Life today seems increasingly complicated and more stressed, with less time to accomplish all that we wish. How can this be, with increasing technological advances and labor-saving devices? In studying housework practices since the seventeenth century, Ruth Cowan found that every major “improvement” in technology raised expectations and standards to even higher levels (e.g., whereas muddy overalls in your grandma’s day might have just been brushed off and worn a few more days, now a slight spill sends the garment to the laundry1). These “labor-saving devices” mean higher costs, more repair bills, more time taken for maintenance, more space needed for storage, and if we talk about kitchen appliances—more cleaning! The trusted sharp knife has been superseded by the whizz, the blender, and the chopper, each with many movable parts to clean, wash, and dry.
A return to simpler living is closely tied to personal choices and the priorities we choose for our lives. These are reflections of the value we place upon God, ourselves, and others. In turn, these choices influence our motivations, levels of contentment, goals, influence on others, and—ultimately our destiny.
WHAT MATTERS THE MOST?
While many people get caught up in the multiplicity of things available, Jesus encouraged us to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt. 6:33, NKJV). Christians are reminded that ultimate reality does not consist of things we see around us. “Let heaven fill your thoughts; don’t spend your time worrying about things down here. You should have as little desire for this world as a dead person does. Your real life is in heaven with Christ and God” (Col. 3:2, 3, Living Bible). Here is contrasted transitory, earthly existence with eternal, ultimate reality. As a result of this eternal perspective, David Livingstone was able to say, “I will place no value on anything I have or may possess except in relation to the Kingdom of Christ. If anything I have will advance the interests of that Kingdom, it shall be given up or kept, as by keeping or giving it I shall most promote the glory of Him to whom I owe all my hopes, both of time and eternity.”2
Since everything belongs to God in the first place, why do we get so possessive about “our” things? In our family, life got much simpler when we decided to dedicate our car to God, recognizing His ownership. When we offered an out-of-town missionary the use of our car, he was reluctant to borrow in case “anything happened to it” while he was using it. We told him it was not really our car; it was God’s. When he returned, greatly concerned about a stolen stereo, there was wonderful freedom in telling him that we were not worried because God was the true owner anyway.
Simplicity also has a great impact when shifting houses. Our move to the United States for further study involved dozens of decisions regarding our worldly possessions. We knew we could only bring two suitcases with us. We would need to dispose of most things. At times I thought how much simpler it would be if a firebomb destroyed the lot!
The greatest difficulty comes while you still possess the article. The greater the attachment, the greater the sense of loss when it goes—yet once it is gone, there is a feeling of freedom. Perhaps it was the pain and discomfort of losing all that was familiar and treasured that made Lot’s wife look back. It has been suggested that “because we lack a divine Centre our need for security has led us into an insane attachment to things.”3
Who (or what) is really at the center of our lives?
EFFECTS OF MODELING SIMPLICITY
Practicing the discipline of simplicity not only frees the individual from the bondage of clutter (whether physical or mental) but may also encourage others to experience the benefits. For example, my friend Velda told me that their family decided to dispense with soft drinks. They were feeling stressed by the constant clutter of empty bottles by the back door waiting to be returned to the store for a refund. As she thought further she saw many other benefits: fewer trips to the store, improved nutrition, healthier teeth, plus saving time and money.
RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN STRESS AND SIMPLICITY
The more complex the situation, the more potential for stress. Parenthood stress is real and debilitating, and one of the chief causes is the lack of control which parents often feel. Try simplifying routines:
- shop less often
- do the laundry only once a week
- reduce the number of toys to be played with at any one time (divide toys into seven boxes—one for each day of the week), which not only reduces clutter but also makes sure the child doesn’t get bored with the same toys every day
- add more raw fruits and vegetables in the daily menu to reduce the time spent cooking
- create hospitality routines so that you are ready for guests at any time
- lower unrealistically high expectations of yourself
Other ways to simplify household tasks and reduce stress could include canceling or reducing subscriptions to newspapers or magazines and not entering your name and address for prize drawings, which become the basis for junk mail advertising.
And one of the very best ways to reduce stress and simplify life? Sell the television! Most of the time our two boys were growing up we survived without a television. We appreciated the quieter surroundings and added possibilities for family activities. With Internet news, there isn’t even any reason to feel deprived during highly newsworthy events. And the advantage is that you can choose what you want to watch.
STEWARDSHIP DIMENSIONS OF SIMPLICITY
Christian simplicity is “an inward reality that results in an outward life-style,” 4 and that freedom from anxiety is characterized by three inner attitudes:
- We must acknowledge that what we have is a gift from God.
- We must know that it is God’s business to care for what is ours.
- We must make our goods available to the community.
Individualistic, Westernized society emphasizes the importance of maintaining personal insurance policies and accumulating a bank account that can provide for the crises of life. But in my experience with customs in Pacific Island communities, they share resources for weddings and funerals—and it does more than just connect families. Perhaps these cultures can teach Westernized cultures something, for they invest in their future not by personally accumulating wealth but by constantly giving to those in need. They know that in their own time of need, they can rely on help from the community into which they have poured their resources.
In King Solomon’s magnificent dedication prayer for the temple, the reason for God’s wealth is given:
“Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all” (1 Chron. 29:12, NIV). Whatever He has, it is clearly for the purpose of exalting and benefiting others.
We need God’s perspective when it comes to the goods and talents He gives us to manage, especially as we approach the end times. “It includes all gifts and endowments, whether original or acquired, natural or spiritual. All are to be employed in Christ’s service. . . . to be used for His glory in blessing our fellow men.”5 This includes our speech, influence, time, health, strength, money, kindly impulses and affections, and mental faculties. All would be sharper instruments of service if we employed the discipline of simplicity. We need to put aside all the distractions that hinder us and focus on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:1).
While we are to enjoy God’s blessings and share them generously with others, it is with the understanding that our lives here on earth are transitory, and we know that “He has also set eternity in the human heart” (Eccl. 3:11, NIV).
Where are the stress points in your family at the moment? Are there ways of simplifying your daily routines and lifestyle to make more space for God?
Ask Him, then share your plans to simplify with someone else. Such an announcement may be just what’s needed to inspire them to join you in a major sorting operation! Discovering ways to bring simplicity into family living is to experience truly liberating freedom.
1 Deborah Shaw Lewis, Motherhood Stress (Dallas, TX: Word Pub., 1989), p. 160.
2 Studies in Christian Living, book 6, “Growing in Service” (Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress, 1964), as cited in Gien Karssen, Her Name Is Woman (Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress, 1975).
3 Richard J. Foster, The Celebration of Discipline (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), p. 80.
4 Ibid., p. 79.
5 Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1900), p. 328.