannot survive on what you make, then find a way to make more, but spending what you don’t have is usually a great way to make a bad financial situation worse.
I’ve never thought of family as a “harvest” before now, but you know, when the Psalmist calls a wife a fruitful vine and children like olive plants, you have to admit that family is a type of “harvest.” How to live within your harvest when that harvest is your family is kind of a strange thought, but a fascinating one. I think it’s a good reminder that your family (immediate and extended) are finite. We’re going to lose family members one by one. As hard as it is to accept that death is inevitable for all of us, it is. The Lord has given us this “harvest” that we call family. Are we content with them? Do we continually try to improve, change, or adjust our loved ones to be someone they aren’t? I’m not talking about a parent training a child. I’m not talking about a sister addressing a brother’s sin. I’m talking about that tendency that many of us have of wanting more from people. If your daughter has a love of all things artsy and earthy, must you really try to mold her into a carbon copy of her highly organized and tailored older sister? If your son is musical and a mathematical genius, must his brother feel inferior for struggling with his education and wanting to build things? I know your parents failed you as a child, but they are the parents the Lord gave you. Must you always expect them to live up to the ideal you have in your mind for what a parent should be, or can you accept the gift of parents who still want a relationship with a child who is so blatantly dissatisfied with them? Family is a gift of the Lord. Can you accept the gift that the Lord has given, as it came to you, or is it only acceptable on your terms?
You have a house. Most people do anyway. It might be a 400 sq. ft. apartment in a huge city, a small bungalow in a quiet town, a ranch styled home in a suburb, or a Tuscan Villa… either in Napa or in Tuscany! Perhaps it’s a mobile home on a piece of land, or as we did when I was a teen, just a travel trailer out in the middle of nowhere complete without running water or electricity. Most people have a place to live. Their home. Your home has defined space. Walls, interior and exterior, limit exactly how much room you have inside. Your square footage, one might say, is your harvest.
Just for illustration purposes, let’s pretend you are planting a field. the field is one square acre and yields 100 bushels of wheat. If you try to sow double the seed in order to reap more, you run the risk of choking the plants due to overcrowding and your “abundance” is reduced significantly. On the other hand, if you only plant enough to reap fifty bushels, well… you might have given your soil a rest or you might have wasted your potential. Packing every single plant you can squeeze into the ground is a great way to ensure you don’t have much yield in the long run.
The same is true of our homes. For example: I live in a small house. 1100 sq. ft. Our house was designed for approximately four or five people. We have ten living here much of the time. Ten. That’s double the “intended occupancy.” If I wanted to decorate and furnish our house as it was designed to be used, I’d have a small corner table in the kitchen, a couch, couple of chairs, and entertainment center in the living room. The largest bedroom would have a large bed, dresser, couple of chairs maybe, and that’s it. The other bedrooms would easily fit two twin beds in each and two dressers. That’d actually bring us up to six people in here. We have one bathroom. It’d only have one bottle of shampoo and one bottle of conditioner. Not six. Just sayin’. Well, that’s all well and good, but to do that would mean that people who do live here couldn’t. If I tried to do that same thing with everyone who lives here and pack it all into the house, we’d be overrun with furniture and stuff. Our house wasn’t designed to accommodate that much. So, in order for us to have a larger number of “plants” in our “field” we needed to choose to have a different planting style… more square foot gardeningish rather than the traditional furrowed rows in a field. That’s ok. We’re living within our harvest (house). We could move. I don’t want to. Fortunately, Kevin doesn’t either. People often assume we can’t afford a bigger house, and we let them. I’m fine with that.
However, what’s the point of living here, if we’re trying to exceed our space. If we only have room for x amount of furniture/possessions, we need to keep within those parameters. Forcing more into a smaller space only equals stress and destruction. Have you ever SEEN those shows where people put more and more into their houses than the houses were designed to hold? Did you see the Bones finale? I rest my case. Live within your house. Remember the brilliant words of Sabrina. “More isn’t always better, Linus. Sometimes more is just more.”
In addition to not overcrowding our field, we need to really live within this harvest. We need to utilize our house to live, not merely exist. I’ve always loved the mental picture of my home being a haven. I often feel like I let it degenerate into a hovel. (Ok, that’s extreme, but feelings are extreme sometimes) Usually, when I feel this way, I can look around me and see that my harvest has been over-planted with STUFF. You know, it’s easy to feel like, “well, we’re stuck with it though. If we want to stay here, we’re going to have to accept the fact that we will have too much stuff for the space.” I don’t think that’s true. Have you seen pictures of homes from the fifties? Not magazine layouts, but actual pictures from your family albums? Every one I’ve seen was almost spartan compared to most modern homes. How did they survive without all the STUFF we “need” to maintain a “bare existence?” I submit that we don’t need half what we think we do. To live within our harvest, we need to be able to truly live– not compete with our stuff for space!
Along the same vein as the house, you have a finite amount of property. Here, we have a very small front yard and a very large backyard. I love our back yard. Why, I love it, I’m not sure. After all, I am hardly ever in it. Why? Because it’s not shady, no comfortable seating, and no way to get cool when it’s hot. In other words, it isn’t “livable.” In a sense, I am wasting my harvest. It’s sitting there going to seed over and over because I don’t reap it. I am ignoring my harvest. I’m not living or even existing within it. I am like the bad steward who buried his talent. Shame on me.
Similarly, I could try to pack the yard with all kinds of stuff. I could pack it with sheds to store all the things I think I need for living life abundantly, but I do believe there is a parable about a man who did that. He built bigger and bigger barns to store more, and died without getting to use the fruits of his labor. If you spend your whole life pursuing a bigger harvest, when do you get to enjoy the harvest you have?
There is nothing wrong with having a nice large house, spacious yard, and comfortable vehicles to get you where you’re going. I’m the last person to say that desiring a nice car is somehow wrong. Don’t mistake me. Living within your vehicle isn’t a call to homelessness or fighting a beater car until the “ghost” leaves and refuses to return. It’s just that we have this lovely vehicle sitting in my driveway. It’s comfortable, smooth, and I enjoy driving hither and thither in it– when I have to drive anyway. One could say that living within that harvest is being content with the car. I am. Bully for me. I also can see the advantage in adding a mini van to our entourage. After all, we don’t all fit in our 5 passenger vehicles. It’d just be nice if most of us could ride in one car. If that car purchase fits in our financial harvest (budget) there’s nothing wrong with adding it to our life. I’m all for it, actually. What I mean by living within my vehicle harvest would be more of a stewardship kind of thing. Do I enjoy a ride in a cluttered car? Is the car meant to store water bottles, trash, and last year’s jacket? Then why is it in there? I wouldn’t store that stuff on my acre when I had a storage barn for them, so why do it in my vehicular equivalent of an acre? I need to enjoy life in my car. I need to live in it– abundantly. Contentment with what you have is so much easier when what you have is kept as pleasant and comfortable as possible. Just sayin’.
Now, there are lots of things that could fit under this heading. I’m going to do sort of a sub group to give you ideas of what I mean. One thing I want to make clear is that I’m not calling for a spartan life. This isn’t a cry to declutter your home or your life. It’s more than that (although if those apply, by all means, become more spartan or less cluttered!) By living within your “possessions” (harvest), I mean really use and enjoy them. Having something just to have it is hoarding. Having it because it brings you pleasure when you use it or see it, is wonderful. If you don’t know where it is or haven’t seen it in ten years, you might have a bit of a problem with stuffitis.
Books on a shelf are pretty. Books in the hand are interesting. Books that enrich your mind and your life after immersion in them are blessings. I’m all for pretty shelves of books. I have a lot of them myself. However, if you’re not going to read them, why do you have them? I’m not suggesting that you get rid of your books. Not at all. I’m suggesting that if you have them, use them. If you’ll never use them, then yeah, it’s probably time to toss a few. Saving for “someday” is usually a nice way of saying “hoarding.” Live within your books. Learn from them, let them enrich your life, and if they’re just dead weight, lose it. It’ll be the quickest weight loss you’ll ever enjoy.
Do you sew? How’s your stash these days? Is it growing or do you use and replenish? The point of a stash is so when you want to work on something, you have the raw materials to do it. If you never use that stash, it’s a space consumer. Live within that harvest! Use the fabric. Use the lace! Use the trims, threads, and notions. You can always buy more! There will ALWAYS be a piece of fabric that you love. Scrapbookers… do you have a million tools that you never use because you’re too busy shopping for more embellishments or papers? Having a thousand different sheets of paper on hand is only good if you use up a few dozen a week! Knitters… that yarn is so beautiful. I know you’ve drooled over it for weeks, saved up enough, and finally have it. Enjoying the balls in your basket is nice, but you need to live within that harvest of yarn too. At some point, it really does need to go on the needles. There is nothing wrong with a woodworker having a variety of tools and wood pieces. Quilters need tools and dressmakers need patterns. All of these things are wonderful things! Enjoy them! However, sometimes using what you have is a better choice for living within your harvest than adding more bushels to your silo. If you don’t eat the grain in your silo, it’ll eventually rot.
By the state of many (possibly most) American closets, you’d think that people expected a famine or abundance in their harvest soon. They’re boy scouts even if they’re not or no longer boys… or scouts. They’re prepared for anything. You know, I am not much of a clothes horse. I have about 3.5 feet of space that holds all of my hanging clothes and 1′ x 4′ of cubicle space that holds folded clothes, pj’s, and unders. I think I own 4 pairs of shoes now. I have two purses and no belts, scarves, or much jewelry at all. Yeah. I’m kind of a minimalist in this area, and you know what? Half of those clothes in that closet I never wear. One of those purses I’ve only used once or twice, and I wear one of those shoes almost exclusively. One pair I’ve never worn. One I wear about 25% of the time, and I’m not sure the other pair even exists. There is nothing wrong with me owning these clothes, shoes, etc. Nothing whatsoever. I like them. I should wear them, but I don’t. I need to. Sure, I could get rid of them, but why? I like them. I fit into them (don’t get me started on closets full of clothes that don’t fit). I need to live in them! Why should my life be a series of the same three or four outfits when I own ten! (or whatever).
Dr. Richard Swenson said in his book, Margin, “You can’t be all things to all men all at once all the time all by yourself.” He’s right. Friends are amazing blessings in life. Some become like family. We need to live within our friendships. We need to embrace our friends. Life is short. I’ve lived for almost forty years. My life is likely half over. Friends, like family, enrich that life. I need to make time within my days and weeks to invest in those people who matter to me. I need to live within those friendships. Dr. Swenson is right. I can’t be everything to everyone all the time. But when I can be something to someone, I need to embrace it. I love my friends. They should feel that at least some of the time!
Asthma kicked my bum. My medical issues taught me so much about what living really is. For the record, existing in a chair for a year isn’t living. Just sayin’. Health is a harvest that is such a blessing. Live it. At some point, most people lose part of their health. Their “harvest” dwindles with age. Enjoy it while you have it.
Think about it. Even Jesus called the church His “harvest.” Living within that harvest is a rewarding thing that I don’t think anyone can fully appreciate until they’ve lost it. Thank the Lord every day for the church… then live within it. Live within the church. Live.
In some ways, time is the ultimate harvest we have. After all, without time, we couldn’t earn money. Without time, we cannot invest in people whether friends or family. Without time, we cannot hope to enjoy our hobbies, our pursuits, or our reading. We’re told to “redeem the time.” I’d say that’s a good way of saying, “live within your (time) harvest.” Living within our time seems a bit redundant on the surface. After all, without time, we do not live. When someone dies, we say their “time has run out.” But the fact is, we can try to pack our days with more things to do than there is time to do it, or we can squander our days as if there will always be more time. Like anything, time is finite. We only have so much. Knowing that makes it seem like we should pack our days to the hilt, but that’s kind of like packing our houses or our bookshelves or our hobby rooms with more and more stuff. Is it really living if all we’re doing is trying to fill our days with more “stuff”?
I know none of this is new, but the way of looking at it through the lens of that little proverb really made an impact on me. I suspect there’ll be a few more posts on how it has changed my life. I can feel the changes coming. I can see where they’re coming. I look forward to them. To living. To living within. And to embracing that life within the various harvests in my life.