Veronica Zundel explains what she believes the term ‘lifestyle’ means


Near the beginning of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, there is a moment where the hapless hero Arthur Dent remarks: “I seem to be having tremendous difficulty with my lifestyle.” Unfortunately, this remark slips through a wormhole to a distant galaxy where it floats between two war leaders whose tribes are on the brink of war. Interpreted by one of the leaders as a terrible insult to his mother, it causes a bloodbath. Meanwhile on earth, it is if anything an understatement, as Arthur finds his planet being demolished by a Vogon constructor fleet in order to build an intergalactic superhighway. 

What is a lifestyle, anyway?

Lifestyle can mean anything from whether you buy your furniture at Habitat or IKEA, to who your ‘significant other’ is and what shape your family takes. Some Christians talk of ‘the gay lifestyle’, but really there is no such thing: some gay people go to the opera a lot, some love gardening, some dress conventionally and some eccentrically, and the only thing they have in common is loving someone of the same sex.

Personally, I’m not sure I’ve ever really had or chosen a lifestyle. Certainly, my mode of life changed from when I was single and living alone in an inner city flat, to when I got married and moved to the suburbs – and even more so when I became a mother at 41. But I still like to read novels and memoirs, go to exhibitions, see friends and express myself through clothes. If lifestyle is a matter of personal preferences, they don’t really change all that much. And as for my lifestyle changing when I became a Christian, well I was only 16 at the time, I was a mostly well-behaved schoolgirl before my baptism and continued to be one (only a bit more rebellious) afterwards.

Certainly, there are people, and we rejoice in them, whose lifestyle changes dramatically after finding Jesus (or more accurately, after Jesus finds them). Perhaps they were criminals before their conversion, or wildly promiscuous, or deeply involved in the occult. Significant changes are bound to happen in those circumstances, though not always instantly. But for most of us, especially those brought up in Christian households, developing what we might call a ‘Christian lifestyle’ is a gradual process of discipleship, perhaps of modelling ourselves on older or more experienced mentors, of knowing the Bible better and knowing God in Jesus better by the Holy Spirit.

Being a Christian – then and now

For the earliest Christians, the lifestyle of what was first called ‘The Way’ would involve dealing honestly in business, being faithful in marriage, not abandoning unwanted newborn babies, rescuing those who had been abandoned by others, financially supporting the poor, and treating everyone with respect regardless of their status. But beyond that, there were Christians who refused to eat food that had been offered to pagan idols, and Christians who happily ate it because they believed that idols meant nothing and could do them no harm. There were Christians who loved to celebrate special days and seasons, including some who continued to honour the great Jewish holidays, and Christians who regarded every day as a holy day because the ordinary, in Christ, is holy. There were Christians who married and had families, and those who chose to remain celibate in order to dedicate themselves to ministry.

It’s the same today. Some Christians will choose to live in a modest house, perhaps even in a council flat on a housing estate, in order to devote their money and/or time to serving others. Some will move to a less expensive area so they can have a larger house and exercise hospitality. Some will collect art to support penniless artists, some will restore vintage cars, some will love to craft and some will take part in endless demonstrations about all sorts of issues. All of these could be called lifestyles, and all are acceptable to God if we are following the path he has called us to.

Some, of course, will have little or no choice in these matters. I know I am one of millions appalled when our former home secretary described rough sleeping as “a lifestyle choice”. One might say she has chosen a ‘lack of imagination lifestyle’…There are some ‘lifestyles’ I believe a Christian can never rightly adopt – personally I see being an arms dealer as one of them, but you will have your own taboos. With those exceptions, I would want to say: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery’ (Galatians 5:1). Life is for living.

Veronica Zundel is an author and regular contributor to Bible Reading Fellowship’s New Daylight.