Do you know someone who has embraced the minimalist mindset? Simple food. A clean house. A stripped-down wardrobe. Quiet entertainment. Gentleness. Beauty. Simplicity. Essentials. Health.
I have friends who are minimalists. Who simply live—or live simply—with as little as possible. There is something very attractive to decluttering, getting back to nature, enjoying uncomplicated ways of living… There’s so much there, I could have written this article on embracing the minimalist challenge. However, I’d have to admit, I myself haven’t taken on the challenge myself! I look around my office and it’s filled with what I need to do my mission—along with numberless papers, piles of papers and notes and requests and reminders that eventually have to be tended to—or (hopefully) thrown out when they’re no longer relevant.
Instead of minimalism, what Jesus has been attracting me to is something at the heart of minimalism: simplicity. Finding and living from the essential.
I really like the definition of simplicity found on wikiuniversity:
Simplicity is the virtue of removing the unrelated things to reveal the essence. Simplicity is the direct alignment with reality and it is the opposite of false and its various manifestations including pretension, prevarication, bloviating, masquerading, exaggeration, denial, grandiloquence, falsehood, or misunderstanding. Simplicity is the opposite of excess, and its various manifestations including opulence, extravagance, gaudiness, ostentatiousness, and waste. Simplicity is also the opposite of indirect, and its various manifestations including oblique, roundabout, convoluted, devious, and circuitous. Simplicity fully enjoys the magnificent essence it has revealed.
Simplicity is not simple-mindedness, nor is it simplistic. Simplicity grasps the essence that organizes what is apparently complex. It reveals an elegance that often is only understood after examining and comprehending immense complexity. Simplistic ideas are false because they take invalid short-cuts that misrepresent the complexities, subtleties, and full scope of reality (read the full article here).
In these first weeks of 2020, I’ve been talking with God about what is essential in my life, in what makes up my “me.”
The Lord has shown me how we humans build up defenses, and masks, and monuments, and exaggerate grandiose projects in order to hide from the pain of not having found the essential. In a sense, we seek to become gods and escape the woundedness and poverty of what it is to be human, to be created, contingent. Not the masters of our destiny.
In short, we don’t want to remain faithful to the humanity entrusted to us—that humanity with its limits, its trials, its unknowns, its risks.
We run away from the simplicity of who we are as created and loved creatures. In the words of Johann B. Metz in the spiritual classic Poverty of Spirit, “Man must learn to accept himself in the painful experiment of his living. He must embrace the spiritual adventure of becoming a man, moving through the many stages that lie between birth and death. Even the life of the child is darkened by the repulsive enigma of death. Soon enough, with man’s first feeble explorations into the unchartered inner depths of his personality, is he tempted to an outright denial of what is most his own. Man’s flight from himself begins early” (p. 8).
God chose to be born into that poverty from which we flee. God “became man.” The Word “took on flesh,” as John so starkly puts it in his gospel. He took on our flesh. For Metz, being man (as in created, as in not being God) is to be poor. It is to have no bragging rights before God. No support. No power. Only the enthusiasm of our heart. “Becoming man involves proclaiming the poverty of the human spirit in the face of the total claims of a transcendent God” (p 14). Friends, Jesus chose this because he loved us. He needed to show us himself the beauty of our fragile created humanness.
Jesus chose poverty. He chose to be simple. He chose to live what is essential.
So what does this look like for me? An image that came to me in prayer that represents my simple givenness, my poor essentialness, my trustful createdness, is that of a leaf floating gently down a stream. It is a small leaf. It has no plans, no projects, no dreams, nothing to build up or become. There is no masquerading, exaggeration, or falsehood. There is no excess, no ostentatiousness, no waste. The leaf is carried along by the stream, protected by the stream (as precarious as this seems), almost embraced by the stream. The leaf is a symbol to me of what is left when all else is stripped away… the essential. It is a place of simplicity. It is a place where I discover the absolute essential point of “me:” I am loved by the One who made me.
Simplicity is a difficult virtue to practice. It demands other virtues that come first: self-awareness, humility, the honoring of our heart’s reality with a listening and compassionate ear. It requires us to learn gradually to let go of all that clings and clutters, all our props, everything that pervades our lives with distractions and dissolution and dispersion. All that hides, and all that holds us back from embracing our own humble humanness.
It is a choice for essence, for the essential. A choice for beauty and authenticity. It is a life that grows in meaning and the power of intentional self-giving to others through a leap of the heart.
Whether you are attracted to minimalism, hoping to declutter your life, or are searching for the essential, these five practices will help you enjoy simplicity in your life. See which one resonates with you!
Schedule sacred slow-down time
There is something to be said for putzing around. For taking 30 minutes, 90 minutes, half a day, all day, just to do whatever you want—or nothing at all.
It isn’t my way at all. I’ve been very focused, organized, intent, and can get an amazing amount of work done. But the soul, remember, needs leisure. It is not a project. It unfolds, enfolds as it is led to. So give your soul a gift and schedule in some leisure time regularly. As you spend that time you may feel like your wasting time. Good! You need to waste time to find yourself. To live from the essential. To feel your way into the deepest part of your heart’s desire…
Take time out for the moon
In Awaken Your Senses, co-author Beth Booram remembers the long slow summer days of playing outside all day when she was a child. She remembers most her time watching praying mantises, catching tadpoles, and… gazing at the moon. She wasn’t raised in a church-going family, but when she looked at the moon, she said, “I would swear that someone was looking back at me.” Even as an adult, gazing at the moon remains one of her strongest “God moments.” She writes, “When I stare up into the darkness of night and see this incandescent globe, it has a humbling effect.”
Gazing at the moon, a long, wondering appreciative gaze, helps us become childlike again. We find the simplicity of wonder, the essential role of awe in our hearts.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them? (Ps 8:3-4 NRSV)
And you know that even as you gaze at the heavens, God is gazing back at you.
Assure yourself you are loved!
Love keeps things simple. It’s when we fear we aren’t loved that we begin to play a part, put on a power plays, amass distinctions, money, stuff, popularity—anything we can get our hands on. A simple way to start is this simple reflection: “I deeply love and unconditionally accept myself, because God does.” Try saying it nonstop for half an hour and discover the difference it makes!
And then ask God what simplicity looks like for you.
Images are powerful things. Like stories, they’re more persuasive in moving us toward an attitude adjustment, or to taking on new values that require difficult changes. God gave me the image of the leaf. Your image will be your own. To talk to God about receiving the gift of his vision for your more simple life this year, take just a few moments to jot down in the center of a piece of paper some highlights of where you’ve been and around that identify the feelings that come up for each of those situations. Then listen to God say to you, “Turn to me with all this.” As you picture yourself handing it all over to a loving and generous Father, ask him what he will give you in return. Wait for an image, an impression, a word or phrase. Let the meaning sink deeply within your soul.
It is the path to the essential.
I’d love to hear what is YOUR path to the essential!
ENJOYED THIS ARTICLE? HERE ARE 5 WAYS TO GO DEEPER…
God has amazing ways of knocking on people’s hearts, awakening desires, arousing questions, provoking an unexpected spiritual fire. If you have enjoyed this article, and are ready to embark on a sustained spiritual journey, here are 6 ways you can join me on the journey:
- Join my private Facebook Group and walk the road of healing with a great group of people. I offer a half-hour live spiritual conference here Tuesday evenings at 7pm EST
- Sign-up for my letter Touching the Sunrise. I write a letter a couple times a month from my heart to yours to support you along the way.
- Explore my books: Surviving Depression: A Catholic Approach; Reclaim Regret: How God Heals Life’s Disappointments; Just a Minute Meditations Deeper Trust and Inner Peace. Enroll in the free 5-day email series introducing Reclaim Regret.
- Enroll in courses on Midlife, Contemplative Prayer, and a do-it-yourself downloadable Surviving Depression retreat
- Become a part of the HeartWork Community, a place where you can ask the hard questions and find a path to a life that is free, fulfilling and fruitful.
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