I had the flu last week. By Friday, my day off, my plans for a short overnight backpack trip were scuttled because the week old virus clung (and still clings) to me, sapping my strength and leaving me with no weapons to fight back other than rest and water. As I was walking up the stairs on Friday, there were stacks of books in need of my care, shouting “read me,” “file me,” “return me,” “share me.” There were papers too, and pictures in need of frames, not to mention a backpacking headlamp, and copies of Time and Fast Company.
I could feel the tension rising as I looked around at all the stuff in need of my attention, not just on the stairs, but on the desk, in the bedroom, on the piano. Stuff. Stuff. Stuff! I ponder what it might be like to be in control of my life, to be able to walk up the stairs and not have stuff shouting at me, telling me that I’m doing too much, that I’m inadequate.
The truth is that my natural curiosity and inattention to detail conspire to create needless stress in my life, as my many interests leave me with more to read and more to do than I can actually accomplish. As I take some books down to the basement to put on our bookshelf there, I see a few more books, scattered across the floor because there’s no room on the bookshelf and that moment becomes the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back. “Too much” is its own form of oppression.
Within a couple of hours, the stairs are clean, and there’s room on the bookshelf for the books that matter, along with some space in the closet for clothes. Goodwill is richer and the sense of peace that comes from less clutter is priceless. Weary from the adventures, I put my flu wracked body back in bed and ponder some important truths that, if embraced, will reduce our stress, and liberate us to live both freer and richer lives:
1. We’re invited to simplicity. Paul spoke of the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ, but for too many of us, life has become complexity rather than simplicity. This might be because we’re trying to do too much, or read too much, or be too much. When Jesus said that Mary had chosen more wisely than Martha, he wasn’t being dismissive of “doing.” He was simply saying that our doing should flow out of intimacy with Jesus, who exemplified a rhythm of engagement and withdrawal rather than trying to do too much. If I’m constantly failing to meet all my obligations (whether self imposed or ‘other’ imposed), I probably have too many obligations, and need to trim.
2. We’re invited to priorities. Jesus reminds us that our highest priority is to embrace both our gifts, and our calling to make God’s good reign visible both at home and in our world. These are our priorities. In light of these, we can go back through a bookshelf, or a closet, and ask the question: “Will this item help be fulfill me calling?” and take appropriate action based on the answer. Far from austerity, the result of this course of action is that we find ourselves surrounded with things that propel us towards our calling as stewards of our bodies, our relationships, our vocation, and our spiritual gifts. The result, at least for me, is life giving. The space devoted to prayer in my attic is once again inviting me to prayer, rather filled with stuff that shouts “you’re too busy.”
3. We’re invited on a journey. Simplicity isn’t accomplished in our complex and busy world in a day. Perhaps none of ever fully arrive. Instead, it’s a journey, whereby we’re continually revisiting our roles, calling, priorities, and clearing the distractive clutter away, one shelf, or closet, at a time. Start small, with the stairs, maybe; or a shelf in the garage. My friend Josh has an entire blog about living more simply. Check it out here.
I’ve a long way to go before I’m finished clearing away the clutter in my life, but the silver lining in this recent bout with the flu was the reminder that I’m finite, and that I’m happier when I live that way.