In 2008, when Jen Hatmaker and her family hosted 12 hurricane refugees for a week, one of the children who arrived for shelter walked into their house, looked around, and yelled, "Dad! This white dude is rich!"
Jen says this child's innocent observation brought deep conviction. Compared with a majority of the world, the Hatmakers were rich—and trapped beneath the reigns of American excess. Shortly after this epiphany, Jen began the Seven experiment. She asked God to show her specifically, as she says, "What in [her] life … [was] just too stinking much?"
God's answer? He showed her seven areas of excess. That knowledge led her and her family to fast from one specific area per month, for seven months:
• Food (eating limited to seven foods)
• Clothes (only allowed to wear seven items of clothing)
• Possessions (giving away seven material possessions daily to someone in need)
• Media (nothing allowed outside of necessary texting, emails, and phone calls)
• Waste (recycling, compost, cutting out disposables)
• Spending (money can be spent only at seven specific stores)
• Stress (a month of practicing the Sabbath each week, trimming out extra activities, and spending time in intensive prayer)
As the family fasted, Jen journaled her insights, and approached each new month with a spirit of repentance. She was expectant that God would use the space to prepare her for whatever the next season would bring—including adopting two Ethiopian children. Jen calls this time "an intentional reduction, a deliberate abstinence to summon God's movement in [her] life."
By the end of her fasts, Jen's writing and purpose are more focused. The clarity that comes from the intentional, simple choices she makes creates space for her to speak the truth in love to her readers. She ends with a convicting callout to the American church, daring us to believe that living a life outside of excess is both possible and life-giving.
Talk About It: Jen's tone is conversational. She avoids being preachy as she graciously describes her failures as well as her victories. Be prepared, however—this book reads more like a memoir than a "how-to" guide, and at times, tends toward more anecdotes than revelations.
The highlight of Seven is month three: possessions. Jen and her family set out to give away seven possessions every day—a challenge in itself—but what takes their commitment to the next level is that they physically hand each item to someone in need. It becomes a lifestyle choice of glorifying God by developing relationships and meeting people's needs instead of blindly dropping off bags at Goodwill. These stories of God's love working in the lives of those in need are a beautiful reminder of what the church was created to do.
Seven is at its deepest when Jen discusses the monetary contradictions of the American church. Pointing out the discrepancies we often feel as we step into new auditoriums with million dollar sound systems, knowing people are starving across the world, Jen reminds us that Jesus never asked us to build pretty stages or smooth parking lots—he asked us to look after the widows and the orphans. She then pointedly connects the issues we see in the corporate church to the contradictions in our own lives.
Shopping locally, not eating out, and spending only when necessary, the Hatmaker family saves enough money in her month of fasting from spending to sponsor another child in a developing country. This brings readers to the uncomfortable place of wondering just how many people we could help if we paid better attention to our spending habits.
As Christians who live hectic, plugged-in lives, with little time to stop and think about the way we're living them, Seven calls us to a place of simple obedience. Jen Hatmaker desperately longs for the church to look closer at the calling Christ gave us, and her observations are dead-on. Convicting without being condemning, it's definitely worth a read.