Pursuing less to live more

Haley Stewart stared at the publish button and froze.

It’s nerve racking to announce big news, and this, in particular, had the potential to raise eyebrows.

The title of the blog post stared back at her, boldface, unblinking: “When You Leave Your Comfortable Life and Change Just About Everything.”

The announcement had been a long time coming — Haley and her husband, Daniel, had begun discerning the change a year ago, and their house had been on the market for two months — but now that it was time to go public, she hesitated.

“I was expecting people to think we were crazy,” Haley said, standing by her backyard chicken coop in Waco, Texas, on a hot Friday afternoon and smiling at the memory.

The Stewarts had decided to move their five-person family halfway across the country to live in a 650-square foot apartment on a farm. It would be a primitive existence — no flushing toilet — and it was exactly what they were craving. Daniel’s work as a software tester had kept him away from their three young kids too much and brought him no closer to his passion of farming. 

They dreamt of a lifestyle where they could eat every meal together as a family, where the kids could be involved in their parents’ work and live off the land. 

And now they were doing it, thanks to a sustainable-agriculture internship Daniel had landed and the flexibility of Haley’s freelance writing and homeschooling. 

The response to the announcement was overwhelmingly positive. Texts, emails and more than 100 comments on the blog post poured in. 

“Yay for adventure!” one reader wrote. “I can live my fantasy of living on a farm vicariously through you.”

“You and Daniel are my newest heroes!” another reader wrote. 

Haley couldn’t believe how deeply the news resonated. “So many people said: ‘I wish we could do something like that,’ or, ‘We may not be able to do that right now, but we’re trying to figure out how to simplify our lives.” 

It was the spirit of starting over, of eschewing the rat race to embark on an adventure as a family — a storyline dramatized by Kevin Costner in “Field of Dreams,” Billy Bob in “The Astronaut Farmer,” Matt Damon in “We Bought a Zoo” and Hugh Jackman in “The Greatest Showman.” 

The experience changed the Stewarts. It was messier and more grueling than they’d imagined, but it was also glorious. They felt connected — to each other, to the land, to the seasons and their neighbors and their faith.  

Shortly after the move, Pope Francis released “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home,” an encyclical that challenged the “throwaway culture” the Stewarts been grappling with. 

“It really clarified our spiritual foundations,” said Haley, who was now chopping sweet potatoes in the kitchen to make soup. “It was very cool.” 

She chronicled their adventures in a book just published by Ave Maria Press, “The Grace of Enough: Pursuing Less and Living More in a Throwaway Culture.”

It extends an invitation to harried Americans: There is another way. 

The Stewarts have not yet mastered simple living. Now that they have four children, the proclivity to acquire stuff is even stronger, and they still battle the instinct to measure their days by output versus relationships.

But they limit extracurriculars to one, jujitsu, which the kids attend back-to-back, requiring only one family outing — not the chauffeuring circuit that splinters many families. And Daniel recently passed up a promotion that would have brought longer hours and increased stress. 

The American drive to work more, buy more, do more, ultimately, is “symptomatic of a failure to love,” Haley writes in her book. Goodness abounded when they learned to pursue less: the grace of enough. 

Capecchi is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, Minn.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018