One of the most profound ways to live your life well is to simplify it. Our natural tendency is to complicate life. We fill it with a multitude of things we don’t need but are convinced these things are necessary for our happiness. These complications aren’t just in material things, but can be ideas, emotional experiences, and a multitude of distractions impacting numerous dimensions of our lives. If you’ve read any of my research, attended any of my workshops, or taken a class with me you know I believe human beings “exist” in five dimensions of life. We are physical creatures, emotional creatures, cognitive/thinking creatures, relational creatures, and yes, spiritual creatures. We clutter these dimensions of living with stuff we really don’t need because someone tells us these things will make us happier. Instead, these excesses cause us to live overly complicated lives.
If we think about our physical existence, we often fill our lives with more food, clothes, toys, and other physical objects than we really need. I must confess I have way too many things cluttering my life. If you just consider electronic devices (One of my worst vices) you’ll find I have a smart phone, a laptop computer, two kindles, a nook, an iPad, multiple Bluetooth keyboards and mice, as well as an iPod, Chromebook, MacBook air, and so much more that it pains me just to think about it. I have enough “things” to entertain me and feed my technology obsession for multiple lifetimes. I really only need something to do online work like blogging or online teaching, but with all these devices I keep myself constantly busy and entertained. When it comes to physical pleasures, like many of you, I have an abundance of things I don’t need as well.
It’s not just physical things that burden us, we complicate our emotional lives as well. Whether we admit it or not, we like drama. Drama causes us exciting emotional highs and lows keeping us in a consistent agitated state. We like to participate in gossip, perpetuate negative comments about other people, and do whatever it takes to get ultimate thrills and pleasure from the many things we “feel.” Emotional highs and lows fool us into believing we’re living life powerfully when what we’re really doing is filling our emotional world with junk. This emotional drama is generally associated with relationship drama. We like to complicate our lives with relationships that are generally unhealthy and steal our inner peace. Obligations, internal covenants we make with ourselves, and a multitude of rules we create complicate our relationships. A natural human connection with another person becomes a complicated array of “shoulds and shouldn’ts “ getting in the way of one person loving and caring for another. How we think, what we feel, what we do with our bodies, the relationships we forge, and in the end, the spirituality we practice becomes complicated simply because that’s what people do to the most profoundly simple things in life; we fill these five areas of human living with junk.
In one of my favorite books, Freedom of Simplicity by Richard Foster we find a great summary of the mess a complicated life creates. Foster writes:
“Contemporary culture is plagued by the passion to possess. The unreasoned boast abounds that the good life is found in accumulation, that “more is better.” Indeed, we often accept this notion without question, with the result that the lust for affluence in contemporary society has become psychotic: it has completely lost touch with reality. Furthermore, the pace of the modern world accentuates our sense of being fractured and fragmented. We feel strained, hurried, breathless. The complexity of rushing to achieve and accumulate more and more frequently threatens to overwhelm us; it seems there is no escape from the rat race.”
We need to rediscover the spiritual virtue of simplicity. Simplicity frees us because it gives us a right perspective on the world surrounding us. It provides a healthy perspective about who we are, our true needs, and the grace of life. Foster states that discovering simplicity does the following:
“It allows us to see material things for what they are – goods to enhance life, not to oppress life. People once again become more important than possessions. Simplicity enables us to live lives of integrity in the face of the terrible realities of our global village.”
The spiritual virtue of simplicity frees us from being ruled by the complexities of life. To live simply though, requires a great commitment. It requires us to find ways to quit feeding the black hole in our hearts with more things, emotional thrills, overly complicated concepts, dramatic relationships, and complex spiritual rules created by human beings to oppress other people. Simplicity is best discovered by merely reminding ourselves the importance of human connectedness ignoring the disconnection all these complications create. If what I have, think about, feel, etc. creates a division between me and the people God places in my life, it needs to be eliminated. Love is a powerful force. It connects us to the very thing we have affection for. If that love is directed at anything other than God first and one another next, we have complicated our lives. Simplicity is a virtue that lets us say no to the many lies whispered in our ear about what we need so we can focus on who we must love. Make a promise to yourself to “declutter” the things in your life, the negative emotions you feed on, the damaging thoughts you replay in your mind, the bad relationships you maintain, and the oppressive spiritual practices you use to placate a god you created in your image. Remove all these things and live in the peace of a simple life. By doing so you capture a sense of what true peace is about.