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Simplicity

For many of us today, our lives are out of control. 

We believe that we can have it all so we go for it all. But it all costs money so we work more to buy it all. But we can't use it all because we are working more to pay for it all. Then it all needs upkeep. And the kids want to try it all so they sign up for it all and of course they need stuff for it all and rides to it all.

We have it all and it is killing us. We need to change. We need to slow down. We need margin. Without it, none of the rest of practicing with will matter. We won't have time.

Everything Now: Song by Arcade Fire. Arcade Fire can be counted on for thoughtful lyrics. They say and sing, in this catchy tune, the emotional, relational. psychological, and physical impact of our chasing it all. The lines near the very end are heartbreaking. How many dreams have been sacrificed on the alter of having everything now?

Do you need to make a change? Not all of us do. Some of us have already made the change. But if your life needs it, there is hope. You can have margin. You can become the kind of person who is interruptible.

The most amazing advice I have heard is to identify where you are. You need to establish your "You are here" red arrow on your life map. Ask God for wisdom and observe your routines and activities for a couple of weeks and make notes. What are your current routines and activities? Once you have that written down, observe one more thing. What are your current routines and activities doing to your heart?

Then invite God into the next steps as well:

1) The next step is hard. Figure out what the very bare necessities of what you need to do in life are, keep them, and set aside the rest for now.

2) What things are most important to you? Chances are those priorities revolve around relationships: your relationships with God, family, friends, coworkers, neighbors.

3) What is your mission? Your family's mission? What values do you hold at your core? What does God want to do with you, and you with God (you singular and plural / family)?

 

Relationships, values, and mission is where you will find meaning in life. Don't know where to start? It is okay to ask for help, even from someone that does this professionally. I would advise that you seek help from someone that knows God and understands the value and priority of relationship with Him and other people.

Next:

4) Rebuild your schedule, adding one item at a time. I wholeheartedly recommend that you give careful consideration to the practices listed under "Practicing With" on the navigation bar of this website, building them into your schedule. Don't overdo it. Don't become obsessed. These aren't laws. They are simply life habits to help you be intentional about your relationships with God, and with God together with those He loves. Your schedule is about healthy rhythms, we aren't trying to plan out every minute.

5) Having considered these, if you find there is room, start adding other items.

One other thing, fun and recreation are necessary parts of life. Don't forget to include this into the bare necessities of your schedule. But this is also an area many overdo, How many hours do you need to spend at the pool, playing pool, playing video games, or video streaming? So be careful, but have fun! Hold lightly the non-essentials.

Cultivating with: Simplicity

There are very few hard and fast rules with any of this. Each person is different so each relationship will look different. No two people's relationships with God and those He loves will look exactly the same. But there are a few suggestions that have worked for others. Here are some resources for the "how-to" of the practice. These, together with some of the articles and such linked below, will help to get you started:

Books:

The Life You've Always Wanted: by John Ortberg. Chapter 5 "An Unhurried Life: The Practice of 'Slowing'". Keep in mind that a chapter of a book falls within a greater context of the whole book. It is rarely a good idea to read a chapter of a book out of context.

Simplicity: Inward Then Outward with Richard Foster: (Simplicity) This link is to episode 136 of the Renovare Podcast hosted by Nathan Foster. If only for these few sentences alone, this is worth a listen. Nathan is asking Richard to tell the story of a person he was counseling that came to him concerned about having too much to do. Richard answered this person, "Say no." (pause) "I wish I could make it more complicated than that. Say no." But the episode itself is short and talks about the importance of an inner simplicity so that practicing simplicity doesn't become another deadening legalism in one's life. The idea of simplicity is for margin in one's life. Hold things lightly. Be interruptible. With that mindset, we can then simplify on the outside in order to foster that inner desire for simplicity.

Andrew Arndt - On the Desert Fathers and Mothers: (Simplicity) This link is to episode 264 of the Renovare Podcast hosted by Nathan Foster.

This episode comes to me with nearly perfect timing as I write this on February 5th, 2024. I have been very fortunate to have some wonderful teaching in my life. I sat under the teaching of a mentor for the decade of my twenties who has a doctorate in theology. I started along the path of some very basic seminary type of teaching in starting the elder path in the Free Methodist Church, which had a wonderful online teacher who recommended some wonderful books to read for the coursework. I had a great friend recommend I read Dallas Willard and it changed my life. Simultaneously I was reading Larry Crabb, who changed my life in other ways, whom I stumbled across looking for books on small groups. My mentor in my twenties recommended Dr Neil Anderson books to teach me who I am in Christ. Henri Nouwen taught me to lean into being beloved by God, which the other aforementioned authors also tried to teach, but Henri Nouwen has a different approach (perhaps more relaxed? certainly from someone who has been through the crucible and has it settled in the depths of his soul and knows how to communicate that on a heart level). AW Tozer in trembling reverential awe exudes living on fire for God in his writing. It has taken a long time, but I've learned that I live life with God, engaged in His movements on earth, from a position of being deeply loved by God.

For the last few months God has been showing me that what I learned in my head hasn't quite made it to my heart, yet. And it needs to. I'm a recovering work-a-holic. I take after my dad in that way. Starting in my teens I worked part time during high school a few nights a week while taking AP classes and maintaining teenager friendships. My schedule was packed. As soon as I graduated high school I worked a full time job and kept my high school part time job only now I worked most nights and took on more responsibility. Then I made the part time job my full time job and left my full time job, but kept working similar hours to the two jobs combined. I worked this way, only occasionally slowing down, into age 50. When I slowed down it was usually to focus on roles at church: small group leader, mentor, young adult ministry director, etc, or to hunker down and learn/read/study for those roles. I packed my schedule to overflowing almost all of the time.

Then my family sold property and moved to North Carolina when I was 51 (I live with my brother who took care of my parents when they no longer could take care of themselves). I am now 53. For the first nearly 2 years we were dealing with all the paperwork from the sale of the PA property, transferring my parents estate into my mom's name when my dad passed away, then transferring the estate to my brother and I when she passed away one year later. A lot happened inside of a little over a year, a lot to grieve - leaving our jobs, our state, my church, my fiends, the death of my father and mother, moving to a new place, finding a new church, learning to navigate a new area, etc. After my mom's passing, my brother and I then set out to make the property in NC what we wanted it to be. All this time I was working on this website and podcast: somewhere where I could share the things I had learned and was learning. This past summer we were getting caught up and I was ready to look for work. The funds from the property sale wouldn't last forever, you know.

Just then my birth defect hip "jumped the shark". A cane would no longer suffice - I needed crutches even to go from one room of the house to the next... or simply more than a few steps for that matter. The pain would keep me from sleeping as unfortunately my hip didn't like laying in my new bed. Sleep would come in small 1-2 hour long increments in bed and some naps in my computer task chair I had rigged with a heated seat cover and a heating pad laying over the arm rest to provide some relief for my hip. The orthopedic doctor said my hip is too far gone for surgery at this point, and pain management can do little, partly because I do not want mind-altering drugs. But it turns out lack of sleep is mind altering. I spent the last 6 months in a mental fog/haze fighting just to stay awake during the day, the worst of it over the last 3+ months. Now I found myself grieving the loss of my lifestyle as I no longer went to church, went out to movies or to dinner or really much of anywhere other than to doctors.

How am I going to work? Certainly it must be from home. I didn't sign up to lead a Bible study this semester given the pain and discomfort of doing so last semester. So here I am not working, barely able to upkeep the website, doing the bare minimum of "church work" from home, not coherent enough to study, write, record, the blog and podcast. I found myself grieving something else: a loss of a sense of worth and value. "I can't do much of anything so what good am I?" If I were speaking with anyone else who said this, I "know" better and would lay out the case that being loved by God gives them immense worth. But it isn't someone else. It is me. I "know" better in my head, but I don't really "know" better at the core of my being.

Ironically, over the last several days, since I have been learning this, I can sleep more hours in bed now with less pain. I am more awake and refreshed now than I have been in months. I hope this is a sign of things changing. I want to get back to being more productive. But I also know now, that I need to lean into the Holy Spirit teaching my heart where my real sense of worth and value comes from: from God's love for me and what He has made me as a child of His.

This reminds me of something I watched in my thirties and forties. I was friends with many young parents at that time and I saw a pattern where so many of those young moms would feel like they were terrible mothers. They weren't in any way bad mothers - they were amazing mothers. But they had this vision of what a perfect mom was like and they failed to live up to that. It affected their sense of worth.

To young moms feeling like failures, to men in a situation where God is trying to show them that their worth isn't tied to what they can produce, or anyone else that needs to learn this lesson or is in the midst of being taught this lesson, there is hope before, during, and after this experience. In this episode, Andrew Arndt offers a few thoughts on this as he has gone through this and come out on the other side, his heart the wiser for it. One practical item he suggests is to rest in your own grave, which I think he means that when you see this lesson, don't run and hide from it. Rest in it. Allow your worldly idea of worth and value to die, so that you can rise again in newness of a value given to you by the immensity of God's love for you. Not what you do, but simply who you are as the beloved of God. This episode is a great listen!

A Season of Simplicity: (Simplicity) This link is to a Renovare article by Richard Foster. This article steps on toes in all the right ways. It strikes a critical tone of how our society actively and blatantly fights against simplicity, even though our souls need simplicity. He urges us to awaken from our slumber to the psychosis of our society craving ever more: "Because we lack a divine Center our need for security has led us into an insane attachment to things. We really must understand that the lust for affluence in contemporary society is psychotic. It is psychotic because it has completely lost touch with reality. We crave things we neither need nor enjoy. We buy things we do not want to impress people we do not like. Where planned obsolescence leaves off, psychological obsolescence takes over. We are made to feel ashamed to wear clothes or drive cars until they are worn out. The mass media have convinced us that to be out of step with fashion is to be out of step with reality. It is time we awaken to the fact that conformity to a sick society is to be sick. Until we see how unbalanced our culture has become at this point, we will not be able to deal with the mammon spirit within ourselves nor will we desire Christian simplicity." The Holy Spirit invites us to step off of the frantic treadmill and into a life marked by simplicity, even in a society that fights it...especially in a society that fights it. Let's be ambassadors of Christ in this way also. Ambassadors for the good and beautiful and true.

The Cure for Distraction: (Simplicity) Link to Renovare.org article by Nathan Foster. You sense it: the anxiety of not having enough time in the day to accomplish all that you need to. You feel it beneath the surface: a growing loneliness. You can't focus. You can't sleep. You feel anxious. And you are afraid to look it in the face so you self-medicate with busy-ness, entertainment, and distraction. Is this the abundant life that Jesus spoke of? The freedom that He says He gave us? It feels more like death and prison. Richard Foster says that today's church is lacking deep Christians and Nathan Foster, Richard's son, says the church is lacking present Christians. Is it any wonder? You will find it nearly impossible to be either until you "ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life" as Dallas Willard told a young John Ortberg. Abundant life and freedom are available, but they come at a cost. You must learn to say no. You must build margin into your life.

Artful Discipleship: (Simplicity) Link to Renovare.org article by Carolyn Arends. The reason that I include in simplicity an article on engaging in art as a means of practicing the art of being with, with God and perhaps with God together with others, is not only because it requires slowing down. But if you are to take up engaging with art to help connect to God, and maybe others, too, then you will need to clear something else out of your schedule. And I invite you to do just that. The beauty of art is the longing call of a Lover; come away with Me, spend time with Me, slow down and hear Me, beauty is a sign of My goodness, a sign of My love for you. This article provides some practical suggestions for how to engage with art to engage with God.

Simplicity: a Practical Guide: (Simplicity) Link to Renovare.org book excerpt by Adele Calhoun. There is no substitute for simplicity. As I age, I am finding simplicity to hold a charm so strong that it is like a gravitational pull. I still have much in my life that I can really live without, and I am working on that. Perhaps the practical suggestions found in this excerpt can help both you and I. The questions and practices are the best part so don't skip them.

The Spiritual Discipline of Rest: (Simplicity) Link to Renovare.org article by Richella Parham. Today our society runs around on empty. We fill our schedules afraid of saying no, we bring work home because we say yes to too much work, we allow our kids to sign up for anything and everything they want to do so we're constantly providing taxi rides, etc. There isn't enough time in the day and there aren't enough days in the week. Keeping Sabbath? In an ideal world, maybe. That is why rest is a spiritual discipline. Rest requires trust. Arranging our lives so that we can have rest risks people getting upset with us by telling them no. Should we even say no to good things at church so that we can rest? Yes, yes we should, if it's required. Can we really tell our kids they can't do something that all their friends are doing? Yes, if it encourages patterns of rest that they can carry into their adult lives. I read a good book called Subversive Sabbath by AJ Swoboda. He shows how Sabbath rest was something that was built in to nearly the entirety of creation. Even the soil as early farmers were commanded to give the land a rest every seven years, in addition to getting rest from not farming it at least one day per week. Why is rest so important? It is hard to be present without it. Hurry brings anxiety and anger so it is hard to be kind. It is hard to be loving when we are exhausted. Without creating margin in our lives we will not be able to engage with God in stillness, silence and solitude. Margin and rest bring several benefits.

Being More Pedestrian: (Simplicity) Link to Renovare.org article by Mark Buchanan. This idea is very interesting to me. In the Garden of Eden, the mode of getting from one place to another was walking. The Garden of Eden represented created perfection. It wasn't until after the fall that other forms of transport were created. In Genesis 3:8, Adam and Eve hear the sound of God walking in the garden. Even though there were all manner of animals walking around in the garden, they knew what God's gait sounded like. We understand this because we, too, are able to identify people we know based on their gait, without even seeing them. (At my previous job I sat near the hallway. Without turning to look to see who was walking down the hallway, I knew which of my fellow coworkers were approaching due to their gait.)

 

Just like the pace of walking versus, say horseback, car, plane, train, etc, we know that spiritual formation takes time. Growth and depth take time. Human gestation, growing into adulthood, it all takes time. So Mark Buchanan asks, what if God moves at about 3 miles per hour? What if the exhortation to walk by the Spirit includes literal walking? Walking invites slowing down, it invites thinking about things. Today we drive, fly, etc. Certainly it saves time and there is good in that. But it doesn't afford the same time to think about things. Do our lives move at a speed that leaves God walking behind?

Someone made a short film about slowing down and walking called Godspeed.. They believe it is also the pace of relationally knowing and being known. The funny thing is that we intuitively know that slowing down is good for our souls, and we want it. But we need to learn how (The video below is just for the trailer).

Say No to Say Yes: (Simplicity) Episode of the Things Above Podcast hosted by James Bryan Smith. Richard Foster's pie chart word picture to James Bryan Smith that shows how much time we have in our lives to do things is simple, repetitive, and necessary for us to understand (not the word picture but the fact that we have only so much time and we need to prioritize that time). We say yes to so many things, especially if you are doing good things, that we overpopulate our schedules. But this leads to hurry, burnout, crankiness (at least for me), and it robs us of our ability to love well. And, most importantly, we often sacrifice some of the most vital things in our lives when we say yes to too much. So we need to learn to say no to the things that we need to say no to in order to say yes to the things that are better.

Ecclesiastes Episode 2: The "Teacher" vs Jesus: (Simplicity) Link to the Bible Project Podcast: Wisdom Episode 4. In this episode they quote Blaise Pascal. This is true, and haunting. God is a God of the present because it is the only place where we can experience relationship with Him. Living a life of simplicity helps us to be present to the present, where we can find God. Here is the quote:

"We do not rest satisfied with the present. We anticipate the future as too slow in coming, as if in order to hasten its course; or we recall the past, to stop its too rapid flight. So imprudent are we that we wander in the times which are not ours and do not think of the only one which belongs to us; and so idle are we that we dream of those times which are no more and thoughtlessly overlook that which alone exists.

 

For the present is generally painful to us. We conceal it from our sight, because it troubles us; and, if it be delightful to us, we regret to see it pass away. We try to sustain it by the future and think of arranging matters which are not in our power, for a time which we have no certainty of reaching.

 

Let each one examine his thoughts, and he will find them all occupied with the past and the future. We scarcely ever think of the present; and if we think of it, it is only to take light from it to arrange the future. The present is never our end. The past and the present are our means; the future alone is our end.

 

So we never live, but we hope to live; and, as we are always preparing to be happy, it is inevitable we should never be so.”

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