Scaring Ourselves Silly

Folks that know us will probably attest to my wife and I being relatively normal people.  Not given to a great deal of public flair, rather ill-at-ease in the spotlight.  Conservative.  Boring.

But upon occasion, we have been known to do some outlandish things.  Well, at least on one occasion.  We bought a home – on the other side of the country – with two other couples that, it turns out, we didn’t know nearly as well as we thought we did after eight months of weekly planning & praying together.  And we lived with them (and some other folks) for two years.  
So we’re not completely foreign to doing strange things.  But some ideas are scary enough to make us start backpeddling pretty quickly.
The other night we were talking about something or other regarding suffering and how we are called by our faith to deal with suffering in the same posture that we deal with blessings and comfort – in praise of our God.  I preach and teach this regularly.  I believe it with all my heart.  I don’t profess that it is easy, only that it is what Christians are called to.  We don’t begin doubting or railing against God when things are hard.  God is God, we are not.  
But it struck me – as it often does – that it’s easy to preach and teach this in the midst of comfort.  As we sit on the floor of a comfortable home, surrounded by comfortable furnishings and luxuries like shelves full of books, computers, a full fridge and pantry talking about how we ought to praise God even in the midst of suffering seems rather ironic.  And I have no doubt that for those who are actually suffering, having someone who is not suffering tell you how you ought to deal with it can be galling.  Not that it should be, but it could be.  
I started wondering about what could be learned by voluntary suffering.  To whit, what if we made a decision together that we would try to live on some drastically reduced level of income – 50%, let’s say – of what our current income is.  Not that I’d quit my jobs or anything like that, but rather that we’d put half of my salaries in the bank (this was my idea) and not touch it.  
We’d give up the nice house we’re renting and find something much smaller for our family of five – and much cheaper.  We’d give up as necessary the luxury of eating healthy – quit buying organic milk, deal with the necessity of finding the least expensive food sources since we’d have half the budget for food that we do now.  Put the majority of our belongings in storage.  Spend a year living in a situation that is not what we’re accustomed to nor what we want or like.  
Just like we’d have to in the event of some great misfortune.  Just like many people have to do.
And then I quit wondering silently and wondered this aloud to my wife.  Much to my horror, she didn’t hit me.  She started asking questions.  Started thinking logistically about it.  Started tweaking my idea to make it even more radical.  We wouldn’t put the other percentage of my salary in the bank to be waiting for us at the year’s end like some fantastic windfall.  We’d give it away.  
Now I was getting really scared.  
I reminded her that she’d have to be the one to deal with the smaller space the most – since she’s at home teaching the kids all day while I’d still get to go off to work.  That didn’t seem to phase her too much.  I reminded her that we wouldn’t be able to continue all of our explorations into more holistic and healthy eating.  That freaked her out.
Voluntarily suffering is by no means equivalent to actual unavoidable suffering.  But voluntary suffering does build an empathy of a sort.  What does one learn about oneself in the process of entering into something that one knows is going to be hard and painful and unpleasant?
We learned a lot about ourselves in our communal living experiment.  Granted, we didn’t go into it thinking that it would be hard and painful and unpleasant.  We were, for better or worse, incredibly naive.  But learn we did.  Cope we had to.  Much as we’d have to in radically altering our lifestyle for a predetermined length of time.
I don’t know that I have the strength to pursue this whacky idea.  To put – in various ways – my family at risk rather than doing the instinctual thing of providing them with the best that I can.  But it’s a fascinating experiment in figuring out what sorts of fears I have.  What sorts of things we’d have the hardest time giving up, that we’d miss the most.  And in the process, understanding one aspect of suffering, even if nowhere in the same league as actual, involuntary suffering.  
But I’ll keep you posted if we decide to do something goofy.

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