Simplicity – A Call to a Simpler Life
I don’t know exactly how it happened, but one morning I woke up with the realization that I was tired. It wasn’t the kind of tired like I hadn’t had enough sleep – it was bone weary tired. Somehow life had gotten away from me. For the past few years I had been giving it my all, yet not accomplishing half of what I set out to do. In many areas of my life I felt I was spinning my wheels. All that I had been doing was important; sitting on various boards, building a wonderful growing church in Boise, constructing a mountain cabin with my family, and working on a country home with my wife Nancy.
As a Regional Director, I had been overseeing nearly a hundred churches in nine states. I was traveling across the country and around the world teaching seminars and encouraging and training church leaders. I was also a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a son to people that I deeply loved and cared about. I was juggling what felt like a hundred balls, not wanting any of them to fall. And suddenly, I was tired.
That morning as I looked out my front window at the distant snow covered mountain I realized something had to give. My life had become too complex, too busy and basically out of control. I realized the things that truly gave me joy, and the things I really wanted to invest my life in, were being pushed aside for dozens of good things. Honestly, they weren’t just good things, they were things that I had felt privileged to be a part of. It became very clear as I sat there pondering all of this; it was time to re-evaluate, re-organize and re-focus.
During that same year both of Nancy’s parents had passed away. Amidst the mourning and sense of loss, we realized that life truly is very short. It is like the psalmist once said, “You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath”.
A number of years ago Nancy and I felt the Lord was calling us back to a life of simplicity, a life that we once knew but had innocently drifted from somehow. Through the years our lifestyle was slowly overcome by the complexity of urgent schedules, pressing responsibilities and a fast moving technological society that robbed us of the peace we experienced in our earlier days of marriage. In our quest for a simplified life, we realized that a deliberate process of change must be pursued; a process that would first require an awakening to the reality of our condition, followed by a decision to invest the time, perhaps a lifetime, to change.
In Hebrews chapter four of the Bible it says that scripture is living and active and it can penetrate our innermost being like a sharp double edged sword. [Heb. 4:12] Because of this truth, the Bible has the amazing ability to speak to every condition we face – regardless of our age, gender, ethnicity or the time in history we happen to live. It is always relevant and pertinent in every challenge and situation. We are called to be a people of both truth and spirit, and because of it the Lord often speaks to us by his Spirit when we read the truth of scripture. I say this to bring clarity to an experience Nancy had a few years back. She was reading a passage in Deuteronomy 4 which warned the Israelites saying, “Be very careful never to forget what you have seen the LORD do for you. Do not let these things escape from your mind as long as you live! And be sure to pass them on to your children and grandchildren.” God was exhorting the people not to forget what he had done for them, and how he had done it, as they had moved into a new time and place of life. He instructed them to pass on these truths and values to the new generations. This passage was especially meaningful to both of us as we are grandparents. Much had transpired in our lives since we had met the Lord over thirty years earlier. The world had definitely become a more complex place, and in turn our lives had as well.
Nancy and I met at the end of the 60’s in a time when our culture was going through much transition and turmoil. It affected all of our lives. We were right in the middle of the “Baby Boom” generation, a generation that was searching for answers concerning morality, world peace, an uncertain future and the meaning of life itself. The issue of caring for the environment was at the forefront of our social causes because it was visibly degrading. Honestly, it frightened us to see this and we didn’t know what to do about it. Few in our generation had any real knowledge of Biblical truth and as a result, there was no comfort from knowing that there was a Creator and he was still in control. Rather than looking to God for answers we read men like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman and Henry David Thoreau. In what seemed to be an out of control, complex world many of us sought a simpler life. We wanted a Walden Pond, a place where the clutter and clamor of life would pass us by, where the answers to life’s questions could be found. Some from our generation attempted homesteading in Alaska while others sought communal living on the coasts of California or Oregon. But in the end, we found no utopia and no true answers to be found through escapism. The “peace” that was being preached with hostility through protests and demonstrations was elusive, always just out of our grasp. It became evident that it must be found somewhere deep within us; it would never manifest itself through a world caught in crisis.
In 1971 Nancy and I took up residence on an isolated ranch that had been in my family for 70 years. The small cabin that became our home for the next twenty years was heated with an open fire place and a wood-burning cook stove in the small kitchen. Water was gravity-fed from springs on the mountain, which actually was a wonderful convenience. But we lived for the first fourteen years without electricity and much longer without a phone. For all of those years we had no television or computer – only books and each other for entertainment. We had a bountiful garden and orchard and in those first years on the ranch, we grew the majority of our food. Nancy canned and stored our reserves in a root cellar that I dug in the mountainside behind the cabin. It was a rich time for us and our two children, Kate and Brook. Life in those days was quite simple and often filled with adventure that provided us all with fond memories we cherish to this day.
Although our physical life was isolated and basic we quickly came to the reality that the complexity that robs one’s peace doesn’t solely come from a confusing world but also from within. Through our desperation for truth and healing in the solitude and simplicity of Robinson Canyon Ranch we discovered an authentic relationship with Christ. Our church community became not only a source of discipleship and spiritual grounding, but provided meaningful and lasting relationships. Those early years were stretching for us in many ways, but the isolation of our lifestyle stimulated a season of growth and maturity both in our relationship with the Lord as well as with each other. Even our faith in God was without complexity. A simpler life gave us opportunity for a pure and simple devotion to Christ. It reminds me of Paul’s warning to the Christians in Corinth who were trying to grow in the confusion of their complex society: “…I am afraid, lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.” [2 Cor. 11:3]
For the first twelve years we lived on the ranch, I worked as a teacher at a junior high school nearly an hour from home. Nancy held down the fort as a homemaker and full time mom. Later we entered the ministry as volunteer laymen until we were called to a full time ministry position in the Lancaster Vineyard. That was when I entered into the pastorate. Reflecting back on that season in our lives makes me realize again how quickly time flies.
In 1989 we left the ranch establishing ourselves in Idaho where we pioneered a new Vineyard in Boise. Our work in Idaho was both demanding and rewarding and our lifestyle took a major turn. Planting a church takes everything you’ve got, especially in the first years of its conception. Our home became a center for church business, counseling and leadership training. Kate and Brook were now in their teens and enjoying a new life of social activity, athletics and outdoor recreation. For the first time we had a television in our home, a computer, and a telephone that continually interrupted our privacy with telemarketers, especially at family dinner hour.
The times were definitely changing; simplicity was becoming hidden in the conveniences of life. It wasn’t long before cell phones became a common part of the culture and email was the accepted form of daily communication. The promise that email would simplify communication proved untrue as I fought daily to keep up with it; it just seemed to multiply and often hindered my work. Another change was that Nancy and I had a mortgage on our home for the first time. We also entered into a partnership with a close friend on two rental houses for extra income. This required a fast learning curve due to my ignorance concerning such things as buying and selling properties, building codes and permits, escrows, interest rates, capital gains, and all the potential pitfalls of state and federal income and property taxes. Up until this time we had only a simple checking and savings account – now we had to establish credit, take home equity loans and periodically refinance for lower interest rates. With our kids beginning to drive and own vehicles, plus the properties we owned, we had to learn much about insurance: auto insurance, homeowner’s insurance, landlord’s insurance, mortgage insurance, title insurance, fire and flood insurance, and not to mention health, dental and supplemental insurance. With material ownership comes responsibility so I took out life insurance for the first time, started a serious retirement savings plan, made out a will and eventually established a family trust with the help of a lawyer. It became evident that life could be very complicated and complex.
In addition to the demands of our personal life I was now the senior pastor of a rapidly growing church that continued to require every bit of leadership ability I had to offer. Although most of what I have described above is necessary in today’s world, the simple life of solitude was gone and with it something precious had been lost. Our devotion to Christ and our love for his church hadn’t diminished in any way, but the time to enjoy his presence was becoming an intentional discipline instead of a natural outflow of our lives.
By 2002 both of our kids were married and we had our first grandchild. We were dealing with the empty nest and characteristically found a new baby to spoil – a Golden Lab puppy. It was during this time that the Lord began to speak to Nancy through her devotions, calling us to “return to the things we did at first” and to remember what God had done for us in the beginning. It was then that the Lord miraculously opened the door for us to once again move to a quiet home in the hills about 50 minutes outside the city of Boise. At that time I took a short leave from church and spent about a month building fence lines, putting in an irrigation system and constructing a barn.
Every morning I found myself sitting on the deck watching the first light of day cast its rays on a distance butte, feeling a cool morning breeze that was caused by thermals from the valley below. I sipped black coffee and embraced the lost luxury of unhindered silence. In those days something was restored in me, something was recaptured that I hadn’t even realized had been lost. I began to look forward to spending time with the Lord; it was no longer a scheduled discipline. I had somehow returned to that quiet refreshing peace of solitude and with it my zeal for life and creative juices began to flow in new and fresh ways. Nancy and I reevaluated how we spent our time. We changed our priorities so that our energy would be expended on the things that were most meaningful. New ideas for ministry began to emerge as God again had access to my thoughts and prayers. It was because of this new season of solitude that I decided to begin “Let’s Tend the Garden”, Vineyard Boise’s environmental ministry, and the “Compassion in Action Team” (CAT), our fast response disaster relief ministry that so effectively worked among the Hurricane Katrina victims in 2005.
In addition to ministry the Lord began to speak to us about our personal lives. I began to feel a need to return to the joy of a simpler life, growing and raising our own food, becoming once again less dependent on the complexity of a technological world. I felt challenged to become more self-reliant when it came to energy, water and food sources. I knew from our previous life at the ranch how rewarding and invigorating it is to be at home with creation, and how refreshing it is to work hard with your hands doing purposeful creative work. [Eph. 4:28b]
Seven Considerations for a Life of Simplicity
A simpler life isn’t something that can be achieved overnight. We have worked years to get into the complex, seemingly out-of-control places that we find ourselves; places of great indebtedness, unhappy relationships, unfulfilling mundane occupations, and the loss of peace. The simplified life doesn’t come without intention; it is first motivated by desire and requires a strategic plan if it is ever to be realized. Sharing from my own experience I want to discuss a number of “life” areas that require reformation in order to achieve a life of simplicity and peace.
1. Simplicity requires less physical complexity.
Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb nail…Simplicity, simplicity. Instead of three meals a day, if it be necessary eat but one; instead of a hundred dishes, five; and reduce other things in proportion.”
This might be one of Thoreau’s most famous quotes written while spending a year of solitude and contemplation in a small cabin in the woods on Walden’s Pond. Although not a Christian writer, Thoreau tapped into a Biblical truth; what really counts in life can’t be found or claimed with too great of distraction. Over and over again the Gospel writers noted how many times Jesus went to the mountain or to places of solitude to spend time with the Father in order to get direction and clarity. Complexity has a way of distracting us from simple truth and peace.
The world constantly communicates that we need to buy more material possessions to make our lives easier. Ironically they are some of the very things that have a tendency to clutter our lives. Rarely do we return from a trip to the store without bringing home something we couldn’t live without. Those “things” generally end up on shelves untouched or unused until it is time to make room for more unneeded possessions, at which time they are removed and discarded. In this day it takes great discipline not to be duped by advertising and clever displays. It is much like the discipline of passing by a plate of chocolate during the holiday season knowing that the momentary pleasure of taste will only be added to the storage of unwanted calories.
The complex life often leads us unexpectedly to financial stress. We want things, so we find ourselves conveniently buying “on time”, promising to pay it back later. In today’s world of financial bondage you can find a payday loan store on every corner or easy money at high interest just fingertips away.
The life of simplicity requires financial freedom. Jesus said it simply, “No one can serve two masters…You can not serve both God and money.” [Luke 16:13] A good way to begin on the road to a simpler life is to clean out your cabinets and closets of the clutter you never use, even though they may be good things. Donate the items to a place that can help the poor or to someone who can actually find use for them. You may also have a garage sale and use the money you earn against your debt. The blessing is that you will have a cleaned out organized home, but beware of buying more than you need and storing up clutter once again. One way to avoid this is to make a list before you go to the store, and then be disciplined and stick to it!
Make a plan to become debt-free so that money no longer occupies your mind and distracts you from the things that really matter. Look at how you spend your money on a monthly basis and ask yourself what things are really necessary and what things are not. One truth I have discovered is that possessions have a way of taking ownership of your life. Once, Nancy and I owned an old boat that my son Brook and I restored. We found great joy working together to make it sea worthy. We dreamed of the day we would put it on some lake and speed across to distant places. The project took us two years to complete, but finally after a number of failed attempts the boat was ready. We used it a good deal for the next year or two, but eventually it just sat in its relegated spot, as other recreational activities took our attention and interest away. The boat had become just another “toy” that made us feel guilty when we weren’t using it. Now and again I found myself working on it, keeping it maintained so it was ready for use. But for the most part, it just sat there in the way. The joy was in the creativity of the project, the richness of working together with our hands. It was the dream of what it could be rather than the possession of something that eventually owned us. I have discovered that many “toys” are like that.
The author of Proverbs begged two favors of God before he died, first he asked, “…help me never to tell a lie. Second, give me neither poverty nor riches! Give me just enough to satisfy my needs. For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name”. [Proverbs 30:7] Solomon, reflecting over his life in the book of Ecclesiastics, came to the final conclusion that “Those who love money will never have enough. How absurd to think that wealth brings true happiness.” [Ecc. 5:10]
Simplifying your physical life in the areas of finances and possessions is anything but simple – it will take planning and work. But it will help you to discover a new freedom and a peace that you probably haven’t experienced in a long time.
2. Simplicity requires less internal complexity.
There is nothing that damages a simplified life more than being a complex person. Internal conflict is the great thief of tranquility. When our life is out of sorts with God or others, everything else is out of sync, the natural rhythm is gone. If we are dealing with issues of guilt, shame or anger and rage, we can become paralyzed, losing the freedom to pursue the dream of inner peace and a simplified life in its purest sense. Unresolved issues cause us to lose our vision for the pursuit of a life that requires the freedom to initiate change; and simplicity requires a commitment to all kinds of change.
The simplified life is a life that is moving into harmony not just with the natural environment, but with personal relationships and most importantly with God. Through our relationship with God, he gives us freedom, healing and a new beginning, all of which are prerequisites to a life of peace. Jesus’ stated mission was “to set the captive free” and we all have been captive in one way or another due to sin. This may be because of our own sin or because we have been sinned against. These bad choices and actions have stifled our lives and quenched our vision, putting us into a perpetual state of status-quo. Our only hope for change is found in the provision of Christ. Through this incredible gift of grace we can experience the forgiveness, healing and freedom to restore our wounds, our marriages and important relationships.
One reality I’ve realized is that if Nancy and I don’t have harmony in our marriage we lose our ability to share vision. Sin and unresolved issues can cause us to focus inward and we lose sight of a preferred future together. The times that we seem to move ahead the fastest are the times when we are both experiencing internal freedom. It is because of this that Christ must be central in our relationship together. When we are free we can dream together of our future and plan how to get there. I love those times because they are challenging, exciting and empowering. When we are evenly yoked together in vision there is nothing we can’t do. A life of simplicity requires vision, and vision requires freedom, freedom that is only available in Christ.
For the life of simplicity to work there must be clarity about who you really are; you must know your role in each relationship in your life. Not knowing who you are as a person at any given time causes internal conflict and can damage relationships. For example, being the parent of an adult child can throw families into a tail spin. There comes a point when the parent is no longer the directing authority having permission to parent the child and it isn’t always clear when these roles begin to change. While the law says it is at age eighteen, the maturity level of the child may be older or younger. Every person and every relationship is different, but simply knowing and understanding your role will help. If you want to move into the life of simplicity you must have clarity as to who you are and who others are as you relate to them at any given time.
Relationships and roles may change, but personality and character must remain stable and consistent. The most complex of all people are those who struggle with their identity, not knowing who they really are. It is easy to confuse the changing of roles with the changing of personality. A man who is henpecked at home but is an aggressive demanding tyrant at work is a confused and unstable man. Family men, for example, are called to be loving, caring husbands and fathers at home but also loving, caring employers or workers in the marketplace. Their roles may change, but their character does not. If a person struggles with their identity they will never achieve the simplified life. The truth is, the only way to be stable and unwavering is to have your identify solid in Christ.
Through the years I’ve watched people who have had identity struggles suffer with emotional stability. I’ve seen people who try to take on various counter culture identities such as cowboys, bikers, gang members or musicians, confusing identity with livelihood or unique areas of interests. You can often tell by the way they dress, the way they talk or the vehicle they drive. On the other hand I’ve known many Christians who just happen to be musicians or ranchers or enjoy riding motorcycles. There is a big difference. When someone is lost in their identity, they are generally lost, confused and unstable. They often bounce from one identity to the next trying on different personalities and character types to see what feels most comfortable. This is most prevalent in the teen years, and justifiably so. But the mark of authentic adulthood is stability and consistency.
Jesus came to free us from our confusion and to give us a true sense of identity. He fills the believer with his Spirit to give us inner peace as a person so that we are no longer motivated to frantically try to discover who we are. With his Spirit comes the fruit of a righteous character, integrity and behavior. Paul wrote in Galatians 5, “When the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” The fruits of the Holy Spirit will provide the kind of attributes that will bring harmony to a person’s life, allowing them to be consistent and stable no matter what the circumstance or station of life. Only then will we be people for all seasons – unchanged by the pressures of a society continually trying to get us to conform to the world’s way of thinking about who we should be. Instead we will daily yield ourselves to the process of being transformed into Christ’s image. This is “Christ-likeness” and it is the only way to internal tranquility and being at peace with who we are. It is a prerequisite for the life of simplicity.
3. A life of simplicity requires the practice of the spiritual disciplines.
Although there is no absolute list of the spiritual disciplines, let’s discuss some of the more obvious ones for the benefit of understanding why they are an essential part of the simplified life. The first is solitude. In today’s complex fast moving world there is rarely time put aside for silence without distraction. (Commuting to work doesn’t count since it requires alert concentration on the external world – or at least it should.) Solitude is a discipline that is all but lost in the American lifestyle. It requires setting aside time for the purpose of hearing God’s voice, contemplation and meditation. It requires the discipline of shutting out the pressures and demands of life for the purpose of focusing on the things that really matter. Solitude helps us get in touch with ourselves. It is during times of solitude that we can hear God and receive vision and direction for our lives as well as reminders of our priorities. I generally begin each day with at least an hour of complete silence. I have found that it empowers me for a much more efficient and effective day. Silence requires as little distraction as possible and works best when there is a complete absence of noise (not even worship music) or visual distraction (Bible reading is yet another discipline). It’s my personal practice to sit in the dark looking out a window waiting for the sun to rise and cast its morning light on a distant mountain. Solitude should be a daily event, but on occasion can be given to a longer special time in a more remote place. Most people confess that their schedule doesn’t allow the luxury of solitude, but that very confession is the motivation for writing about this topic concerning the simplified life.
Prayer is another great discipline. I’m not speaking of the kind of prayer that goes with meals or formalities, but prayer that is connected to solitude. Times when we not only listen to God for our lives, but when we have the faith to believe that he in turn hears us. The Apostle Paul said, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” [Phil. 4:6] This is not only a perfect model for prayer, petition, and thanksgiving, but Paul also points out that prayer is the avenue to peace and the absence of anxiety. These are essential qualities that lead to a life of simplicity.
The discipline of consistent Bible reading reveals God’s heart for us and thus leads us to healing and freedom. The word of God is living and active and can penetrate our innermost being like a sharp double edged sword. [Heb. 4:12] It is always relevant no matter where we are in life; it will speak to our heart’s condition and God’s unfailing love for us.
Fellowship, community and service are three more spiritual disciplines that are necessary elements for a more basic and simplified lifestyle. In the early days of our nation the Church not only provided access to a spiritual life, but it provided the major part of social and recreational life. People helped each other cut wood to keep their homes warm against the winter; men and children worked side by side harvesting crops; and women canned food together to store up provisions. It was a time when life was more basic, but then that’s what this topic of the simplified life is all about. Not that we need to practice these past skills necessarily, but young mothers still need the wisdom of the older women, and young men still need the accountability of older men.
Children can get their relationship needs met through the life of the church as well. Too often we hurry from soccer games to gymnastics to music lessons so that we provide a well-rounded life for our children. They may go from event to event and often miss out on the simplicity of just being a child. We may even have to put them in daycare as we rush to a frantic work place; thus we all may miss out on the richness of a simplified life.
There is something rich about the operation of the above mentioned spiritual disciplines that is basic to our human needs and is part of the provision of Christ through his Church. Each of these disciplines adds to the fullness of a life lived in Christ.
4. A life of simplicity requires vision and strategic planning.
Solomon opens the book of Proverbs talking about the simpleton or the fool: “You simpletons! How long will you go on being simpleminded?” [Proverbs 1:22] It may not sound too profound, but the fact remains, a simpleton will never discover the life of simplicity. Simplicity won’t happen over night or by itself, it requires deep desire, a vision for a better life and a strategic plan to get there. Solomon goes on to speak of the value of asking God for wisdom. In the next chapter he says, “For the LORD grants wisdom! From his mouth come knowledge and understanding… Then you will understand what is right, just and fair, and you will know how to find the right course of action every time. For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will fill you with joy. Wise planning will watch over you.” [Proverbs 2:6, 9-11]
Some of my very favorite times are when Nancy and I quietly share dreams and make plans for our future together. I love Proverbs 4 where it says, “Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you. Mark out a straight path for your feet; then stick to the path and stay safe. Don’t get sidetracked; keep your feet from following evil”. [Proverbs 4:26-27] I have found that if Nancy and I aren’t united in our goals and aspirations we flounder as a couple. If we don’t take some control over our lives, life has a way of controlling us. Planning provides a course of action. It may take us years to accomplish the things we set out to do, but at least we know what steps we need to take to get there.
One good example is making a plan through investments that will allow us to achieve some financial freedom. In our case God has blessed Nancy with the ability to spot good deals on investment property. I tell her that she is like the Proverbs 31 wife; “She goes out to inspect a field and buys it; with her earnings she plants a vineyard” [Proverbs 31:16]. Through the years we have bought several run down houses that we call “The Big P” (Big Potential). Nancy finds these places and together we dream and plan what we can do with an investment of “sweat equity” to make them into comfortable homes. By doing this we have managed to slowly build a financial future together so we have more freedom of choice in our twilight years.
Long ago we decided we wanted to serve the Lord in some capacity for the rest of our lives. At the same time we want the freedom to choose what that will look like. In working on a plan for financial freedom, we have greater peace and hopefully a more simplified retirement. When our investments begin to dominate our thinking and cause us to begin to fret, it’s a warning that we may need to liquidate and simplify, even if it means receiving a lesser return on our money. We have found that risk usually spells anxiety and thus complicates our life. Therefore, Nancy and I are cautious not to let investments rob us of our focus. The point I am making is that it is scriptural and wise for all of us to dream and plan for a secure financial future. If those plans are implemented wisely, they can not only help provide a life of contentment but also lead us to greater simplicity.
5. A life of simplicity uses less from a culture that demands more.
I remember the day the first “McDonald’s” opened its doors in the San Fernando Valley. Hamburgers were around 20 cents each and flew rapid fire off of an assembly line of young minimum wage workers. It was a phenomenon that would change our world forever. We were fascinated with this new idea of “fast food”, not realizing at the time that it would set the precedence for an even faster more complex life. As these types of restaurant chains sprung up across the nation and around the world the competition became fierce. Soon “fast” was joined by yet another demise to the culture as the concept of “super-size” or “biggie size” was tagged on. Huge oversized portions of fast foods became the norm of the American diet causing the nation to face a new health threat: obesity. It wasn’t long before the number one vegetable eaten nationwide was french-fries.
Faster and bigger has become the credo and these two concepts permeate every niche of our world. We build houses like McDonald’s makes hamburgers; they are stamped out faster than ever in sprawling subdivisions. They are also bigger than ever even though the average family size in America has decreased. Larger homes, like the larger vehicles we drive, demand greater resources and increasing quantities of energy. Not only do we have to heat these larger spaces in the winter, but air conditioning is also the norm during the summer months. Because the culture has convinced us that bigger is better, the expense of owning a home has increased. We not only have to buy the larger home, but pay larger amounts for insurance, taxes, maintenance and energy to run it. In most cases it now takes two salaries to be a home owner; one to pay the mortgage (which is mostly interest) and one to live in it. In our city of Boise, like many cities across the nation, it is easy to get a picture of this reality. The original community that served our city was what we call today, “The North End”. Many people in the past few years have tried to purchase North End homes because of their character and quaintness. The majority of the North End homes are small two story structures. A home of 2000 square feet would have been considered a large one in this older community, many being only 800 to 1000 square feet. These homes, built between the 1920’s and 1950’s, provided shelter to what would be considered larger families by today’s standards. Homes that had garages generally had space for only one car. In the center of the North End is a cluster of small stores called Hyde Park. Most of the North End homes are within walking distance of this central area which at one time provided groceries and other household necessities. At the intersection of Hyde Park, one can observe a circular wide spot in the street. Although the tracks are no longer visible this location was at one time a pivot for a street car that transported the community into downtown Boise just a mile or two away. Things were much smaller, but more efficient for those who chose to live within the city limits.
Today, Boise is a sprawling metropolis with little public transportation compared to the days of past. In the last twenty years the streets have filled with commuters at rush hours and something has been lost. It is not unusual to see a family of four or less living in a home that is 2000 to 4000 square feet. Most families have multiple vehicles due to the fact that everyone is going in different directions. The “Leave it to Beaver” days are gone and we are caught in a seemingly out-of-control complex world. Maybe it is time to re-evaluate and ask ourselves the question, “Is bigger and faster really better?”
It is my belief that there is a fresh prophetic word that God is breathing across the church: “Return to a life of simplicity”. Consider the idea that maybe quantity won’t provide the quality of life that our present culture promises. Maybe less can deliver more! Perhaps in our efforts to move “faster” we are only spinning our wheels and in the end getting nowhere.
6. A life of simplicity leaves a small footprint and a larger handprint.
At a trail head leading into the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the Inyokern National Forest there is a sign that says, “Leave only footprints – take only pictures”. This profound statement has been indelible on my mind through the years I hiked and horse-packed into the back country of the western states. It was vital to me that I leave as little evidence as possible that I had ventured into the majestic mountains and visited its pristine lakes and valleys. But, what I could take with me forever were the rich memories of being with family and friends in places yet unblemished by the lasting imprints of a developing society.
Lately there has been a lot of talk about a person’s “carbon footprint”. This refers to the lasting impact one person makes in their lifetime of living on planet earth. It is determined by the fuels we burn, the non-renewable resources we consume and the pollution we produce. The size of your carbon footprint is dependent on things such as the size of vehicle you drive, the expanse and efficiency of the home you inhabit and the waste you left behind. The size of your carbon footprint will dictate the blessings or struggles of future generations because of your impact on the earth’s condition after your life has passed.
Because the life of simplicity is a life that prioritizes, downsizes and slows its pace, it is a life that accomplishes much but uses less. It is a life that cares about humanity and the generations to come that will inhabit the earth. Our desire should be to leave a small human footprint but a lasting, large handprint of God. The handprint we leave is an imprint on the hearts and memories of the people whose lives we touch.
Have you ever considered your epitaph? An epitaph is a short statement, sometimes written on a grave stone that represents what a person’s life stood for. A great epitaph might read, “He Loved”, or “She Cared”, rather than the unstated epitaphs, “He looked out for #1″ or “He had the most toys”. The only truly great mark our lives will leave behind will be on the lives we blessed along the way. I have never heard anyone say at the end of their life, “I wish I would have worked more hours and been away from my family more.” Or, “I wish I could have made more money and had more possessions.” As a pastor I have spent a good deal of time with those who are dying, praying with them about their regrets and celebrating the blessings of the lives they had led. Both the regrets and the celebrations are about the people they had been called to love and care for.
When the rich young man came to Jesus asking him what he needed to do to have eternal life, the scripture tells us that Jesus had genuine love for him. Jesus looked at him and told him to sell everything he had and give the money to the poor. If he did this he would have treasures in heaven. [Mark 10:17-22] It wasn’t that money was evil but wealth and possessions had captivated this young man’s life and kept him from God’s will. In Mark 10:23-25, Jesus said, “How hard it is for rich people to get into the Kingdom of God… It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!” By rendering your life down to what’s really important to God, you are able to truly live a life that is free of the love of possessions but filled with eternal meaning, purpose and contentment.
Consider how important it is to leave a positive imprint on the children God has entrusted to us. There is a definite balancing act between work and providing for a family while attempting to live a healthy, content life. While considering this issue, I read a book that dealt with the advantages and disadvantages of one-income homes. In today’s fast paced world and struggling economy, the two-income home has become the necessary norm and accepted way of life. In many cases both parents are forced to work away from the home at least forty hours a week. Small children often spend their days in daycare, while older children often come home to empty houses, left to their own resources. Meals are rarely eaten around the family table in a traditional fashion, and communication within the family can be sporadic. One income generally provides the mortgage and car payments while the other covers the additional living expenses. Not only is this accepted lifestyle difficult for the family unit, but it creates a mentality that moves in the opposite direction of the simpler, more content way of life.
The book I reviewed was published to encourage the return to the single income home for the benefit of the family. The book showed that even in today’s up-side-down world families truly can live happily on one income. This can happen if couples are willing to slow down, have shared vision and make a plan. It has been proven that a stay at home parent can actually make up the difference for the expenses that are incurred working outside the home simply by avoiding daycare costs, the temptation of fast or pre-prepared food, transportation, additional clothing and the absence of homecare skills. Not everyone has the privilege of this style of living or even wants it, but for the family that is moving towards a life of simplicity – it is a worthy target to consider.
7. A life of simplicity calls for preparedness.
The world is in a rapid state of change and not necessarily for the better. Recently I was reading an article in Time Magazine entitled “Has the Meltdown Begun”. It gave statistics concerning the rapid increase of melting on Greenland’s ice continent due to global warming. According to the latest scientific studies Greenland’s shore has been receding at a rate of eight miles a year, a rate that is increasing year by year. As ice sloughs off and melts into the ocean waters, the sea level gradually rises AND encroaches on coastal land around the world. It is anticipated that within this century the ocean level will raise a foot and a half. On America’s eastern seaboard alone this would flood over 100 feet of ocean front property; in Asia it would put Bangladesh under water altogether. If all of Greenland entirely melts (not to mention the polar caps which are undergoing the same decline) the ocean will rise 20 feet causing devastating results worldwide. I say all this to point out that there are changes happening all around us that appear to be out of our control. Besides the issues of our changing physical world, there are others such as an uncertain economy; the potential of global outbreaks of disease; the increase of hurricanes and other natural disasters; the threat of international terrorism and nuclear weapons in the wrong hands; and a deteriorating environment with non-renewable resources being used up.
Looking at the current condition of the world today is enough to cause anxiety and fear in anyone’s life. However, the Christian life is not one that is driven by fear, but by faith. Faith is the confident assurance of what is hoped for and the evidence of what is not yet seen. [Heb. 11:1] Faith is based on confidence, assurance and evidence. This almost sounds like scientific fact, yet it is also relies on the illusiveness of hope and the unseen, that which is not observable. Faith is the confident assurance we have as believers that God exists and the Bible is true. We have this assurance because of the evidence of the testimony of changed human lives, fulfilled scripture, the miracles of creation, and the activity of the Holy Spirit around us. As Christians we know God is alive and well today and very aware of the situations we face. We know he is constantly working out his plan of redemption and moving his people towards eternity. As a result we are a people full of hope, and that hope dissipates the fear and anxiety so we are able to press on no matter how bad things may appear. When fear does creep in to paralyze us, we know we can give that fear to God in exchange for his peace – and the renewal of our confidence that he has us in his very capable hands. Paul said, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” [Phil. 4:6-7]
Three possible responses to disaster are: denial, despair or awareness with a righteous response. Jesus told his believers they were to be aware of the signs when bad things began to happen and disaster increased in frequency and intensity. “”There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.” [Luke 21:25] The awareness that things won’t always be status-quo on the earth, and that bad things do happen, should prompt Christians to prepare themselves spiritually, emotionally and physically for whatever may come. Again Jesus said, “In this world you will have tribulation, but take courage, for I have overcome the world.” [John 16:33]
In the aftermath of the 2005 hurricanes Katrina and Rita it was announced that the state of Louisiana decided to build what they called a “culture of readiness” into its citizens in preparation for future disasters. They discovered that many of the families who prepared in advance for disaster not only survived the devastation, but were in a position to help others. These families had stored emergency food and water. They had emergency generators and the fuel to run them for several weeks. They had supplies on hand to secure their homes against high winds and driving rain so they wouldn’t have to stand in the endless lines with the unprepared multitudes competing for emergency supplies at the last minute. All across the south homes and lives were saved by those who believed and practiced readiness and self reliance.
Proverbs 3 exhorts us to plan and prepare so that disaster doesn’t catch us unaware. It tells us that if we do we will have greater peace and will sleep better knowing that we have done what we can to be ready for whatever comes unexpectedly. “My child, don’t lose sight of good planning and insight. Hang on to them, for they fill you with life and bring you honor and respect. They keep you safe on your way and keep your feet from stumbling. You can lie down without fear and enjoy pleasant dreams. You need not be afraid of disaster or the destruction that comes upon the wicked, for the LORD is your security. He will keep your foot from being caught in a trap” [Proverbs 3: 21-26].
In today’s world, very few are ready for a disaster of any magnitude. Most live from day to day, going to the store as needed. They go from paycheck to paycheck believing nothing could ever go wrong in America. If even the utilities were turned off for any extended period of time, many would go without heat, refrigeration, or even light. Calamity of any kind has a tendency of striking fear and panic into the hearts and lives of those who are caught unexpected. So, what does this have to do with a life of simplicity? Lack of preparedness can steal away the very peace and contentment that security brings.
Who or what is in control of our lives? Who is our master? Who or what do we look to for peace? Is it the God of peace or a world system that falsely promises the provisions for our security and comfort? Though I am not fanatic about this, I do believe in being a bit of a Boy Scout – ready and prepared for the unexpected. I do believe it is directly related to the pursuit of a life of simplicity and peace. I remember one time when we lived back on the old homestead when four feet of snow fell unexpectedly. People across our region went into a state of panic because they had been caught unprepared. The roads were closed for nearly two weeks and with them much of the power grid was shut down, causing a loss of electricity. Our family not only weathered those weeks but enjoyed them almost like a vacation. Our root cellar was stocked with preserved and dried food, we heated with wood that had been cut and stored early that fall, and our home was independent from the commercial power grid. Our simple lifestyle had allowed us to live in peace while others struggled and in some cases even suffered. There is something deeply comforting to know that if things got bad due to any kind of physical or social malfunction, we aren’t at the complete mercy of the world’s provision.
Preparedness requires shared vision. Husbands and wives have to embrace the challenge of preparedness together and involve their children and possibly the extended family as well. A plan should to be put in place that allows everyone to participate. Recently, Nancy and I have recaptured our vision to get our home and life back to basics again. We planted a small orchard of fruit trees, began raising chickens for eggs and designed a new vegetable garden in raised beds for higher productivity in a smaller space. We are also investigating the use of some of the new technologies in solar and wind power for our electrical needs. Not only are these sources of energy economical and self-sustaining, but they are renewable, natural and environmentally friendly. In addition, we have put a reserve water tank on the hill behind us for an emergency water supply in case of fire or power outage. When we shop we not only buy food for our immediate needs, but try to add a few things to our pantry storage so that over time our reserve is built up. We find ourselves enjoying some of the innovative ideas in magazines like “The Mother Earth News” and “Home Power”. Some of the concepts in these periodicals may seem a bit out there, but they present us with a creative challenge that is forward thinking and smart.
Readiness provides security and peace not only in times of crisis, but in times of plenty. I can’t help but think of the story of Joseph in Egypt as recorded in Genesis 41. God helped him prepare an entire nation during seven years of abundance by storing excess food so that they could not only save their own people during the following seven years of drought and famine, but also the nation of Israel. Like those families that weathered Hurricane Katrina and quickly recovered from the crisis to help others, we want to be in a position of helping those less fortunate in their time of need as well.
Conclusion: A life of simplicity is a life that isn’t just chasing the wind.
There is no greater human tragedy than someone coming to the end of their life only to realize it had been empty and without meaning. This is what happened to King Solomon. In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon records that he spent his entire life trying to gain pleasure and every good thing the world had to offer. He built massive homes, planted beautiful vineyards and orchards, had countless servants, and beautiful concubines. He said, “I had everything a man could desire!” [Ecc. 2: 4-8] Through it all he stated that he remained clear eyed so that he could evaluate his life. What he found was that it had all been futile. He said, “But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless. It was like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere”. [Ecc. 2: 9-11]
A life of simplicity is a life that invests in the things that truly count. It is a life that renders down all of the busyness to things that truly have meaning. Jesus spoke of the vine and the branches in the book of John chapter 15, telling us that if our life is to bear fruit that will last, two things must happen. The first is that we abide in the Father so that our true nourishment will come directly from God. The second is that we are pruned back for greater fruitfulness. Like Solomon, each of us should pause and evaluate our lives with “clear eyes”. We should look at our many branches, all those things that draw from our life’s resources, and ask the Lord which ones need pruning. What things could be trimmed from our busy complex lives so we do only those that are necessary and right? How do we put our hands to those things that will provide a life that is meaningful and worthwhile? This is the only way we will ever succeed in our efforts to achieve the “Simplified life”. I believe it is a human desire that we are not controlled or owned by anything or anyone other than our Creator. I believe it is a human drive to have a sense of security and peace, something the world system will never be able to deliver. What the world has to offer is a false promise, chasing the wind, and will never satisfy our deepest human need for peace and value. Only God can meet us in these very deep ways and I believe he calls us to a life that is uncluttered and unconfused. I’m calling that life the “simplified life” and I believe it is the way to peace.
Many who read this essay may conclude that I am old fashioned or even fanatic. But others will find that something deep inside them resonates and is challenged by these thoughts. It is to you that I write these ideas and proposals; it is to you that I share my own journey; it is to you that I issue the call to embrace “sweet simplicity”.