1 John 2:15-17
“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.”
Over the past several years there has been a new trend in how to live. Some people refer to it as ‘minimalism’. It is a tool, a mind-set, that allows us to focus on the important things in life and rid ourselves of worldly excesses. The minimalist’s objective is to find happiness, fulfillment, freedom, and purpose outside of the material world. Minimalism in the arts, music, and architecture has been around for decades. The motto of the minimalist is: Less is more; more is less. This philosophy has become evident through television, as seen by the “Tiny House” movement and the show about hoarders. It is a move away from material things and seeking the simplicity of life.
Of course, this is not a new philosophy. Henry David Thoreau stated: “Our life is frittered away by details…simplify, simplify, simplify!” Walt Whitman said, “Simplicity is the glory of expression.” Moving back further, Isaac Newton offered this: “Truth is ever to be found in the simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.” And moving back still further, Confucius taught: “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”
Although most of the current philosophy we glimpse today reflects a non-spiritual approach to life, our souls crave simplicity. We are spiritual as well as physical beings, and both natures are drawn to, and enamored with, simplicity. At all levels of our being, peace and balance require that we live through the power of simplicity and moderation, and not defined by transient happiness or the accumulation of worldly pleasures. Our souls seek to find the state of being where we feel blessed and life is good, no matter what is going on, This is easier to attain when we are not burdened with the multiplicity and confusion of possessions, demands, responsibilities, and poor decisions.
Let’s face it: life can be complicated and complex. When asked a question, it has become standard to reply, “It’s complicated.” Really, from one perspective we all can nod our heads and say we understand. But from another perspective that is a cop-out; an answer intended to hide something. Rather than just say, “I really messed it up. It was my fault because I made poor decisions,” we hide behind the excuse of something being complicated.
We human beings are excellent at making simple things complicated, but we have much to learn when it comes to making complicated things simple. Einstein said, “If you can't explain it to a six-year-old, you don't understand it yourself.” If we can’t answer a question directly and succinctly, we are hiding something, or we really don’t know why we are in the situation that we are in. It takes effort, introspection, and honesty to clarify our thinking so that we and others can understand it.
Steve Jobs shared this wisdom about his mantra being focus and simplicity: “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it's worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains."
That is what our hearts, minds, and souls are longing for: focus and simplicity. When you go through the mail and file the things that need to be filed and toss the things that need to be tossed … how do you feel? I feel good, satisfied, productive.
Clean out and sort your emails. Boy! That feels good; we are happy. The garage, the closet. Put things out for the Salvation Army; take things to the dump. Get rid of old clothing, shoes, wallets, purses, watches … yes even things of value that we no longer use or need. Give it a way: simplify, simplify, simplify!
Wow, that is hard. It is easy to get rid of junk, but it is hard to release things of value that we will never use. We cling to stuff, making life complicated. And we do this in all areas of our lives. Some of us maintain exhausting, depleting relationships out of guilt or habit. We don’t have to abandon someone or stop loving them, but we can change how we relate to them and how much time we spend with them.
Some people like us only because we tolerate their abuse and negativity. They want us around because no one else will put up with their words, attitudes, and actions. God put us here to love our neighbor, but not be abused by them. We are told to love ourselves as well as our neighbor. To love our self is to develop standards, guidelines, and limits in how we will live, but also in how we will be treated. If we explain our limits and guidelines, and someone refuses to acknowledge them, we have decisions to make.
One of the things that will uncomplicate our lives is to face hard decisions head on, and not put them off. If we run from tough situations, we complicate our minds, hearts, souls, and lives. We must learn to have a tough mind, to take a firm stand, yet keep a gentle heart. Every situation is different, requiring a balancing act, but to not face the situation is the path to unending discontent.
When we compromise our principles and values, complications and complexities of life burden us. The Bible tells us: “…anyone who knows what is right but fails to do it is guilty of sin.” When we disregard our standards and doctrines for living, we are sinning, mis-stepping, making errors, and blocking ourselves from the Light and Love of Christ.
Another stumbling block to living a simple life is trying to control everything ourselves. We hold on longer than is necessary or productive. I am guilty of doing this because I have these old tapes running through my head about, “If at first you don’t succeed then try, try again.” It takes wisdom, which I apparently lack, to recognize when a situation is harmful or oppressive, and needs to be released. There have been a few relationships and situations in my life that I should have released sooner than I did. But guilt, pity, or obligation stopped me from doing the right thing, and I held on futilely. I have mentioned recently my pursuit of a minor in mathematics, that I should have released a year earlier. My first marriage comes to mind. A relationship in High School. We all have had situations where the unwillingness to let go sure complicated things.
Habits can muddle our clarity and divert our focus from expressing God’s good. We worry and compare ourselves to others habitually. We are not conscious of it, but it casts shadows, concealing Christ from our minds and hearts. We lose focus and are distracted by worldly temptations. We want to wait until we are perfect, or the situation is perfect, or conditions and people change before moving forward and doing what needs to be done. While our poor judgment causes us to hold on too long to some things, our self-judgment causes us to give up on ourselves too soon. Often in life, it’s not who we think we are that holds us back; it is who we think we are not that erodes our confidence and stifles our poise. Such complexities draw unhappiness and gloominess to our lives.
We habitually over-commit our time and energy. Many of us have come to believe that happiness and contentment come from having every minute filled with activities. We confound our lives with social obligations and work responsibilities and seem afraid to spend time by ourselves or with loved ones and simply enjoy life as it flows by. We tell ourselves that it is bad to be alone. Yet there are many ways and opportunities to engage people, if only we would believe we were worthy.
In many instances, our habitual way of reacting is negative, suspicious, and distrusting. We judge before we have enough information, and we rely on our own understanding, instead of becoming still, taking it to God, and seeking Divine input. Our life becomes more complex when we seek the opinions and validation of others, rather than touching base with God and forging our own path with divine help. Galatians 1:10 asks us: Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.
Another life-complicator is a sense of entitlement; we feel that the world and other people owe us something. It is best to change that thinking to: what can I give to the world and to others?
Many of us just don’t enjoy the journey of life. We live from fear. “What if this happens; what if that happens?” We see life as an adversary, waiting to get us and bring awful things, rather than seeing it as a gift from God and the source of joy, wonder, and newness. It is a choice to release the sense of need and replace it with the love of possibilities.
Luxury and wealth are not antagonistic to a simple life; it depends on the simplicity of our thought process. Being humble, not harming or cheating anybody, and not gossiping about anyone are all simple attributes of life that lead to other qualities that make a person appreciable in everyone’s eyes. These qualities may lead to worldly success yet are born of simplicity. Matthew 6:33
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
We look for such a complicated life purpose and means of living that we wander about aimlessly, bumping into our possessions, blind to the love and joy of God. In Micah 6:8 the Bible shares a simple formula for what God requires of us: To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. It’s not complicated to do what is right. Spirit speaks to us through that ‘still small voice’, and we intuitively feel what is right when dealing with others; our inner knowing and instincts guide us in the right direction.
We are to love mercy, not merely display mercy. This is about attitude modification, not only behavior modification. When we love mercy, mercy becomes the medium through which we live our life. We radiate kindness and compassion and we appreciate mercy being demonstrated by others. We recognize it in the world, and also recognize when it is lacking. At times, Spirit guides us to step in and supply love, compassion and forgiveness toward people and situations.God does not want us to be judgmental; He wants us to be merciful. He wants us to love mercy, love being compassionate, and also do the right thing.
The last piece of the formula is to walk humbly with our God. This means to have an attitude of surrender; to desire that God’s will be done, not our own. It refers to the time that we spend in the quiet with God. To walk humbly implies an attentive and careful lifestyle that is not arrogant, proud, or self-willed; it is to live simply.
Matthew Kelly wrote: “If we will walk humbly with our God, He will lead us by the hand to exactly who and what we need, to those people, things, and experiences He has designed and intended for us, and this alone will be the cause of our deep fulfillment and happiness.” This is a life formula, a philosophy that leads to the simplicity and fullness of life. My prayer is that God’s gentle spirit takes us by the hand and leads us to a realization of peace and contentment, where the most complex situations become simple. May the simplicity of life endow us with clarity, focus, confidence, strength, abundance, and peace.