Last week, I blogged about my experiment with simplicity. I was very powerful for me to use Jan Johnson’s book, Abundant Simplicity, to de-clutter a particular area of my life that really needed help. Participants in Community 1 of the Apprentice Experience granted me permission to share some of their experiences with the entire Apprentice community.
In Part 2 of this blog, I will share their experiments with simplicity. Perhaps their stories will provide some motivation, inspiration or some insight as to how God is working in their lives as they journey through the Apprentice Experience.
Here are just a few entries:
“One way I am ‘un-cluttering’ this week is cleaning out my Inbox so that I can see all of them on one page- only keeping the essentials ones that remind me that I need to respond in some way, and unsubscribing from some of the emails I was getting that only distract me (TravelZoo, Groupon, etc). Life with Jesus is better than any ‘deal’ the internet has to offer!”
“On page 8 of Jan’s book, Abundant Simplicity, she writes, ‘Simplicity is not a discipline itself but a way of being. It is letting go of things others consider normal. It is an “inward reality of single-hearted focus upon God and God’s kingdom, which results in an outward lifestyle of modesty.’
Simple thus isn’t the goal. I know of people who live frugally and who are about as far from God as one can be. Frugal can be a symptom of faithlessness. Rather simple is a means, when appropriately employed, to enable us to remove the obstacles that keep us from that ‘inward reality of a single-hearted focus upon God.’ I find that when I remove the clutter whether of things and/or the mental clutter that congests my soul’s lungs then I can breathe more deeply of the Spirit and can consequently experience a fuller reality of God’s presence.
The accumulation of things hasn’t really been so much of a problem for me as I grow older as much as the things that add to the mental clutter of my mind. When that happens then the things start to own me rather than me owning them. The thing that tries to own me the most and does the most to clutter up my mind is the television and in a close second are the social media devices.
I confessed recently in a sermon to my congregation that I contemplated canceling my cable service. But, after further consideration, I thought that might be a rash decision. The cable television isn’t bad nor the social media devices. They are only harmful when they start to own us and redirect our focus farther from God. So my spiritual discipline for this month is to first become aware of the routines that own me e.g., plopping automatically down in front and the TV and allowing the ‘Sirens’ of the flat screen to draw me into the rocks of spiritual despair. Secondly, once I recognize the harmful routines, I will turn to listen to the Spirit’s call and allow God to own me so that my soul can breathe more deeply of God’s goodness. In my confession to my congregation, I promised to keep them update on my progress. I think there might be some others in my congregation practicing this spiritual discipline of abstinence as Jan calls it.”
“Abstinence has been with ease as I have matured. I have found I do not buy ‘things’ as when I was younger. Yes I lack the desire but God has given me much more to replace than having those things. My taste in food has gotten simpler, fresher, colorful with less of it. However, If you ask me to give up chocolate or wine then I will find a struggle and an obvious discipline for me to venture. Living on a ranch can lend to a collection of nuts and bolts ‘just in case’ you need one. My eyes appreciate simple lines and cleanliness. It takes some work to keep a landscape free of clutter in your home or outside. As I walk along a creek near our house I have the choice to see all the deadfall that needs cleaning up or how nature runs its course with decay. There was a great horn owl on a dead tree along on drive just last night. I stopped the car so we could watch as the bird took off in a swoosh. My husband said ‘That is why I want to leave the dead tree there.’ Jim Smith said in our last gathering that some people actually prefer manmade beauty perhaps more than even nature. I agreed for a while. Nature does not always have the cleanest lines but the whole picture cannot be replicated. The chaos and the simple lie side by side. I can see the beauty in the chaos while watching the center of a storm. I can see beauty in decay while watching the birds in dead trees. It is an ongoing process to keep the clutter down and oh how sweet it is when I am finally there, in glimpses.”
“One thing that stood out in chapter 2 was that one can LEARN to be content. That is a very encouraging thing. I don’t have to just wait for contentment to wash over me or do without it. It’s not a disposition that, if I’m not born with it, I’m out of luck. If it is something that can be learned, then it is within my reach. All kinds of things can be learned. In a psychology class, I heard about a study in which rats became more creative after researchers reinforced them when they tried novel behaviors. They said the rats learned creativity. I also heard that the secret to being patient was to find something else to do in the meantime, and voila, I learned patience. I think learning contentment is similar. Focusing on what I do have instead of what I don’t, focusing on what really matters instead of what is here today and gone tomorrow. As with all learning, the more I practice the more it becomes an automatic habit.”
“I have been a blacksmith in the past. I love it, the smell of the coal smoke, the way the steel glows in the heat of the fire, the way it moves when I hit it with a hammer. Literally hundreds of fantastic memories of working in front of men and boys at Royal Rangers camps. However, I have not had my forge lit in 5 or 6 years. I owned a 281lb anvil, a 150lb vise, a huge 24 by 26 tray forge and dozens of hammers, tongs and tools. As God was changing my life and preparing me for ministry, one thing that He was really working on was my attachment to stuff. Even without the physical stuff the memories were still with me. So…I simplified, I kept a small forge and anvil to play with when I come back to that hobby. I sold or gave away most of my big tools and grinders. And you know what? Life is simpler!”
As you can see, people in the Apprentice Experience have been grappling with the concept of simplicity and have experienced some major revelations. It will be interesting to witness the ways they experience God in the midst of all of this as we prepare for our next gathering.
Experiments with Simplicity
I’d like to encourage you to experiment with simplicity this week. Perhaps you can try one or all of these:
- Talk to someone who lives simply. Ask them what they’ve learned through simplicity.
- Ask someone you trust to suggest what “weights” you need to lay aside. Don’t answer that person immediately. Think about what he or she said.
- Journal about this question: “What do you want?” First write down what you think you want. Then, ask God to help you search yourself as you look at things such as your calendar and spending records. Also, consider your thought energy – What do you spend a lot of time thinking about?
John Carroll oversees the Apprentice Experience, a two-year certification experience in Christian Spiritual Formation for clergy and laity. With a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Florida and a Master of Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary, John brings a unique blend of experience (11 years in corporate recruiting, 4 years in the local church) to the Apprentice Institute. He is happily married to his wife, Amber, and together they have two children, Aidan and Amelia. In his free time, John enjoys reading, watching football and spending time with family and friends.
For more information about the Apprentice Experience, contact John at firstname.lastname@example.org.