Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Celebration of Discipline: An Experiment in Simplicity

'All That Was Salvageable' photo (c) 2007, Jewish Women's Archive - license:
This post is part of an ongoing series on Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline , posted monthly (usually) on the second Tuesday of the month.  This month it's the third.   This was originally a monthly series for Soul Munchies, but as Soul Munchies is on hiatus right now, the series will continue here.  The other posts in the series are:

     * Celebration of Discipline: An Experiment
     * Meditation Results & Intro to Prayer
     * Undisciplined Prayer
     * Celebration of Discipline:  An Experiment in Fasting
     * Celebration of Discipline: An Experiment in Study

It's felt like anything but a simple month.  From mid-June to mid-July, I've been away from home three times, and am currently away from home as I write this.  It's been packing, unpacking, laundry, packing again, flights, long car drives, little routine, kids falling asleep in the car at night before we get back, etc.

But there's also been something simple about it.

Ever since my first son was born, I've been determined to pack lightly, and use as my guree ide.  I pack everything I need for a trip in a carry-on size bag.  I don't even own a suitcase anymore that is larger than carry-on size, and I packed for my kids in backpacks.  We've stayed with family, on air mattresses, in guest rooms, and currently are staying in a dorm room--we're at an FCA camp.  My three year old kept saying "now is it time to go camping" and I'd have to explain to him we weren't exactly camping.  It's likely it's as close to camping as we'll ever get though, as we are not exactly outdoorsy people!

There is something freeing about living out of suitcase though (I'm not trying to romanticize it, however, because there are certainly annoyances as well).  There are so many things I don't have to worry about right now, like cleaning the house, preparing meals, going grocery shopping.  Because I only pack a few changes of clothes, I don't worry (as much) about what to wear; outfits are quite repetitive.  I even only have taken two pairs of shoes on all these trips.  Yes, really!  Only two!  That's kind of a miracle, don't you think?

Foster explains that "The Christian Discipline of simplicity is an inward reality that results in an outward life-style. Both the inward and the outward aspects of simplicity are essential.  We deceive ourselves if we believe we can possess the inward reality without its having a profound effect on how we live.  To attempt to arrange an outward lifestyle of simplicity without the inward reality leads to deadly legalism" (81).  He also writes about how attached we are to things, in our need for security. 

Now, I do like my "things".  I like the decor on my walls, the furniture I buy at garage sales and repaint, my hundreds of books, the carved wooden box on my dresser, the small plate-holder-turned-scarf-holder on the wall next to my closet, the wineglasses from my wedding, the tea set my inlaws bought and then carried all over China so it wouldn't break before they got home, the China plate that belonged to both sets of my grandparents, and so on.  Looking at these things does make me happy (especially when the house is clean and organized).  

But I am sure that there are a lot of things that I could do without.  The problem is that I have convinced myself that I need them.  I need to have decor on the walls and have the house look pretty for visitors.  I need to have a large variety of clothes and shoes and jewelry and accessories so that I don't always look the same.  

The problem is, I often don't notice my own decor.  I default to wearing my favorite clothes and let others languish in my closet until I finally decide they can be donated.  Each time I have thought to myself that I am going to get rid of stuff and have a smaller wardrobe, I briefly succeed...until I replace those things with newer things that I just can't seem to live without.

Foster explains that our security from our things comes from the lack of a Divine Center in our own lives, and that our modern culture contributes to our perceived need to buy new cars or clothes before our current ones wear out, and that we generally have an unbalanced culture that feeds the "mammon spirit within ourselves", and that "defines people by how much they can produce or what they earn."  

We participate in that whether we like it or not, and whether we realize it or not.  

However, he also warns about simplicity becoming an idol itself, and that we should take care not to seek it, but rather, to seek first God's Kingdom, because that is "the only thing that can be central in the Spiritual Discipline of simplicity". 

I'm not there yet, not by far.  But living so simply for this past month has made me more aware of this concept of simplicity than I ever have been before.  Whether or not the awareness will stick around once I'm back in my comfortable routine of life is yet to be seen, but at least I am no longer as ignorant about it as I have been.  


Matt Appling said...

I love Richard Foster! You are blessed to be reading him. And I love simplicity too (as much as I've embraced in my own life anyway.) I think people underestimate, or just have never experienced how good *less* tastes!

Kelly J Youngblood said...

I read the book with a friend in the early 2000s, but have always wanted to read it again and I love it.