Monday, December 19, 2011

Advent Practice: Simplicity

Originally shared December 18th as part of Eikon Church’s Advent service:

A few weeks ago, I was snuggled up on the couch with my Mom watching a Hallmark Christmas movie starring Kristie Swanson, the ORIGINAL Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Swanson portrayed a single mother at the end of her rope, doing the best she could to provide for her children and keep some joy in the midst of their less-than-meager holiday season. Early in the movie she was in a rush to get to her job and get the children ready for their babysitter when one of the kids asked for something to eat – I can’t remember, maybe a pizza or something delectable. What I do remember is Swanson reaching into the cabinet, pulling something out, and exclaiming joyfully & wide-eyed: “We’ve got ramen!”

My mom and I lost it with laughter, tears rolling out of our eyes, breathless from the humor of it all. My stepdad stared at us in justified confusion. The children in the movie were not impressed. They groaned. Seriously? Ramen? Could life get any worse?

My mom and I laughed because we knew there was truly life after ramen. That there was even, hard as it was to be believed, life WITH ramen. Even ramen back when it was 12 for a dollar. Even ramen when it had to be split three ways because pay day was still a day away. Even ramen when the DOG didn’t want to eat ramen anymore.

Now, the reason I was watching this movie with my parents is that I am back living at home, diligently paying down my debts. Somewhere between ramen, student loans and financial independence, I lost track of what it looks like to live within my means.

Not that I was living extravagantly, mind you, but a month would get tight and I’d put some necessities on my credit card. Clothes wear out, and a modest shopping spree would go on my credit card. A well deserved vacation to visit a friend who lived far away? You guessed it, on my credit card. An unexpected vehicle expense, an unexpected move, an unexpected fill-in-the-blank… on the credit card.

As I was living in community, I didn’t quite notice how much I had become a slave to the credit cards and their debt interest until I was faced with the need to live on my own again, and I realized, while possible, it would not be very practical. So, here in my 30’s, I returned home to free myself from debt’s chains and learn once again what living in simplicity looks like.

Excerpt from Richard Foster’s Freedom of Simplicity:

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.

Christian simplicity frees us from this modern mania. It brings sanity to our compulsive extravagance, and peace to our frantic spirit. It liberates us from what William Penn called “cumber.” 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.


If simplicity were merely a matter of externals, things would be quite easy. We would then need only to formulate the system (no small trick to be sure) that defines the boundaries – Christian faithfulness would allow us to live in this income bracket but not that one, to purchase this house but not that one. We would have a clearly definable arrangement, even if it would need periodic adjustment to keep abreast of inflation. It would be clear who is in and who is out, who is faithful and who is not. Presto, a new pharisaism. Very fine, thank you.

Sometimes I genuinely wish it were that way. And I have no desire to speak disparagingly of the many groups who have developed such systems. In fact, I envy them at times, because the clarity of that approach has immense power to motivate and change behavior. But as we all know, its end result is bondage and death. The letter always kills; the Spirit alone gives life. Gospel simplicity gives freedom and liberation.

The outer expression of simplicity must flow from the inner resources. It is learning to walk in the Spirit that builds the life of purity, unity, and grace. There is an inwardness that is central to our task; without it all is lost. We delude ourselves, however if we think we can possess the inner reality of simplicity without its having a profound effect upon the way we live…

Life is a journey, and we are often not at the wheel of control.

Mary certainly did not anticipate the sudden changes that came into her life, and the journey that laid ahead.

The more stuff we have cluttering up our lives, the less ready we are to keep moving along the journey – especially when change and chaos and transition come on the scene.

Old blog post from Dave Bruno, 3 Consumer Justifications That End in Crap:

There are at least three excuses those of us with too much stuff use to justify our excess.

It would be wasteful to get rid of it. Uh, no. It was wasteful to get it in the first place. Now it’s just plain stupid to allow it to keep cluttering up your life. What’s wasteful is the mental and physical space that the stuff you don’t need and don’t even want is taking up. Stop wasting your life. Get rid of the crap.

I might need it someday. The moment this justification passes your lips you know it’s not true. Seriously. Here, try this experiment. Go into your garage, find that box you haven’t opened in a decade, dig inside of it, and pull out that graphing calculator. Now go stand in front of a mirror and, speaking out loud, convince yourself that you might need it someday. Liar, liar, pants on fire. Get rid of the crap.

It has sentimental value. Then why did you bury it in the closet? Besides, you don’t even like the uncle who gave it to you. The nostalgia you’re really missing out on are all the good times you could be having if you weren’t constantly reshuffling stuff inside your garage and closets. Get rid of the crap.

One thing is for sure. If you use these three justifications to keep loads of stuff, at the end of your days you are going to have, well, loads of stuff. Do you want the end to be filled with crap? Purge the things that are messing up your house and dominating your material and spiritual space. Then go live a joyful life that blesses others.

We are all at different places in our journeys, and we all have different amounts of stuff. Some of us are good at keeping the clutter at bay. Some of us are drowning in projects. Others of us can fit our possessions on our backs.

As Foster alluded to, the “crap” in our lives that we need to get rid of, is often internal.

Maybe we’re holding on to or storing up material stuff because it is filling an internal need we have not addressed.

But even if our internal struggles are not linked to external indulgence, they can still weigh us down.

What are you storing up?

What is weighing you down?

What is holding you back?

What do you need to release for your heart to be open to change, to transition, to the unexpected?

Is there hurt, bitterness or resentment for which you need to offer forgiveness?

I don’t ask that lightly, because I know it is a difficult process – but it is one I have walked through and would be willing to talk with any of you about. When we refuse to forgive – when we refuse to release the hold another person has on our life because of the pain they have caused us – we are the ones who carry the burden.

Are there unrealistic expectations you have for your life or someone else’s that you need to let go of?

Life has to be lived in the here and now, as it exists. That doesn’t mean we have to give up hopes or working toward dreams – but we can’t live in that place – in how life should be or how life was. Simplicity asks us to live life in the reality of now.

Are there anxious thoughts you’re storing up because they give you some level of control? Let them go, and be willing to take your journey one step at a time.

What are you storing up?

What is weighing you down?

What is holding you back?

What do you need to release for your heart to be open to change, to transition, to the unexpected?


(click through to listen to Madison Greene's Departure)



  1. Wow. Love this. We've been trying to declutter, and it's hard, but good. On a side note, I love that you quoted Dave Bruno. He's a friend of ours, and a very wise man...

  2. Ha! Well, have him send me a link to the original post if it still exists - I keep this one tacked to my corkboard, but couldn't find it on his blog! ;)