simplicity

Every month my canvas group (small-group) from my church, Kairos, picks a different spiritual discipline to practice together. In the few months we have been part of the church we have done routine (rule-of-life), fasting, celebration (we threw one awesome “Advent-Eve Party”) and now we’re doing simplicity. In an effort to blog more, and just to share some thoughts, I’m going to try to blog about the monthly discipline.

We decide our discipline at the beginning of this month, and I think in light of the busyness of the Christmas season, we decided this would be a great month to practice simplicity.

I think simplicity is actually quite a complicated discipline to practice. First, “simplicity” has become quite trendy these days (think “Real Simple” magazine and the like…) and so it’s easy for simplicity as a spiritual discipline to be co-opted by simplicity as a mainstream trend. We can allow the world to define what simplicity is and what it is for, and it can be tricky not to allow it to take on alternative meanings.

Second, even within the Christian tradition, it is hard to define simplicity. Personally, I feel like simplicity is something that is found in the bible, especially the New Testament and the life of Jesus, but is something that is hard to pin down. What exactly does Christian “simplicity” mean? You could go a few different ways:

  • Simplicity from stuff: non-consumerism, not having more than you need, voluntary poverty or just simplifying how much and what you own
  • Simplicity from busyness: having a simple schedule without too much busyness and activities so you can just focus on a few things
  • Simplicity in consuming resources: like simplicity-from-stuff, but with a focus on living a simple life to make less of an impact on the environment or taking resources from those who need it more
  • Simplicity of focus: having a life focused on just a few areas or goals, maybe this means being busy but it could also be simple because you are focused on just doing one or two things with your life
  • Simplicity of technology: going Amish (ok, i’m just kidding…but not completely..) being simple by doing things in non-technological ways (snail mail, cooking from scratch, taking notes by hand, etc)

I’m sure there are many many more ways to think about simplicity, but these are just a few that have come up since the conversation has gotten started. The problem is that a few of these conflict with each other. For one person, driving to work may be more “simple” because it saves them a lot of time and hassle, but for another, biking to work may be more “simple” because they are using less resources and technology. Lots of things can work like this- snail mail vs. email, cooking from whole foods vs. a quick take-out meal. I think “simplicity” can (kinda) fall into two categories: simplicity for yourself and simplicity for others. Perhaps things that simplify your life and schedule, that makes things easier and frees you from worry, stress, or hassle, can categorized as “simplicity for yourself”. This would include things like hiring the neighbor-girl to mow the lawn for you. And perhaps simplicity that reduces consumption or technology use may be called “simplicity for others”. These may not simplify your schedule or your workload, but it may simplify the world in general. (I know this may not be clear, but hopefully you get what I am aiming for here…) Some simplicity may actually make you busier. Last year I did a few month stint where I made my own bread from scratch as an act of simplicity. I had to make sure I had a few hours at home to make the dough, knead it, let it rise for 45 minutes, knead it, let it rise again, and finally bake it, take it out of the oven, let it cool for an hour, then wrap it up. Not easy, but for me, making my own bread was “simpler”. For others, it would appear my life just got a lot more complicated.

I think I try to simplify across all the categories I created above. I tend to lean towards simplifying what I consume, what resources I use, and sometimes my technology use. I also work on simplifying my schedule, but I’m ok if some things take longer, like biking someplace, at the expense of having a more full day, or if some things are more of a hassle, like going to the library every time I want to print, because I don’t want to own my own printer.

So, a few questions. Is there any good resources out there on a good biblical definition of “simplicity”? When you think simple, do you tend to lean one-way or the other in how you simplify? What do you think is the purpose of the discipline of simplicity?

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One thought on “simplicity

  1. This summer while in Mexico I read “The Freedom of Simplicity,” by Richard Foster, which talked about the complexity of simplicity. (I can mail it to you if you want to read it). But he went through the heart of simplicity on different levels. In one sense he talked of living simply as a testament that we trust that God will provide. It was a great resource for me as I lived surrounded by people who lived in forced economic simplicity as they taught me so much about community, trust, and contentment.

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