Last Saturday, Rhonda and I spent 4-5 hours “de-cluttering” one of the areas of our house. The hidden mud room/pantry area had become a chaotic collection of small appliances, cookbooks, pantry-type foods, cleaning materials, and other random stuff. If we didn’t know what to do with an item, it usually ended up joining the disarray.
We attacked the chaos of three closets, two pantries, and one floor space ridding ourselves of the burden of things we once thought necessary for our existence. “Burden” is the right word because every time we looked at this mess we were reminded of our own materialism, poor decisions, wasted money, and lack of simplicity.
If an item had not been used in over a year, we gladly donated it, gave it to someone or threw it away. With new space available, it was easy to arrange the items we regularly use. We were giddy as we, item by item, lifted the burden of stuff off our shoulders.
It’s hard to explain how good it feels to create a clean and orderly space.
We are now able to walk through the room without tripping over a cake pan. We can actually see the items in our pantry knowing their expiration dates are ahead of us. We can reach a water pitcher without moving three other items to get to it. We can look at the spaces relieved of the burden that comes with having too much junk.
For me, this exercise addresses a bigger issue. Among other healthy desires, the desire for simplicity is at the forefront of my mind for 2019. I want my actions to reflect this desire. I am determined that my propensity to “collect” stuff (the worst is my semi-obsession with collecting books), will not get the better of me. I need to learn to be content with what I have. Seeking simplicity is a way to battle the discontentment of my heart and implant guilessness into my soul.
Now, there’s a word you don’t hear every day – “guile.” Basically, it means deceit. Jesus characterized Nathanael as someone without guile/deceit (John 1.47). St. Peter describes Jesus’ suffering as an example to us since he “committed no sin nor was any deceit found in his mouth” (2 Peter 2.22). The Psalmist encourages us: “Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit” (Psalm 34.13).
Simplicity battles deceit since it directly confronts the duplicity of our heart. We claim to “surrender all” and yet desperately cling to our possessions. We are torn between trusting God to meet our needs and trusting ourselves to make our lives comfortable. We say we’re “seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” then live anxiously about our housing, food, clothing, vehicles, and retirement. We call Jesus “Lord and Master” but methodically manipulate things to work in our favor.
Jesus admonishes, “You call me Lord, Lord and do not do what I say.” We stand guilty as charged. He is to be our everything. Yet, we give ourselves over to many other things, including our stuff.
So, from this year forward, I want to take and live a “vow of simplicity.” Here is what it looks like:
Vow of Simplicity
I am a “poor and needy” human being.
Though I possess material things beyond my needs, I am only truly blessed when realizing poverty of spirit, meekness, purity of heart, hunger for righteousness, mercy, peace, and contentment.
Therefore, these principles will guide how I live every day in the grace and mercy of God:
God owns it all. I actually own nothing.
I am a steward of God’s generosity. I’m an unprofitable servant not a privileged CEO.
I consistently give for the good of others, prioritizing the poor.
I live focused on Jesus Christ. My purpose for living is Jesus Christ. He is the Source, Desire, and Goal of all I seek.
I live an uncluttered life in simple beauty and order. This is true for my physical surroundings and my inner person. I steadfastly reject consumerism.
I live disciplined with life-giving habits. Spiritual and physical practices, including fasting, prayer, almsgiving, repentance, and fitness, shape me and guide my everyday activities.
I live an ordered life. Obedience to liturgical rhythms and the Church calendar humbles me.
I live a quiet life. I guard my tongue, heart, and ears from excessive noise and activity. (St Jerome: “The sword kills the body but the tongue kills the soul.”)
I live a sacrificial life. Generosity and selflessness characterize my life in Christ.
I live an attentive life. I am aware of my own crap, my own good, and how I am in all situations. I am sensitive to how my surroundings affect me.