Um, first let me say that the books I’m reading on simplicity are excellent: I highly recommend them.
Freedom of Simplicity: Finding Harmony in a Complex World by Richard J Foster
Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth by Richard J Foster
Like, they’re the kind of books in which highlighting and underlining is useless – you start,and then a few pages later you realized you’ve ’emphasized’ every sentence but one in each paragraph.
I’ll try and simplify (heh) the many thoughts I’ve gathered from the first few chapters and share them with you. Please don’t read my thoughts as didactic – I’m not trying to preach, but this simplicity thing is complex and a lot of Foster’s ideas struck me. Simplicity as a discipline deals with much more than material objects, but in our society, objects easily become idols and so the author discusses materialism more than once. (This is good for the girl who has been repeatedly roped into spending more money online to achieve the tantalizing offers of ‘free shipping’… it really does seem like a better deal…)
So, here’s what I jotted down (by jotted I mean typed into my iPhone’s notes) after reading the chapter on simplicity in Celebration and Chapter 1 in Freedom:
1. Keep first things first -or- Don’t put the cart before the horse. Seeking God has to be the primary endeavor, or else simplicity ceases to be a gift/discipline of the spirit and instead becomes a means to an end, whatever end that might be. Simplicity isn’t a substitute; you can live simply without being godly, but you can’t be godly without living simply (not to be confused with asceticism). The first thing that came to my mind as Foster was drilling this point was that an end result of ‘saving money’ might drive one to live simply, but then money-fixation is a prison, and true, spiritual simplicity is freeoom. Of course, if one does live simply one will save money, but saving money can’t be the ultimate goal if you’re trying to practice simplicity as a discipline. (Saving money isn’t bad, we’re even called to be good stewards of all we’ve been given, but after reading a few chapters I’m already redefining my ideas about stewardship. Somehow I think I’ve neglected to consider giving and sharing as an integral part of stewardship.) Even important, good things like witnessing and yeah, simplicity, can’t take the front seat. To sum up, Foster simply quotes the passage that reads ‘Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then all these other things will be added unto you as well”. Basically, as long as you’re putting that first, anything and everything else will be in its proper place.
2. Acknowledge the disconnect. While we’re on the subject of things being in their proper place, things need to be in their proper place. Here’s where we get in to the material stuff. Foster says early in his simplicity chaper in Celebration that ‘we really must understand that the lust for affluence in contemporary society is psychotic’. Woah. He even uses that word again (in literature we’d deduce that his reiteration of the word was purposeful, like a finger jabbing you repeatedly in the chest) and says, ‘It is psychotic because it has completely lost touch with reality’. Having things isn’t wrong, buying things isn’t wrong. Seeking God first will lead you to a place where you can practice simplicity and receive it as a gift from God – you’ll begin to buy things on a ‘need’ basis, with pure motives, considering others. You’ll be ‘reorient[ed] … so that possessions can be genuinely enjoyed without destroying [you]… receiv[ing] the provision of God as a gift that is not [yours] to keep and can be freely shared with others.’
3. Simplicity is two-fold. In Freedom, Foster gets crazy-deep on the reader. To the point where I was having to re-read sentences. This is where he began calling simplicity both a gift and a discipline. Simplicity as a discipline puts you in a place where God can bless you with the gift of simplicity. (Cue – nod and say ‘ahhhhh’ with me.) Simplicity is a freedom – that’s the gift. It’s freedom from anxiety and fear when we acknowledge ‘what we have we receive as a gift, and what we have is to be cared for by God, and what we have is available to others’. That’s what Foster says, anyway. In my mind, to be simple (the gift) is to take Paul seriously in Phillipians when he says ‘Rejoice in the LORD always, again I say, Rejoice!’ If I’m rejoicing, they’re isn’t room for legalism, asceticism, or materialism. To be simple is to understand and daily remember God’s truth. It’s not losing sight of our reality in Christ. When I remember that, I can enjoy what I have and won’t be scared to share what I have with others.
So, simplicity has to be an outward practice as well, just as faith (inward) without deeds (outward) is dead. Of course, we already talked about how the true spiritual discipline of simplicity has to have the seed of inner God-willing. I realized this as a college student when I was practicing this – in my blog in 2006 (no, you cannot read it, I was a very silly girl at the time) I wrote
In my flawed study of simplicity over the past few weeks, I have learned for myself that true simplicity comes from inner transformation. I am a competitor at heart, and I think this is why I fail so many times when trying to change myself. When in the habit of breaking habits, it is impossible to ‘win’ by merely trying to beat down your desire. It’s less about self-control in an outward manner. Instead, you must learn to change your desire.
Seeking God will prompt you to ask yourself ‘why am I buying this?’ before you buy something. It will prompt you to throw off anything to which you might be a slave. It will free you from the worried thoughts of, “Do I have enough? Do I have too much?” And thus, you are receiving the gift of His peaceful simplicity.
Foster talks a great deal about legalism, and hesitates to offer examples of how one might begin to practice it. I’m glad he does though, because they’re eye-opening and helpful. (Though I totally get his hesitation – as a CoC girl, where it’s my opinion that we struggle with legalism, I jump at the idea of ‘instructions’. Yes, I love rules. We die by the letter, we live by grace! I have to keep repeating that to myself.) Foster gives some challenges (ten) for the simplicity practicer… he hits pretty hard on materialism and addictions. Alright, I’ll stop talking about them and share them with you.
- Buy things for their usefulness rather than their status.
- Reject anything that is producing an addiction in you.
- Develop a habit of giving things away.
- Refuse to be propagandized by the custodians of modern gadgetry.
- Learn to enjoy things without owning them
- Develop a deeper appreciation for the creation.
- Look with a healthy skepticism at all ‘buy now, pay later’ schemes.
- Obey Jesus’ instruction about plain, honest speech.
- Reject anything that breeds the oppression of others.
- Shun anything that distracts you from seeking first the kingdom of God.
I’d love it if anyone would like to share their thoughts and experiences with this subject. It’s something I struggle with – let me just say that a few of those ‘suggestions’ Foster offered hit some sore spots. I’ll continue to share my thoughts as I keep reading and studying, if I can get through Freedom. He keeps using big words.
And if you’re missing my generally more light-hearted posts… don’t worry, my next entry might be about poop.