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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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.

What’s in Your Treasure Chest?

What are you filling your treasure chest with for assurance and hope?

When we feel empty within, we search for things outside of ourselves to fill us. Shauna Niequist, in Present over Perfect, tells how she filled up on busyness, performance, recognition, and accomplishments, but ended up empty. Trying to find what will fill the emptiness, people reach for so many different things. It may be sex outside of marriage, alcohol, shopping, chocolate, drugs, or more and more work. What fills your emptiness within?

I have come to describe my heart to be like a sieve because the need for love within feels so great at times. It seems to get filled and then empty out, a constant cycle. Only God’s love, only God’s presence, only relationship with the Lord can fill or refill the holes.

Shauna says that when we carry God’s love and true peace in our souls as if our souls were a treasure chest, it is then we recognize that we don’t need to keep reaching and striving for more. The need inside feels so great but the Lord’s love is greater.

We need to consider what we are filling our lives, our hearts and souls with? What are you treasuring, running after, striving for? The Lord sees it as idolatry or adultery when we cherish anything more than HIm. He is the Treasure, His love is the gold that should fill our treasure chests. We should delight in Him above all.

Yet, we so easily get caught up in reaching for something here in this world when He holds out His arms and calls to us. He pursues us. Psalm 23:6 says, “Surely, your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” Literally, that means He chases after us with His loving-kindness.

Take a moment to create a picture in your mind. First of all, picture yourself striving for, running after whatever it is you think will fill you. Now, look behind you, look again, do you see the Lord following after you yelling your name? He is chasing you, He has so much to give you, so much loving-kindness to bring to your heart, soul, and life. Did you get a clear picture of that in your mind?

How silly we look. Think of it this way, it is like you are running away from someone with a ton of gold, calling to you, saying “this is for you.” But yet, you continue running towards whatever you think will fill the emptiness. The Lord chases after you with His love and mercy.

Over and over again in the Bible the Lord displays His love to men and women who do not respond. The Israelites repeatedly turn their backs on Yahweh and sin. We do the same thing, sometimes not even realizing how we have been overcome with desire for some thing or some one more than what our desire for the Lord is.

What are you delighting in, putting your hope in, banking your assurance on? It if isn’t the Lord, then turn to Him and talk with Him about it. Why are you running from Him? I don’t think we even consider that we are actually running from Him, yet we do “run” after other things.

We don’t need to continue striving to fill that emptiness. It is in relationship with Him that we can find the love and peace to fill the treasure chest within. It is an ongoing choice throughout life. We have to choose to reach for the Lord daily, and especially in our desperation and emptiness rather than for some quick fix.

Proverbs 4:23 tells us that we need to guard our hearts. We can get influenced by so much in this world. So, as you go through your day, guard your treasure chest. Keep finding God’s love to fill it. He wants to fill your treasure chest with His love. He wants to give you abundant life as only He can.