What do habits have to do with stewardship?

Even though I’ve already written some on habits, there is, unsurprisingly, more to say. Like most Americans alive today, I have never lived in a culture where having one outfit is the norm. I remember being a child and reading 19th century books in which young girls—they always were girls books, a childhood obsession of mine—had one dress for every day and one dress for Sunday. I thought this was complete madness! How could you possibly do everything, work, play, and everything else, if you only had one outfit?

Now, of course, I do not have only one outfit—in the time since May 30th, I have NOT given away all of my clothes. First, this is a period of testing, so keeping options open is always wise. Second, I haven’t figured out how to do everything in it! And I suspect I’m not going to. While I could, yes, go to physical therapy in a long tunic, it would make it much more difficult for my physical therapist to check my alignment, gait, and other things that we are working on, simply because he needs to see my actual body. Similarly, going in for routing health checkups: you get to keep your pants on for a mammogram, but if you have not pants… you see the difficulty.

However, I’m a lot closer to having one outfit than I ever have been before, and I’ve been shocked at the instantly different attitude I have about it. It almost feels like a pet—a pet admittedly without complex emotional needs—and when I take it off at night I give it a little once over. Are any seams pulling out? Stains that need addressing? How are the buttons? The zipper? My relationship to this garment is one of caretaking, and that feels new to me.

But why deploy the word “stewardship” in the title? Because I think this new relationship to a material thing might be teaching me what stewardship is all about. This garment was not inexpensive, even with the generously donated labor of my mother. Good quality, organic linen, sourced from as ethical sources as we could manage, is not inexpensive. But, it also has the possibility of lasting for many, many more years than most clothing purchased these days. And because it is handmade, even very dramatic repairs are possible, say, replacing an entire panel (there are 5 panels that go from collar to hem). Mending has been going out of fashion for so long, I’m sure I could find a 19th century article on its demise! But that’s a huge and growing problem in our world. Clothing, cars, coffee makers, machines of all kinds have moved from being “durable” to “consumable” goods. In a lot of places in this life, we don’t have a choice about that—we live under the market and economic realities of our day.

However, making a choice about this one thing—to opt out of the fashion industry as entirely as possible—has felt surprisingly empowering. Of course, it’s not entire: surely even the most ethical linen supplier is also involved in fashion. But to opt out of microplastics and “fast fashion,” in favor of durability and mendability—this feels like the best way to both live within our economic realities while acting in such a way as to shift them, and as serving as a witness that living into Luke 12:22 ““Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear.” can be more literal than I ever thought before. Wearing the habit, with its imperfections, its loose threads, and its inevitable wrinkles (Yes, we have a steamer. Yes, we’re still going to be more wrinkled than fashion demands.) feels like an important statement in the world. Looking “put together” or “crisp” or “professional” is not a theological statement, to me. Wearing clothing that stands for sustainability over style, and stewardship over convenience feels like another way to represent faithful care for our world, and therefore for each other.