The Justice Team has compiled information on the practice of simplicity. The Renovare website defines simplicity as “the inward reality of single-hearted focus upon God and his kingdom, which results in an outward lifestyle of modesty, openness, and unpretentiousness and which disciplines our hunger for status, glamour, and luxury.” We welcome you to explore simple living by clicking on one or more of the following headings:
Simplicity is a Matter of the Heart Above All Else
Your heart is that place within that gives direction to all you think, do, feel, and say. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matt. 5:8) A pure heart is one that wills one thing, union with God. Richard Foster describes simplicity as “living out of the divine center.” All of life—all choices about what we do and have—flow from that center. The approaches to simplicity that are popular in the wider culture, such as voluntary simplicity and minimalism, don’t have this as their foundation.
As you reflect on your heart, what desires compete with devotion to God and his kingdom? What are the ways in which your heart tends to stray? What is at the center of life for you?
Simplicity in Daily Life
The purity or impurity of our hearts both affect and are affected by the details of daily existence. Moving toward simplicity means addressing stuff, schedules, and status.
Simplicity means having less stuff. That means buying less. Most of us buy more than we need, buy new when used would do, or buy to try to satisfy emotional or spiritual hungers. A useful site for those trying to buy less is https://buylessbemore.squarespace.com/.
Simplicity regarding stuff also includes reducing clutter. Several useful articles about decluttering can be found here. Much decluttering advice is inspired by The New Minimalism, particularly Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. A Christian critique of this approach found much to admire but also noted: “Ultimately, minimalism mirrors the restlessness of consumerism. Rather than making peace with the clutter that comes with repurposing and sharing your stuff, it pushes toward the clean, convenient, smooth experience of buying that one perfect object in the Apple Store or IKEA. It disdains the patched up, the good enough, and the holy clutter of sharing our things with our neighbours. As such, it ultimately fails to be attached enough to the good things of this world and their reflection of the One who created all the odds and ends of this cluttered world.” Matt Miller
Do you tend to purchase more than you need? Do you find security in money or possessions? Is is hard to let go of things that you no longer need? Do your possessions help you seek the kingdom of God?
How we structure our time is also important in the quest for simplicity. Keri Wyatt Kent encourages us to develop “Sabbath Simplicity,” that is, a “sanely paced, God-focused life.” Several pointers that she offers can be found here.
One approach to the Benedictine rule for life recommends that each day be divided so that there is time for meditation or prayer, time for meals and relationships, time for learning, time for labor, and time for rest.
Does your schedule include the above elements? What do you do outside these areas? Which of these areas gets neglected? What takes too much of your time? How well do you do at saying ‘no’ to things that aren’t consistent with simplicity and pursuing the kingdom of God?
Striving for honor and recognition are incompatible with simplicity.
“Man aspires to obtain a place for himself that he may feel honored before men. He loves to hear praising voices and considers them just and true. He also attempts to elevate himself in his work, whether in preaching or in writing, for his secret self motive goads him on. In a word, this one has not yet died to his desire of vainglory.” Watchman Nee
“One of the most profound effects of inward simplicity is the rise of an amazing spirit of contentment. Gone is the need to strain and pull to get ahead. In rushes a glorious indifference to position, status, or possession.” Richard Foster
How much are you motivated by the desire for attention, recognition, and a favorable reputation? Are you content to go unnoticed or to perform humble tasks?
Simplicity as a spiritual discipline
“A pivotal paradox for us to understand is that simplicity is both a grace and a discipline.” Richard Foster
Simplicity is a grace because it is given by God, and a discipline because we are able to do something that puts us in position to receive the gift of inner simplicity. Foster directs us as follows:
“The central point for the Discipline of simplicity is to seek the kingdom of God and the righteousness of his kingdom first and then everything necessary will come in its proper order.”
Foster suggests the following ways to foster inner simplicity: practice the discipline of silence, pay attention to and live within the natural cycles of life, recognize and live within the limits of what we are capable of emotionally, cultivate a life of reflection, and live consistently with our commitments (e.g. marriage vows, parenting).
What’s your motivation for living simply? Is it just to have a more sane, balanced existence or is it also to make space for God and his kingdom? If the latter, are you ready to put Him first?Which of the above ways of fostering inner simplicity do you do well at? Which are a struggle for you?
Simplicity, justice, and creation care
Much of what we consume is produced by workers who don’t earn a living wage. Some of these workers are in indentured servitude. The Fair Trade movement supplies products produced by workers who are paid a sustainable wage. Consider making purchases of Fair Trade Certified goods; they typically cost more, but it’s workers, not corporations, that benefit.
The growth of online shopping has led to a dramatic increase in consumption, which, as explained here, has serious environmental impacts. An example:
“In 2015, the most recent year for which data is available, Americans put 16 million tons of textiles in the municipal waste stream, a 68 percent increase from 2000. We tossed 34.5 million tons of plastics, a 35 percent increase from 2000…”
The stuff we consume is responsible for up to 60% of climate change according to a 2016 study. And it’s the poor who suffer the greatest effects of climate change.
Thus, consuming less and living more simply is not just something that benefits us individually; it benefits the planet and its people as well.
Are you willing to have less (and perhaps pay more for what you do have) so that the poor and the planet may benefit? What concrete steps are you ready to take in that direction?