Many people have heard about “self-sufficient” or “self-reliant” living, but they don’t understand what it means in its best form. Many think of “self-sufficient” living as growing your own food and “living off the land”, but this is a shallow and false view of self-sufficiency that doesn’t promote human happiness. The only life worth living is that which leads us to the happiness God intended for us to enjoy–and that happiness is obtained in heaven alone.
While on earth, happiness is pursued by a heavenly life–a life free from the “entaglements of sin” and from the “cares of this life”. Our eyes are to be fixed upon Christ, where all of our hope resides, at the right hand of the father. We are not busy about earthly cares like Martha, but fixed upon Him like Mary and happy to go without other things. It is this simplicity of life with a heavenly focus that we must seek and the true idea of self-sufficient living must be developed more carefully than many are doing.
We refer to our ideal life as “devout and dignified self-sufficiency”. We seek a holy life. We seek a respectable life. We seek independence–not from our duties to others, but from relying on others to provide for us. We seek to be those who give and not those who take. We do not want to buy from others (allowing them to grow rich through our foolishness) what God provides freely for us from the earth (not when it’s covered with grass and pavement, of course). This vision of life is taught in Scripture:
“First of all, then, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity.” (1 Tim. 2:2)
St. Paul teaches that our goal for life should be quietness and tranquility with devotion and dignity. There is no happiness with noise and clamor. There is no happiness without religious devotion and piety. There is no happiness where the dignity of man is neglected or abused. The good life is a life of quiet work and prayer, as St. Benedict said: “Ora et Labora”.
“Aspire to live a tranquil life, to mind your own affairs,and to work with your (own) hands, as we instructed you, that you may conduct yourselves properly toward outsiders and not depend on anyone.” (1 Thess 4:11)
Note again St. Paul teaching what life is to be sought by Christian people. It is a life of tranquility. It is a life of responsible work–“minding one’s own business”. It is a life of physical labor and humility–“working with your own hands”–not a life that sees labor as something to be avoided. It is a life of independence, for we cannot be free as long as we depend on others for our needs–and this includes the modern idea of “employment”, where a man or family utterly depends on the availability of a “job” to provide his daily needs. Such a life lies in the hands of others and can never be tranquil or secure as the good life is. This is why Cato the Roman discouraged men from going into business. He said it can be profitable but too risky to provide for human happiness. Lastly, this life is evangelistic…it answers the desire of many hearts far more powerfully than “being a good example at the office” will ever be. Men and women want to be FREE, that’s why they talk about winning the lottery so often. They are not eager to be good office employees…they want the independence St. Paul is talking about, but they have no idea how to get there or how it relates to their spiritual life.
Many people are not in a position to move to the country, but Paul doesn’t excuse you from the simple life. He says “ASPIRE TO LIVE a tranquil life.” You should be working toward this life at all times, not using your current situation or obstables as excuses to remain in them. How do you know that God will not meet your good desire with His good providence? Most people who have attained to this simplicity of life will tell you that as they sought it, God provided what they needed to realize it. I can certainly testify to that in my own life.
How do you BEGIN?
First, make steps toward self-sufficiency. You can look in your refrigerator and see what things a farm family would eat and what pertains to the dependent life. Milk, eggs, garden vegetables, orchard and bush fruits, whole grains/bread (not sugary white bread), cheese and small quantities of meat are the foods of the farm. If you’re dining out and living on candy, lots of meat, fast food, soft drinks, frozen dinners and processed foods, you’re not making progress. You may not have the opportunity to grow your own food, but that doesn’t stop you from eating as you would on a farm. You will find it healthier and simpler (though not necessarily cheaper)–and you will be taking the first steps towards simplicity.
Second, wean yourself off the suburban obsession with recreation and “activities”. There is work to do in your family and you should be quietly doing it, not parading your family around in search of entertainment. St. Paul taught Christians to “be content with food and clothing”…what are you doing chasing after the distractions of the world and desires of the flesh. Mind you work and cease seeking playtime as though you were 7 years old.
Give the kids something that the world can’t give them: a simple, devout and happy life.