Keepin’ It Simple
There exists an old, catchy Shaker folk song that begins, “Tis a gift to be simple, ’Tis a gift to be free.” Ah, although the belief rings true, such an existence remains elusive for most of us. Although we may agree with this simple-living belief and mindset, today’s world has arguably never been more frenetic, hectic, cluttered, complicated and bureaucratic. Oddly, sometimes the “good life” is seen as how busy, full, complicated and entrenched our lives can be.
Even though we have devices such as computers and the internet to ease the burden, modern living is not simple. Computers, cell phones, the internet and other gadgets make tasks easier, but they don’t make life easier. The “more efficient” we are at completing tasks translates to just more tasks heaped on our life and work piles. The more tasks and duties we assign to ourselves gives rise to more problems. Two cars? Twice as many repair bills. Our society programs us to sooth ourselves with more and more of the biggest, best and newest. The problem is that such living wreaks havoc on our spiritual selves, our environment, and our credit card balances.
Sadly, “keepin’ it simple” has largely fallen by the wayside as a lifestyle. We can envision ourselves living our lives simply with fewer responsibilities and reduced stress, but at the same time having the freedom to make personal choices has great allure. Jesus instructs us that “freedom” is not to be found in “having things” but rather in embracing God and His will first in our lives: “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, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
With great wisdom, Jesus tells us we do not need all the material things and life experiences we think we do. Moreover, if we are honest with ourselves, we can admit that materialism and engaging in sinful acts do not serve the Lord. If we try, we can keep Jesus and His coming Kingdom first in our lives. We can make the choice to live in full submission to Christ rather than full submission to greed and material accumulation. Life becomes much simpler when we keep Jesus first…the one aspect of our lives that matters most. Full submission to Christ actually requires simple living; following Christ as our example, we abandon material things and personal comfort in favor of space for loving our neighbors.
Living simple on a personal level has broad life ramifications for those living around us by conserving environmental resources and reducing costs. Living “unburied” in material objects and the responsibilities associated therewith grants us the freedom to “taste” the present and enjoy life in another way. Simple living frees us from the bondage of “entangled living” such that we can appreciate life’s more simple gifts that don’t require a monthly credit card payment, tune-up, maintenance call or warranty.
The simple things in life aren’t “things” and are God’s amazing gifts. Simple living invites us to enjoy these pleasures daily, opening ourselves up to God who is ever-present in our lives.
Each one of is aging, and in many ways, “letting go” and decluttering is part of the life process. As we age, it occurs to us that we either can’t… or don’t want to… manage large personal inventories or particularly onerous tasks. That bicycle we never ride, that banjo we never play, that rowboat that hasn’t seen water in years and that pile of clothing from the 1980s all have to go.
The trick to simple living is that we have the choice to live more simply now. Referencing Ecclesiastes 11:1-6, we see that Solomon approached simple living in a complex world through active participation (11:1), pity and sacrificial giving (11:2), perception (11:3a), preparation (11:3b), prudence (11:4), providence (11:5), and potential (11:6):
“Cast your bread on the surface of the waters, for you will find it after many days.
Divide your portion to seven, or even to eight, for you do not know what calamity may occur on the earth.
If the clouds are full, they empty the rain upon the earth; and whether a tree falls toward the south or toward the north, wherever the tree falls, there it lies.
He who watches the wind will not sow, and he who looks at the clouds will not reap.
Just as you do not know the path of the wind and how bones are formed in the womb of the pregnant woman, so you do not know the work of God who works all things.
Sow your seed in the morning and do not put your hands down in the evening, for you do not know whether morning or evening sowing will succeed, or whether both of them alike will be good.”