Spring of 2014 found my husband Daniel and I exhausted and weary. We were in our late 20s with three kids age 4 and under. To pay the bills I was working part-time teaching ballet and Daniel was working 10-hour days at an office job he hated.
Our family time felt nonexistent and we were both stressed and unsatisfied. Like Frodo Baggins says in “The Lord of the Rings,” we felt “like butter scraped over too much bread.”
This dissatisfying season was surprising to us because we had played the game according to the rules! We both got degrees from a prestigious university. We bought a small starter home. We were employed in steady jobs. We had checked all the boxes! We were told there was a blissful future on the other side of the hard work of our 20s but it never materialized.
The American dream felt more like a nightmare of overwhelming busyness — reaching for more and always coming up short (a good description of the millennial experience).
Something needed to change. We wanted time together as a family, the ability to pursue fulfilling work, and the space in our days to prepare a good meal and sit down at the table to connect with our friends and loved ones.
After much frustration we realized we weren’t going to achieve any of that with pursuing more — more work, more income, more possessions. What we needed to pursue was less.
Enter the radical idea to leave everything behind. We gave up our stable jobs in Florida and our conventional life to rediscover our family and try to orient our life to the Gospel. We put our darling 1940s house on the market, got rid of more than half of our possessions, and accepted a yearlong internship on a farm in Texas where we would live in a 650-square-foot apartment with no flushing toilets. The experience was just what we needed to reboot our lives!
For a year, Daniel learned the art of beekeeping, raising livestock, and cooking for an army of hungry fellow farmers. I homeschooled our little ones and we could visit Daddy during breaks or ditch our books for the day and experience hands-on science and life skills by learning about farming.
We ate three meals a day as a family and lived very simply on the food grown at the farm and the small stipend from the internship that covered our health insurance.
During these months we rediscovered each other and crafted our family’s mission. The practices of living in community with the other interns on the farm, adopting a slow-food attitude to meals, being connected to our food sources, seeing the beauty of God’s creation with awe, and prioritizing our home life and relationships all helped us to create a blueprint of what we wanted our life to look like when things went back to “normal” once our year was up.
Our biggest takeaway from our farm year was a desire to live in opposition to what Pope Francis calls “the throwaway culture.” This attitude sees God’s earth and its resources as products for consumption — but the warped worldview doesn’t end there.
It sees human beings as commodities to be used up and discarded. Instead of giving in to this attitude, we wanted to learn to live in a humanizing way, acknowledging that we and our fellow men are made in the image of God and are so much more than cogs in the machine of the economy. We wanted to see through the lens of the Gospel so that our daily actions could orient us toward Jesus and help us on a path to holiness.
None of the lessons we learned are novel. In fact, most are so simple that it feels silly laying them out! But because our society is so steeped in the throwaway culture, elementary practices can seem revolutionary because over the past few generations we have lost so many good habits that nurture virtue in our lives.
Our commitment to cooking and eating meals together, getting to know our neighbors and opening our home in hospitality, praying together and observing the liturgical year, and living on less so we can spend more time together and have the freedom to do work we really care about, has truly transformed our lives.
As I share in my book “The Grace of Enough: Pursuing Less and Living More in a Throwaway Culture” (Ave Maria Press, $16.95) about our experience and the lessons we learned, “What the throwaway culture offers us is a lie that will never satisfy, because we were created for so much more than to be consumers of comfort and exploiters of creation.”
The throwaway culture can never satisfy the human heart because we were designed by our Creator for a bigger purpose than chasing affluence. But it’s not easy to give up the security we cling to so we can instead pursue the adventure God has in store for us.
It’s so easy to be discouraged by all the ways our culture opposes the Gospel, but what I see in millennial Catholics is a disenchantment with the American dream and a renewed commitment to living counterculturally in order to pursue Christ.
Instead of losing hope in this dark age, we can remember that the gates of hell will not prevail against the beautiful Church Christ instituted and that we are called to participate in God’s redemption of this fallen world.
God might not be calling you to move to a farm with no flushing toilets (in fact, he’s probably not). But he is calling you to allow your life to be centered in your faith, even if it means looking like a weirdo (you probably will).
The path God has in store for you begins exactly where he has placed you with the little ways you can pursue the Gospel in your life — seemingly small things that have the power to transform you and, in turn, change the world.
Haley Stewart is a Catholic writer, speaker, and podcaster (co-host of “Fountains of Carrots” and “The Simple Show”). She lives with her four children and beekeeper husband in Waco, Texas, and blogs at Carrots for Michaelmas.