My Response to “Abundant Simplicity”

My recalibrate life read for the month of February has been Abundant Simplicity: Discovering the Unhurried Rhythms of Grace. This was a book I had read a few years ago but I connected with its contents much more this time as I read it.

The phrase that really stood out to me in the first few pages of the book was “The Christian focus of simplicity is to abide in Christ.” I loved that the author geared my focus toward making the Lord my Treasure.

The process of learning the disciplines of simplicity brings us to a couple of very important realizations. First of all, Johnson points out that “[we] don’t yet trust God to help us feel acceptable when we’re not managing what others think of us.” How often do we purposely try to make others like us or think well of us? And secondly, she reminds us that “[it] is not just others who have “the self-serving motives” of “pride, greed and desires to control”. It is so hard to take a long, close, hard look at our own motives.

Self-awareness is very important in our lives as it is the gateway to transformation. As we grow in self-awareness, we can take our thoughtss before the Lord to have Him search out our hearts. He can shine a light within to show us our motives and help us to know the path we should take. When we fail to do self-examination or soul-searching we miss this opportunity to talk it over with the Lord.

I mentioned in my response to Sacred Rhythms that doing the activities of self-examination and discernment were some of my favorite. I have learned a lot about myself through this process. When I take time to look back on my day and week and look at where I recognized the presence of the Lord and where I felt alone, when I take time to think about my attitudes, responses, and reactions, and then talk about all of this with the Lord, I gain new insights about myself.

I have learned about boundaries I need to set with people who push my buttons and bring me to a state of fuming. I have learned how my being available to others and fully present with them truly leads to deeper closeness, bonding, feeling loved, belonging, and acceptance for me. For me, that means putting down the planner, or my tablet, or setting aside my task list, and maybe asking my husband how I can help him, or what he wants or needs. Or maybe it means just being really present in the conversation, not allowing my mind to race on with a million other random thoughts.

I never really realized how all of this was impacting my life. The more I choose to do self-examination, to talk with the Lord about what is going on in my heart and my life, the more I learn to know Him as my Treasure. Because in those moments when I take time with Him to be real, I grow in trusting Him and my relationship with Him grows in intimacy.

One of the chapters discusses contentment with what we have and the importance of resisting the impulse for more. It was interesting to me to learn how our wounds from the past can play into our level of contentment. Later in the book frugality and generosity are further discussed.

Johnson also leads her readers to consider doing a heart exam to help us discover our longings and priorities in life. She says, “Simplicity strips away the things that distract us (sometimes good things), helps us to re-evaluate where our heart is, and provides room for God to speak.” Simplicity is all about being intentional rather than living “on autopilot.”

I once again realized that, all too often, I am trying to just do too many things, I have too many focuses. Narrowing my focus reduces my stress level a great deal. I have learned that choosing to slow down has given me space to hear the Holy Spirit convict my heart of wrong. Being busy all the time, failing to do the soul-searching, often left me unaware because I was barreling through life as a bulldozer. I realize how often I have missed the gentle nudges that could have led me down a better pathway, whether that be a calm response, a space for silence, or the learning of new wisdom.

The disciplines of practicing simplicity of speech, as well as, silence and solitude are discussed. Johnson found that in her practice of simplicity and gentleness of speech, her words “imparted grace” to her hearers. The importance of really thinking about how my words are being used and considering what the motive behind saying them is, became very clear to me. It surprises my how often my words are manipulative, such as trying to get another to do something I want them to do, without actually asking them to do it. I recognized how that annoys me a great deal when I feel manipulated by others, but I had not realized how often I do it. Another point the author made about our speech is that it is most important that the Lord hears all about it, and it is not necessarily important that others hear it. Oh, how often I run to tell others, by phone call, or via text, or email, when I could just turn that worry or concern into a prayer, or when I could turn that joy into a praise.

As I eluded to earlier, both frugality and generosity were discussed, The importance of how we use the gifts the Lord has given us was reiterated. Again the emptiness of our souls is a factor. This emptiness plays a role in our purchasing of items because of a personal need to fill an inner hole. Johnson reminded us to ask ourselves what we want and what we need. Unfortunately, that is not something that I have often done in the past, but it is something I am choosing to do more and more often now. Johnson states that “Practicing frugality involves two changes, limiting what we already own… and limiting what we acquire.” Her goal in this is to have us limit our possessions, so that we have space to treasure the Lord. As well as limiting our purchases so we can “live a generous life rather than a grasping life.”

The chapter that spoke on simplicity with time was one of my favorites. Johnson said, “Simplicity with time requires the diligent intentionality of creating enough space that I may say yes to treasuring God and loving people.” This is an area that I want to work more and more on.

The discussion on the importance of putting “margin” in our days or “serious nothing” in our weeks has led me to rethink my schedule as I continue to recalibrate life, We need the “free in free time.” Johnson gave a list of leisure opportunities and suggested choosing one to try.  I need to be even more intentional about putting “margin” in my days and “serious nothing” in my weeks. I frequently fail to follow through on this even if it is written in my planner.

The bottom line is living simply in all of life, the way we dress, the way we take care of our bodies, and the way we use media.

Johnson says that as we learn to live in simplicity and draw nearer to God we find less reason to worry. That in itself is encouraging as worry can consume so much of our lives.

Each chapter had questions to answer and experiments to try. I completed all of the questions but am still working my way through some of the experiments of simplicity that I want to try. Some of these experiments will be my topics for my next months posts.

This was an excellent read on my journey to recalibrate life. Next month I will be reading GodSpace: Time for Peace in the Rhythms of Life by Christine Sine, M.D. I look forward to sharing my response with you.

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The Breaking

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” John 12:24 NIV

Do you ever question why things happen to you? I think, especially, if we find similar things happen to us repeatedly we begin to wonder why.

I have noticed recently how it seems how things constantly are happening that change my plans. Someone else chooses for me, and it all is out of my control leaving me feel angry and frustrated.

I am a planner, sometimes down to the hour. I blame it on having been a teacher and always needing to have a lesson plan. A certain plan for every moment. So, I feel anxious when things are left unplanned. And I feel more anxious when things I have planned are randomly changed by someone else. This means I have to rearrange my entire schedule to accommodate the new plan. But it keeps happening, and I keep feeling anxious and frustrated.

Interesting. I just realized that the Lord is trying to get my attention. Now recently two days in a row in my time with the Lord, in two different studies, He has brought me head on with the verse printed at the beginning of this post. It seems that a part of my life’s recalibration will be about being broken and learning to surrender. Once again, I must willing to abandon control.

Jennifer Kennedy Dean explains what true brokenness means in this way:

“True brokenness means losing all faith in your own abilities, abandoning all dependence on human resources, and disavowing all outward pretensions of righteousness to cling to the Spirit of God as if to a lifeline.” (from He Restores My Soul: A Forty-Day Journey Toward Personal Renewal p. 27)

Definitely not an easy lesson. It screams trust and letting go and I am not good at either one. Even so, I know, God’s lessons are always for our good and His glory.

Just last year, the Lord showed me that trying to change someone so things can be accomplished in my way and timing is a recipe for frustration. Besides He has a better way! I was amazed at how the He worked in the midst of the situation when I released control to Him. He worked it all out in ways I could not begin to manipulate. So now, once again, I am seeing there is more He wants me to let go of.

The struggle is and has been for a long time about “my time.” I want to and have continued to try to control what I think is “my time.” I am realizing that I am working really hard to please others, to do the right thing, yet I continually come away frustrated and resentful. Those feelings come out of doing things that feel like obligations in order to people-please and having the doing of them use up “my time.” So then when I come to the end of my day, or my week, and I find that my personal to-do list is left unfinished it leaves me feeling upset. Angry, resentful, and frustrated! But His way is different, it is all about being reckless in love, not about me and my list and timing!

“Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go,  reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal. “

John 12:24-25 MSG

When something is reckless, it is not necessarily planned out carefully. This “reckless love, ” He is calling me to live out, is all about being Spirit-led not planned out according to my timing. This means that the breaking is about breaking my will to control and have my way with “my time.” Surrender. And I have learned and continue to recognize the need in me at the bottom of all of this is still the need to earn love and hold tightly to it so as not to lose the love.

The problem is that my fists are clinging so tightly and I am trying to clutch the love I so desperately need but it seems that being reckless in love can only come out of trusting with reckless abandon. I cannot control it all. The Lord wants me to let go of control and trust Him with reckless abandon, and then in His gracious tender-heartedness He will provide the love I seem to so desperately need.

He has shown me this, and even so, I struggle with letting go, I continue to grab on and hold on to getting love in my way as if my life depends upon it. Like a little child I throw a tantrum when my life or plan is interrupted. I am obviously not there yet.

So, as I travel this journey to recalibrate life I can see that it is going to involve a breaking of self, a lot more trust, and more letting go than I had initially anticipated. Once again, I thought I had it a planned out, but God is showing me it is all about His timing and His plans. And, oh, His plans and timing are so very different from my own! My way is comfortable and safe, but it seems that will not be the road I will be travelling.

There is so much we must release to the Lord. Learning to trust is a life-long lesson, and often the breaking requires challenges that are very uncomfortable because we must learn to live by His ways. Thankfully, the Lord knows the path of brokenness and surrender, He has travelled it to the cross, and He is the One leading. So I can be confident in His wisdom and learn to follow, growing in trusting, even though the way produces fear in me as I slowly follow.

How about you? How is the Lord challenging you to change and grow? Are you with me learning on the path of brokenness and surrender?

Where is Your Treasure?

A big part of recalibrating my life is simplifying. It seems that we are very good at accumulating. Year-after year we purchase or acquire more things, and we add more activities to our calendars, saying yes to people along the way.

Moving Mom has been a huge amount of work. Through the years she collected a menagerie of things, and has put her treasures in a box to save for someday-maybe. You know, “I may need this…” or “I would like to read this but there isn’t time now.” So now, there are stacks of boxes with items from years ago, and it seems there may be unknown treasure in each one.

Do you have those kind of boxes too? The ones with things that seemed too-precious to get rid of at the time, so it ended up on a stack with other boxes.

Christmas is nearing, and many are bustling about buying gifts, more jewelry, more appliances, more technology, more toys, and the list goes on. I have to confess, with all the chaos of moving Mom, any shopping for Christmas has been left for another day.

I come home from hunting for another “treasure” Mom knows is somewhere in a box that she definitely wants to keep and begin looking around my house only wanting to get rid of things. I don’t have much desire to go out and buy more stuff. Our stuff may initially seem like a treasure but in time becomes a burden. The cleaning, sorting, reorganizing; it all takes time. So, I ask, where is your treasure?

I want my house, my calendar, and life itself all to be lighter. I am realizing how easily I can be pulled off track, distracted by this want, or that desire. Oh, it may just be a passing whim, but somehow I accumulate stuff to satisfy it, and then as time passes the desire is replaced with a new desire and it starts all over again. It becomes a vicious circle of greed.

The Bible says, “For where your treasure is, there  will your heart be also” (Luke 12:34). Jesus wants our hearts. He is God’s Christmas gift to us, and He truly is to be treasured above all. All of life needs to flow out of life with Him. And life with Him is about the “easy yoke” and “the unforced rhythms of grace”(Matthew 11:28-30).

This month I am gleaning from the book of Luke, a chapter a day. Jesus’ life was about what came out of His time with His Heavenly Father and that abiding. It was not rushed or hurried. He focused on loving others, spending time with others, enjoying meals together, talking with, teaching, and healing. He developed relationships, and touched lives.

Simplifying life means narrowing my focus and intention to the essential. The track of recalibrating life by simplifying means getting rid of the unnecessary and focusing on the important and for me I want to focus on treasuring Christ and what is important to Him. Holding less tightly to things and all that makes you crazy-busy.

This month, as Christmas fast approaches, I have not had time to shop feverishly for lists of gifts. But I have been trying to set aside a few hours, here and there, to spend with those I care about. All too often in the past I have gotten caught up in the shopping and decorating craziness. This year I have not had time nor energy. But I am going to bake 20 big fat gingerbread men for putting together plates of Christmas cookies for gifts at church. I will attend a women’s Christmas gathering at the church a part of my extended family attends in order to spend a few hours with them. I plan to go to a Christmas sing-along at my church. I am going to take time to make some cinnamon dough ornaments to enjoy the relaxation and the smells. And I also will make a simple dinner for a few guests we want to have over through the holiday season. My husband and I already have had special  moments of time together, grabbing lunch, sitting in a favorite coffee shop, helping a neighbor, and watching a movie. We are continue to make choices for quiet. Choices, focus, intention. I can’t do it all, but I can do some things. I still will need to buy a few gifts to wrap, but it will be much different then in the past. As I said the treasures we pack away, soon become burdens, but the memories we pack in our hearts can be treasured forever. We can help boost our memories by taking a photo, or making a journal entry about the special time. These are always fu. to look back on.

I started a small “recalibrate life” journal where I am just recording those special quiet, precious moments where it isn’t all about the hustling and bustling, but instead about the breathing deeply and enjoying.

And as I walk around the house, looking in a closet, glancing at a bookshelf, I am constantly evaluating each items necessity. The boxes that are accumulating in my garage are boxes for Salvation Army, not storage.

I don’t want my “treasures” accumulated in boxes on shelves in my basement and garage. I want what I treasure to be about loving, creating, playing, finding joy, celebrating, breathing; and I want it all to be slow. Not frantic and rushed, not overwhelming and exhausting. I want quiet moments where I share time with others in focusing on mutual interests. I want it all to center around and flow out of my love for Jesus and His great love for me.

He has blessed us with the love of family and friends, with talents for creating, with reasons for celebrating, and with time to play, maybe that means building a snowman with a child, making dough ornaments with a friend, just for fun, or playing cribbage with a neighbor. Time spent together is a wonderful gift to give and it is a beautiful demonstration of love. I want my heart to be filled with Christ’s love and then I want to share that love moment-by-moment.

So, once again, I ask you where is your treasure? Is it in a box somewhere? Or in a relationship in which you celebrate special moments? Is it about love or greed? Our motives are hard to determine at times, but being intentional in how you think about “treasures” may help. I know it has helped me.

Giving the Gift of Love in Time

What is time to you? How do you think about time?

Time is my “Isaac”, it is something I need to learn to let go of. I need to learn to sacrifice the time I have and not hoard it. I seem to try to hold onto it too tightly.

Ann Voskamp, in her book The Broken Way, says that time is to be sacrificed not to be seized. It is something to give rather than hold onto.

The Lord gives us 1440 minutes each day, it is a gift, every minute, every second. It is so easily squandered away, wasted or used selfishly. The Broken Way helped me to see once again my tunnel vision when it comes to time. I have an agenda. I know what I need to do and what I want to accomplish. And I rarely see outside of that or beyond that.

Ann shares how she used her 40th birthday to give to others in so many beautiful ways. It all began with an idea in her mind but she did not feel the desire to carry the idea out. Yet, she moved forward with it anyway. She gave away her birthday in gifting others. She found herself so happy doing it. Blessing others became a blessing for her and her whole family.

This made me wonder about what I have been missing when I am so over-focused on my to-do list and so oblivious to opportunities.

Ann says that our days, each day is a “pocket of possibility” and that we only need a willing hand to give or to bless. She also talks about how her list of things she needs to do can become more about ways to love.

Those concepts really resonate with me. The way you think about something changes how you go about it. Can you imagine what it would be like if you looked at each item that you now see as an obligation or a thing to accomplish instead as an opportunity to love? Maybe the question to ask ourselves is: how can I show love or be love or give love today? Maybe it’s by making a delicious home-cooked meal eaten in candlelight. Maybe it’s by putting fresh sheets on the bed and spraying them with a favorite perfume, or with a love-note in the lunchbox. Maybe it’s a handwritten card or letter to a friend you know is going through a rough time or a visit to a shut-in.

Somehow thinking about it this way transforms how you look at your to-do list. When you think of it in terms of ways of loving your family, your friends, and those you have contact with, it spurs us on in creativity. You know how at birthday time and Christmas time we try to wrap up something special and keep it a surprise. Wouldn’t that be a fun way to look at your agenda? It would mean thinking of everything there is to do and the time it takes to do it as a gift for someone. And the creativity comes in when you go about deciding how you will fill it with love and make it a sweet surprise.

Looking at it that way makes me feel more apt to open my hands and let go of my tight grip on moments or hours of the day. Each moment holds another possibility to use my God-given time. I think that later when I write my to-do list for tomorrow, I am going to contemplate how I can make the things I need to accomplish into ways of loving others. And then I am going to explore the possibilities for being creative in how I live out love in the moments of my day.

How will you use your time to love as you go through your day? Be creative and remember your pockets of time are filled with so many possibilities!