Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What Is Simple Living?

August is here and summer will be over too soon for most of us. And with it, many of us will have kids that go back to school or we start homeschooling again. Those past the schooling stage of life, often find that various other commitments outside the home start back up and before you know it, our schedule is full and life is hectic once again. Does the cycle of busyness never slow down? Where is the balance in all the hustle and bustle?

Several years ago, while attending a retreat, the speaker quietly approached the podium and turned on the overhead projector and placed a transparency with one word on it: Simplify. Now you would have thought that everyone in the room was going to expire as the air seemed to be sucked out of the room. And then all I could hear was one, large, deep sigh across the chapel. Obviously the concept of "simplify" struck a common chord that resonated with nearly everyone in the room.

If you're like the rest of us, you probably have wished at one time or another that your life could just be simpler; less complicated.  But what would that actually look like? Maybe a big red "easy button" like the one on the TV commercial that you press whenever you need a problem solved? Is it less clutter? More free time? Living frugally? Or perhaps we are looking for less stress in our lives. What would it mean to live more simply? 

How much of our complicated lives is due to the fact that we are:

• chasing after material wealth?
• trying to keep up with what others are doing (I'm not talking about possessions, but in terms of activities) because we think we must do it all?
• we have our kids in a certain sport or club because it's "good for them" and they need "experience"?
• afraid of what others might say if we don't participate in some activity or event?
• trying to hang on to things that really don't enhance our lives?
• procrastinating on purging things from our homes?

There are probably as many definitions of simple living as there are people who are seeking it. Each one of us has some ideas of what we would like to change in our lives if we stop to think about it.  For some, it might mean cutting back on non-essential items (less consumerism), but for another it could mean learning to live off the land. For the environmentally conscientious, it could mean reducing one's carbon footprint. And for the overworked executive, it could mean saying no to a few weekly engagements to spend more time with family. 

Duane Elgin, author of Voluntary Simplicity, says "it is about living an examined life, - one in which you have determined what is important or enough for you and discarding the rest." He also said simplicity is "Living in a way that is outwardly simple and inwardly rich". In further describing it, he states clearly what he believes simplicity is not: living in poverty, only for those able to live in rural areas, or a cure-all for what ails society (among other things).

The apostle Paul used a word that I tend to associate with a simple life... he used the word quiet. I Thessalonians 4:11 says "make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you" and "to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread" (2 Thessalonians 3:12). While these scriptures may be a bit out of context, the overall message is still clear... live simply by working hard and taking care of yourself as you keep your eyes on God and not on others. (It should be noted that other scriptures include serving others as well). 

Photo Credit: cindy47452

I often think this is part of the American fascination with the Amish, who seem to have taken this scripture to heart. And in many ways, are better off for it. Please do not think I'm promoting that we all become Amish in our lifestyle, but I am saying that they seem to have seriously considered this scripture and applied it to their lives. 

What surprised me when I took a better look at this culture was their missions outreach. I grew up thinking that they just huddled to themselves and never ventured from their farms, but I'm finding that they've left room in their lives to serve others. It's truly a beautiful thing when you think about it.  

Which leads me to ask myself, how much room have I left in my life to serve God? Christ said in Matthew 6:19-21, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven... For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." He continues to assure the listener that those who trust in Him need not worry about chasing after things like the world does, because God will provide. (Matthew 6:25-34). 

So what is the Christian's response to living simply?

1) Pray and evaluate various areas of your life for that which can be eliminated, reduced, or recycled. Learn to say no to some things (and yes to others!), delegate, or reorganize. Listen to the Holy Spirit and obey. (Phil. 4:6-7)

2) Trust Christ to provide for your needs. The truth is, He is already providing. Everything you have is because God has brought it into your life by providing good health, work, and a means to acquire the basics. (Matt. 6:19-34)

3) Be a good steward of what He provides. Don't assume that you will always have everything you have right now. Humbly thank God for His provisions and make good use of the things He has given you whether it is time, resources, talents, finances, etc. (Matt. 25: 14-30). And remember, that part of being a good steward is leaving some wiggle room in your life for the unexpected!

4) Learn what you can about living simpler. Think "less is more" when it comes to things that are not of eternal value. Start small and work on one thing at a time. Consider it a journey or pilgrimage that will last you the rest of your life as you discover how you can live with less!(Prov. 1:5)

5) Give with a joyful heart. Those who only seek to take care of their own needs are often lonely and dissatisfied. Acquiring wealth only brings momentary satisfaction if any. When we give to others with a heart of compassion and love, we are glorifying God and will receive his blessings for us.  (2 Cor. 9:6-12)

6) Obey the nudging of the Holy Spirit and just do it (whatever "IT" is)! If it's hacking at that calendar and clearing off 5 nights a week for dinner, get ruthless and get after it. If it's cleaning out the hall closet that has been nagging at you for the last year, clean it out now! If it's paying off a debt, cut up the credit cards or do whatever it takes. You get the point, right?

By now you may be thinking that simple living isn't really so simple. Well, neither is chasing after the things of the world! Maybe it's just me, but I keep finding that when I do make the effort to simplify my life, I find I am more satisfied with Jesus.

How are you trying to live simply?


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