Next Steps

Next Steps September 22, 2008

I suspect, though I am not sure exactly, that the extreme difficulty I had writing this week’s sermon was somehow related to the fact that its themes are particularly prominent in my own thinking about life and God and how the two relate. 

I like to write sermons, and I love the process of studying and creating–even though I struggle to fit enough time in my week every week to live that process.  Although this has changed significantly over the years, my rhythm has become: plan themes and schedule weeks or months in advance; set up a system of folders for each week in a season or series; accumulate articles, books, ideas, illustrations and stick them in the folders when they arise; begin Monday morning reading, reading, reading, reading . . . and live all week with the text to see where it takes me; then . . . write.  Ideally Thursday; often Friday; usually Saturday.  (And, for those of you who know my routine you will also know that I have a sermon reader who is one of the most fabulous people I know–she reads my sermons every single week and gives me honest feedback.  There have been weeks, I’ll have you know, when she has saved all of you from a very, very bad experience . . . ).

This week I just couldn’t get it to come together.  I had to finally leave it Saturday morning after hours of trying to articulate my thoughts.  I finally finished something I felt like I could preach late Saturday night.  But at 4 a.m. on Sunday morning I was still thinking about it, so I got up and rewrote even more.  While I generally work very hard on sermons, I don’t generally agonize this much.  So I began to wonder . . . why?

And, as I said, I think that maybe the themes of this week hit especially close to home. 

See, I want to be a faithful follower of Jesus, but I suspect that the framework of my life often gets in the way.  This week we were telling the story of the Hebrews in the desert and God’s provision of manna.  I kept thinking about how all the Hebrew people could see was what they did not have . . . they barely stopped to notice that God had delivered them from slavery (hello!).  And I think that’s when the parallels between their response to God’s goodness and my own just became glaringly obvious–so obvious, in fact, they kept me up most of the night on Saturday. 

So, what to do?  This not so great pattern is how I usually approach the process in my life: sometimes, when I am feeling particularly courageous, I ask myself to look at what I have and what I do to see if those reflect what I preach and what I believe. 

And then I run screaming from the room to do something distracting.  Like shopping.

But I’m not afraid to ask for help.  So, this week I turned to the great fount of wisdom that is Google and stumbled across this blog, which gave me a lot to think about.  In one helpful post the writer shares 70 Tips to Simplify Your Life, which I am going to use as a place to start.  I’ve reprinted them here–anything speak to you?  

I think I’ll start with #18 today and see how that goes.  

1. Follow Occam’s razor: “All things being equal, the simplest solution is the best.”

2. Surround yourself with beauty.

3. Declutter and organize: set up your space to support the things you’ve identified as important.

4. Don’t spend time with toxic people who drain your energy and vitality.

5. Spend time in the unhurried contemplation of nature’s beauty.

6. Let go of a viewpoint or opinion you’ve been passionately holding which no longer serves you well.

7. Plant your own herbs; consider starting off with basil, chives, parsley, and mint.

8. Identify what’s important to you; choose your priorities.

9. Drop activities that don’t bring you joy and don’t move you closer to your dreams.

10. Spend time with beloved friends.

11. Write down the steps you follow to complete each task you perform on a regular basis and find a way to streamline and simplify the process.

12. Create rituals, routines, and traditions.

13. Be spontaneous.

14. Buy organic and/or local food.

15. Find a sport or physical activity you enjoy and engage in it often.

16. Meditate.

17. Follow your intuition. Listen to your inner voice. Check in with yourself often.

18. Lie down on the grass.

19. Slow down.

20. Stop struggling.

21. Let go of dreams others have for you that are not aligned with your own dreams.

22. Release the past.

23. Forgive; grudges are poison and take up precious space in your mind, let them go.

24. Follow a four-year old around and do everything he does.

25. Walk everywhere you can, or ride your bike.

26. Reconsider all subscriptions to newspapers, magazines, blogs, and newsletters. (Don’t even think of unsubscribing from this blog ).

27. Cancel all but one or two credit cards.

28. Follow Parkinson’s law: set time limits for each task and stick to the time limit.

29. Open the windows and let in fresh air.

30. Take up yoga.

31. Concentrate on your breath.

32. Live within your means.

33. Strike a work-life balance that creates harmony in your life.

34. Get enough sleep.

35. Do one thing at a time, and do everything with presence of mind.

“While washing the dishes one should only be washing the dishes, which

means that while washing the dishes one should be completely aware of

the fact that one is washing the dishes. At first glance, that might seem a

little silly: why put so much stress on a simple thing? But that’s precisely

the point. The fact that I am standing there and washing the dishes is a

wondrous reality. I’m being completely myself, following my breath,

conscious of my presence, and conscious of my thoughts and actions.

There’s no way I can be tossed around mindlessly like a bottle slapped

here and there on the waves.”

– Thich Nat Hahn

36. Laugh often.

37. Don’t worry about pleasing everyone.

38. Avoid unnecessary conflict.

39. Clear out psychic clutter such as fear, worry, anger, resentment, and anxiety.

40. Learn to do something beautiful with your hands, whether it’s pottery, drawing, knitting, cooking, and so on.

41. Give your hand-made creations as gifts.

42. Make a list of small things that annoy you such as the leaky faucet in the bathroom, the closet door coming off its hinge, and the burned light bulb in the closet. Get these things fixed.

43. Learn to say no.

44. Figure out what simplicity means to you: is it doing your grocery shopping online or taking time out to go to the farmers’ market and hand-picking fresh produce? Is it drying your clothes in the drier so that it’s quick and easy or air-drying your clothes to save on electricity? There’s no wrong answer here, it depends on your preference.

45. Delegate.

46. Pay someone to do the things you don’t enjoy, such as cutting the grass or raking the leaves.

47. Create a menu of a few healthy meals that you enjoy and eat those on a regular basis.

48. Run errands in batch.

49. Make it a top priority to find fulfilling work.

50. Create a list of simple pleasures and ways to celebrate life and make sure you engage in these often.

51. Take a notebook with you everywhere in order to keep your mind decluttered. Record everything, your thoughts, ideas, to-do list, and so on, so that it’s safely stored in one place-out of your head-where you can decide what to do with it later.

52. Keep a master list of to-do items, cut them down into small chunks, and schedule the small chunks into your day planner.

53. Be assertive. If there’s something you need to say to someone find them and voice your concerns in a calm and direct manner. Improving your communication skills will go a long way toward simplifying your life.

54. Have a hobby that gives you the experience of peace and quiet.

55. Go on a spending fast.

56. Become an early riser.

57. Hold hands with your significant other and go for a walk.

58. Decide what you want. Nothing complicates life as much as having vague longings and desires.

59. Go with the flow. However, in matters of principle, stand like a rock.

60. Instead of carbonated drinks, drink water.

61. Come up with your own definition of success; make sure it encourages you to strive to reach your authentic desires and at the same time allows you to enjoy the journey. Here’s Christopher Morley’s definition of success: “There is only one success. To be able to spend your life in your own way.”

62. Stop comparing yourself to others.

63. Be fair. Be honest. Be trustworthy. Be generous. Respect others.

64. Keep perspective.

65. Bring reusable bags-canvas bags-to all markets and stores.

66. Unplug the toaster, the coffee maker, the stereo, the television, and so on from the wall when not in use. It is estimated that 8 – 10% of the total electricity used in your home is due to appliances left on standby.

67. Switch off lights when a room is not in use

68. Take shorter showers, and turn off the water when you’re brushing your teeth or shaving.

69. Opt for quality over quantity in everything you buy.

70. Don’t bite off more than you can chew.

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