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“Tis a gift to be simple,” sang the Shakers, and the lyric still rings true. Simplicity in its essence neither demands a vow of poverty nor a life of rural homesteading. It requires neither a log cabin nor a hairshirt. It does require a deliberate ordering of priorities to distinguish between the necessary and the superfluous, the useful and the wasteful, the beautiful and the vulgar.
Sometimes it hits us squarely between the eyes, maybe visiting another culture or simply visiting with someone as close as our own spouse or with a good friend. Our worldview, the glasses through which we see the world, is not the only way to perceive reality. I had such an experience in a recent trip to Scotland that taught me to love simplicity in all things and not to be so driven for success.
To describe simplicity only as an inner reality is to say something false. The inner reality is not a reality until there is an outward expression. To experience the liberating spirit of simplicity will affect how we live. So I suggest the following nine principles for the outward expression of simplicity.
1) Reject anything that is producing an addiction in you. If money has a grip on your heart, give some away and feel the inner release. Remember an addiction by its very nature is something that is beyond your control.
2) Learn to enjoy things without owning them. Many things in life can be enjoyed without possessing or controlling them. Share things. Enjoy the beach without feeling you have to buy a piece of it.
3) Buy things for their usefulness rather than their status. Cars should be bought for their utility, not their prestige. Consider your clothes. Many people buy clothes because they want to keep up with fashions. Hang the fashions!
4) Develop a deeper appreciation for all creation. Get close to the earth. Walk whenever you can. Listen to the birds. Enjoy the texture of grass and leaves. Smell the flowers. Marvel in the rich colors everywhere.
5) Avoid flattery and half-truths. Make honesty and integrity the distinguishing characteristics of your speech. If you consent to do a task, do it.
6) Develop a habit of giving things away. If you find that you are becoming attached to some possession, consider giving it to someone who needs it.
7) Refuse to be caught up by the custodians of modern gadgetry. Often children find more joy in playing with old pots and pans than with the latest space set. Look for toys that are educational and durable. Usually gadgets are an unnecessary drain on the energy resources of the world. The United States has less than six percent of the world’s population, but consumes about 33 percent of the world’s energy.
8) Look with a healthy skepticism at all “buy now, pay later” schemes.
They are a trap and only deepen our bondage. Certainly prudence, as well as simplicity, demands that we use extreme caution before incurring debt.
9) Reject anything that breeds the oppression of others. In a world of limited resources, does our lust for wealth mean the poverty of others? Should we buy products that are made by forcing people into dull assembly-line jobs? Do we enjoy hierarchical relationships in the company or factory that keep others under us? Do we oppress our children or spouse because we feel certain tasks are beneath us? Often our oppression is tinged with racism, sexism and nationalism.
Gratitude is what I would like to feel more than anything. How else can you really enjoy your life? To feel gratitude is to look at everything in your life and appreciate it, be aware of it, pay attention to it. Our lifestyle, of course, engenders discontent and resentment. Because more is always better, you can never be satisfied with what you have. Because commercials are constantly showing us ecstatically happy people with lots of stuff, we always feel that we’re just not quite making it. Then, when we see how much money rich people have, we feel envious. All of these feelings make you discontent with your life, causing you to fail to be grateful for what you do have.
‘Tis the gift to be simple,
‘Tis the gift to be free,
‘Tis the gift to come down where you ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
Bob Mueller is Senior Director of Mission & Stewardship at Hosparus. The views expressed in this column are those of the writer.