Friday, January 13, 2012

Simplicity Practices for the Spiritual and Not-So-Spiritual

Over the holiday break, I read Jan Johnson's Abundant Simplicity:  Discovering the Unhurried Rhythms of Grace.  Like almost every other woman in the U.S., I frequently wonder if there's not more to life than what I'm living.  I'm a sucker for any magazine article that promises to show me a new way to organize my closets, my desk, my finances, my calendar, my life.  I'm particularly drawn to material that promises more simplicity.  Johnson's book was a delightful read.

Now, her book didn't teach me much that I didn't already know--but it's good to be reminded.  Also Johnson roots her ideas in a spiritual depth that one doesn't often find in those pop culture writings that call to me so loudly.  Johnson reminds us that we're not just cleaning up our spaces and our calendars for the joy of getting organized.  No, we're making space for God.

If you're the kind of reader who finds any mention of God to be an immediate deal breaker, then you should avoid this book  Johnson comes out of the Christian tradition, and so does this book (to explore her book in theological terms, go to my review on my theology blog).  But even atheists could learn something from this book, although their motivations may end up being different.

Johnson talks about how we live in a land of plenty which can be as debilitating as living in deprivation.  She explores what kinds of needs we may be attempting to address when we shop, often for items that we don't need, items that duplicate what we already have.

Then she gives us some practices to help us get in touch with what we really want and how we really want to live.  She gives concrete actions that we can take to pare down our stuff, to gain mastery over our calendars, to keep our free time free, to make time for what's truly important to us, and to free ourselves from worry.

Readers of this blog have probably sensed that I struggle with worry and fretfulness.  Here's a quote that spoke to me:  "Yet we're reluctant to let go of our worry.  We worry about not worrying.  Many of us even believe that worrying about something earns us the right for nothing bad to happen." 

And then she says this:  "Such distortions are the enemy's work, convincing us that worry is a form of responsible vigilance" (153).  She's using the traditional idea of "the enemy," Satan.  Even if you don't believe in divine incarnations of good or evil, play with that idea for a minute:  worry as not just frivolous or a time waster, but downright evil.  All the time we spend in worrying prevents us from taking action to improve the world.  Hmm. 

Here are some more choice quotes for your Friday: 

"Our purchases always make it obvious when we're serving two masters" (137):  what does your spending say about you and what you value?

"As an introverted, task-oriented person, I confess I love email because I love getting a job done without having to actually talk to anyone, but I also know that God is teaching me to be more relational and that using email can work for or against that, depending on how I use it.  So my goal is to use it as I use speech:  to impart grace to others" (145).

Again and again, she reminds us that the purpose of speaking should be to "impart grace" "promote kindness" (64).

"If we knew that the most important things we ever did would occur as a result of interruptions, how we might live differently?" (109).

"Delayed decisions are often about fear of making wrong choices" (81).

"In the meantime, it's important to dream and ponder, What would my life be like if I weren't afraid?  What if I chose to trust God a little more today?" (32, italics in original quote).

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