The Grace of Enough: A Conversation with Haley Stewart
Happy New Year, everyone!
I can’t think of a better start to the year for Spiritual Parent than to share this conversation with Haley Stewart, a writer, speaker, and podcaster whose wisdom about living well will surely resonate with many of you.
Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of her book, The Grace of Enough, so you can dive more deeply into the ideas she introduces below.
The full title of your book is The Grace of Enough: Pursuing Less and Living More in a Throwaway Culture. Would you mind talking a little about what it means—and what it looks like—to pursue less? To what extent is pursuing less countercultural?
We live in an economy that depends on us buying cheap things we don’t need, using them up or watching them become obsolete, and then buying new ones to begin the process all over. We are told to work more hours so we can buy a bigger house (which we spend less time in because we work those extra hours). We’re told to make more money to provide more things for our families (who we then see less). Even stopping to reconsider this attitude of the pursuit of affluence is countercultural. Even more countercultural is deciding we really don’t need the things we are told are the standard of American life.
There is no checklist for living more simply that’s going to fit each person’s circumstances or vocation, but we can all begin with prayer and discernment over what we want versus what we truly need. It’s easy to assume that because it’s the norm to have something, it’s impossible to live without it. There are many things that add convenience to our lives, but we can also handle inconvenience! It’s not always convenient for us to have one vehicle for our family of six, but not having a second car payment gives us freedom in other ways. It’s not always convenient to only have one small bathroom in our house (in fact, sometimes it’s really annoying) but we’ve never had more than one bathroom in our entire married life (13 years!) and we’re still standing! Pursuing less really means pursuing what’s truly valuable: relationships, community, faith, family, home, beauty, time, service, etc. It’s saying no to consumerism so we can say yes to more important things.
In your family’s daily life right now, what parts of the day make you feel most alive? What is special about these parts of the day?
My husband is home in the mornings so we get to have a big breakfast together and he reads the daily Mass readings over the breakfast table. I love the natural conversations that pop up with our kids about our faith as a result of these slow mornings.
I usually get an hour each day to head for the library and work on writing projects. Having this time to pursue some creative endeavors always makes me come alive and prevents burnout by adding some quiet into what--with homeschooling four kids--is a busy, loud day.
But my absolute favorite time of day is bedtime and reading aloud to my kids. Right now we’re reading Prince Caspian. Sharing beautiful books with my children and hearing them gasp at exciting moments and eagerly listen to what’s happening next is a joy.
How is it an act of grace to tell (or remind) ourselves that what we have is enough? What are the spiritual dimensions of this way of thinking and being in the world?
We will never be satisfied with what the throwaway culture offers us because we were made for so much more than consumerism. When we remind ourselves that we have all that we truly need, we can focus on eternally valuable things like our faith and other human beings with less distraction. We have to live in this throwaway culture and it isn’t easy to go against the grain (it’s a constant struggle for me), but with practice (and by building like-minded community) it is possible.
You’ve written about your conversion to Catholicism and the ways the Catholic Church has enriched your life. What are some specific ways in which your Catholic faith inspires you to move toward a fuller life for you, your husband, and your kids?
In the Protestant tradition I grew up in, I believed that serious Christians had to be involved in professional ministry or mission work. I did not understand that every moment of one’s vocation to an “ordinary” life of marriage, family life, and work done for the glory of God could be a path to holiness. With the communion of saints and the sacraments there to offer God’s grace, the adventure of family life and the goal of getting each other to heaven takes on a whole new meaning.
In The Grace of Enough, you describe the home as the “School of Love.” To continue that metaphor, how would you describe the curriculum of this school? Other than good and genuine modeling, how can parents be effective teachers of this curriculum? Are Biblical texts part of it? If so, how?
In the home, we are given the opportunity to sacrifice for others in ways big and small on a daily basis. By learning to die to self and serve our family members, we can reflect the kind of love that Jesus has for us. While there are huge gifts of self that can lead us toward holiness (such as a woman carrying the discomforts and pain of pregnancy and labor for the sake of her child, or a parent spending much of their week working in order to provide for the family) the small opportunities to love are also important. Listening attentively to a family member when we are tired or have other tasks to do, being woken up at night by a child, siblings learning to be patient with each other even when it’s difficult—these are all ways that we can practice loving others (those in our home and outside of it).
Because the home is the first and foremost environment in which the faith is shared from one generation to the next, reading Scripture together and family prayer are essential to the life of faith in the home. I’ve heard it said that having children is like having a spotlight shined on your soul—all the imperfections, flaws, and selfishness becomes clearly visible. In such an intimate setting, our own sins become more obvious to us and the conflicts of different personalities in close quarters can challenge us. It’s almost like rough rocks being jumbled together day after day until they become polished and beautiful—prepared to reflect the light of Christ to the world.
Haley Stewart is a writer, speaker, and podcaster living in central Texas with her beekeeping husband and four children. She is the author of The Grace of Enough: Pursuing Less and Living More in a Throwaway Culture. You can find her at her blog Carrots for Michaelmas and as co-host of the podcast Fountains of Carrots.