January 09, 2007

Simplicity - A Call to a Simpler Life

Seven Considerations for a Life of Simplicity

A simpler life isn’t something that can be achieved overnight. We have worked years to get into the complex, seemingly out-of-control places that we find ourselves; places of great indebtedness, unhappy relationships, unfulfilling mundane occupations, and the loss of peace. The simplified life doesn’t come without intention; it is first motivated by desire and requires a strategic plan if it is ever to be realized. Sharing from my own experience I want to discuss a number of "life" areas that require reformation in order to achieve a life of simplicity and peace.

1. Simplicity requires less physical complexity.

Henry David Thoreau once wrote, "Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb nail…Simplicity, simplicity. Instead of three meals a day, if it be necessary eat but one; instead of a hundred dishes, five; and reduce other things in proportion.”

This might be one of Thoreau’s most famous quotes written while spending a year of solitude and contemplation in a small cabin in the woods on Walden’s Pond. Although not a Christian writer, Thoreau tapped into a Biblical truth; what really counts in life can’t be found or claimed with too great of distraction. Over and over again the Gospel writers noted how many times Jesus went to the mountain or to places of solitude to spend time with the Father in order to get direction and clarity. Complexity has a way of distracting us from simple truth and peace…

2. Simplicity requires less internal complexity.

There is nothing that damages a simplified life more than being a complex person. Internal conflict is the great thief of tranquility. When our life is out of sorts with God or others, everything else is out of sync, the natural rhythm is gone. If we are dealing with issues of guilt, shame or anger and rage, we can become paralyzed, losing the freedom to pursue the dream of inner peace and a simplified life in its purest sense. Unresolved issues cause us to lose our vision for the pursuit of a life that requires the freedom to initiate change; and simplicity requires a commitment to all kinds of change.

The simplified life is a life that is moving into harmony not just with the natural environment, but with personal relationships and most importantly with God. Through our relationship with God, he gives us freedom, healing and a new beginning, all of which are prerequisites to a life of peace. Jesus’ stated mission was “to set the captive free” and we all have been captive in one way or another due to sin. This may be because of our own sin or because we have been sinned against. These bad choices and actions have stifled our lives and quenched our vision, putting us into a perpetual state of status-quo. Our only hope for change is found in the provision of Christ. Through this incredible gift of grace we can experience the forgiveness, healing and freedom to restore our wounds, our marriages and important relationships…

3. A life of simplicity requires the practice of the spiritual disciplines.

Although there is no absolute list of the spiritual disciplines, let’s discuss some of the more obvious ones for the benefit of understanding why they are an essential part of the simplified life. The first is solitude. In today’s complex fast moving world there is rarely time put aside for silence without distraction. (Commuting to work doesn’t count since it requires alert concentration on the external world – or at least it should.) Solitude is a discipline that is all but lost in the American lifestyle. It requires setting aside time for the purpose of hearing God’s voice, contemplation and meditation. It requires the discipline of shutting out the pressures and demands of life for the purpose of focusing on the things that really matter. Solitude helps us get in touch with ourselves. It is during times of solitude that we can hear God and receive vision and direction for our lives as well as reminders of our priorities. I generally begin each day with at least an hour of complete silence. I have found that it empowers me for a much more efficient and effective day. Silence requires as little distraction as possible and works best when there is a complete absence of noise (not even worship music) or visual distraction (Bible reading is yet another discipline). It’s my personal practice to sit in the dark looking out a window waiting for the sun to rise and cast its morning light on a distant mountain. Solitude should be a daily event, but on occasion can be given to a longer special time in a more remote place. Most people confess that their schedule doesn’t allow the luxury of solitude, but that very confession is the motivation for writing about this topic concerning the simplified life…

4. A life of simplicity requires vision and strategic planning.

Solomon opens the book of Proverbs talking about the simpleton or the fool: “You simpletons! How long will you go on being simpleminded?” [Proverbs 1:22] It may not sound too profound, but the fact remains, a simpleton will never discover the life of simplicity. Simplicity won’t happen over night or by itself, it requires deep desire, a vision for a better life and a strategic plan to get there. Solomon goes on to speak of the value of asking God for wisdom. In the next chapter he says, “For the LORD grants wisdom! From his mouth come knowledge and understanding… Then you will understand what is right, just and fair, and you will know how to find the right course of action every time. For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will fill you with joy. Wise planning will watch over you.” [Proverbs 2:6, 9-11] …

5. A life of simplicity uses less from a culture that demands more.

I remember the day the first “McDonald’s” opened its doors in the San Fernando Valley. Hamburgers were around 20 cents each and flew rapid fire off of an assembly line of young minimum wage workers. It was a phenomenon that would change our world forever. We were fascinated with this new idea of “fast food”, not realizing at the time that it would set the precedence for an even faster more complex life. As these types of restaurant chains sprung up across the nation and around the world the competition became fierce. Soon “fast” was joined by yet another demise to the culture as the concept of “super-size” or “biggie size” was tagged on. Huge oversized portions of fast foods became the norm of the American diet causing the nation to face a new health threat: obesity. It wasn’t long before the number one vegetable eaten nationwide was french-fries…

6. A life of simplicity leaves a small footprint and a larger handprint.

At a trail head leading into the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the Inyokern National Forest there is a sign that says, “Leave only footprints – take only pictures”. This profound statement has been indelible on my mind through the years I hiked and horse-packed into the back country of the western states. It was vital to me that I leave as little evidence as possible that I had ventured into the majestic mountains and visited its pristine lakes and valleys. But, what I could take with me forever were the rich memories of being with family and friends in places yet unblemished by the lasting imprints of a developing society.
Lately there has been a lot of talk about a person’s “carbon footprint”. This refers to the lasting impact one person makes in their lifetime of living on planet earth. It is determined by the fuels we burn, the non-renewable resources we consume and the pollution we produce. The size of your carbon footprint is dependent on things such as the size of vehicle you drive, the expanse and efficiency of the home you inhabit and the waste you left behind. The size of your carbon footprint will dictate the blessings or struggles of future generations because of your impact on the earth’s condition after your life has passed.
Because the life of simplicity is a life that prioritizes, downsizes and slows its pace, it is a life that accomplishes much but uses less. It is a life that cares about humanity and the generations to come that will inhabit the earth. Our desire should be to leave a small human footprint but a lasting, large handprint of God. The handprint we leave is an imprint on the hearts and memories of the people whose lives we touch…

7. A life of simplicity calls for preparedness.

The world is in a rapid state of change and not necessarily for the better. Recently I was reading an article in Time Magazine entitled “Has the Meltdown Begun”. It gave statistics concerning the rapid increase of melting on Greenland’s ice continent due to global warming. According to the latest scientific studies Greenland’s shore has been receding at a rate of eight miles a year, a rate that is increasing year by year. As ice sloughs off and melts into the ocean waters, the sea level gradually rises AND encroaches on coastal land around the world. It is anticipated that within this century the ocean level will raise a foot and a half. On America’s eastern seaboard alone this would flood over 100 feet of ocean front property; in Asia it would put Bangladesh under water altogether. If all of Greenland entirely melts (not to mention the polar caps which are undergoing the same decline) the ocean will rise 20 feet causing devastating results worldwide. I say all this to point out that there are changes happening all around us that appear to be out of our control. Besides the issues of our changing physical world, there are others such as an uncertain economy; the potential of global outbreaks of disease; the increase of hurricanes and other natural disasters; the threat of international terrorism and nuclear weapons in the wrong hands; and a deteriorating environment with non-renewable resources being used up…

Conclusion: A life of simplicity is a life that isn’t just chasing the wind.

There is no greater human tragedy than someone coming to the end of their life only to realize it had been empty and without meaning. This is what happened to King Solomon. In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon records that he spent his entire life trying to gain pleasure and every good thing the world had to offer. He built massive homes, planted beautiful vineyards and orchards, had countless servants, and beautiful concubines. He said, “I had everything a man could desire!” [Ecc. 2: 4-8] Through it all he stated that he remained clear eyed so that he could evaluate his life. What he found was that it had all been futile. He said, “But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless. It was like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere”. [Ecc. 2: 9-11]

A life of simplicity is a life that invests in the things that truly count. It is a life that renders down all of the busyness to things that truly have meaning. Jesus spoke of the vine and the branches in the book of John chapter 15, telling us that if our life is to bear fruit that will last, two things must happen. The first is that we abide in the Father so that our true nourishment will come directly from God. The second is that we are pruned back for greater fruitfulness. Like Solomon, each of us should pause and evaluate our lives with “clear eyes”. We should look at our many branches, all those things that draw from our life’s resources, and ask the Lord which ones need pruning. What things could be trimmed from our busy complex lives so we do only those that are necessary and right? How do we put our hands to those things that will provide a life that is meaningful and worthwhile? This is the only way we will ever succeed in our efforts to achieve the “Simplified life”. I believe it is a human desire that we are not controlled or owned by anything or anyone other than our Creator. I believe it is a human drive to have a sense of security and peace, something the world system will never be able to deliver. What the world has to offer is a false promise, chasing the wind, and will never satisfy our deepest human need for peace and value. Only God can meet us in these very deep ways and I believe he calls us to a life that is uncluttered and unconfused. I’m calling that life the “simplified life” and I believe it is the way to peace.

Many who read this essay may conclude that I am old fashioned or even fanatic. But others will find that something deep inside them resonates and is challenged by these thoughts. It is to you that I write these ideas and proposals; it is to you that I share my own journey; it is to you that I issue the call to embrace "sweet simplicity".