And yet on growing up, I hope you haven't, like me, managed to maintain an outward reality of hoarder instead? Messy masses of computer files mixed with inorganic rubbish pile DIY 'someday' projects, indecisiveness, and scattered project lists.
What if many of us are going about the 'endless' act of simplifying in quite the wrong way? What if simplifying the 'outer wardrobe' of our clothes / computer files / kitchen cupboards, shopping lists / goals / to-do lists and workbenches was actually achieved 90% through the efforts of renewing of our minds - our inner world?
The discipline of simplicity
Last week I sped-read through a book called The Celebration of Discipline and was surprised to find a chapter called The Discipline of Simplicity - a pearl of a chapter in between the standard meditation-prayer-study-worship-solitude-service descriptions that I'm pretty familiar with implementing into my life. Chapter six however hit me like a sword piercing right to my spirit and testing its integrity. Showing up my priorities. Showing up my trust - sometimes a flailing trust - in God.
A challenge was made in connection to simplicity – the root being seeking first the kingdom of God. It began this way:
"When we are truly in this interior simplicity our whole appearance is franker, more natural. This true simplicity … makes us conscious of a certain openness, gentleness, innocence, gaiety, and serenity, which is charming when we see it near to and continually, with pure eyes. O, how amiable this simplicity is! Who will give it to me? I leave all for this. It is the Pearl of the Gospel. - - Francois Fenelon
I messaged this paragraph to a few friends right away who it made me think of. Friends who laugh freely; who hold life lightly and hold lightly the opinions of people outside their inner circles; who say what they mean and mean what they say; who dance and frolic and share photos of small joyous moments because they want to; and they just breathe easy. I can see it growing within them. But until this chapter, I missed where it was from.
What simplicity means
Foster's introduction goes on to describe simplicity - simplicity being freedom; duplicity being bondage. Simplicity being joy and balance; duplicity bringing anxiety and fear. As described in Ecclesiastes 7 verse 2, God made man simple. Living in this simplicity brings inward focus and unity. And when we live out of 'The Divine Centre', we experience an inward reality that liberates us outwardly.
To quote Foster some more, "Speech becomes truthful and honest" because we operate out of obedience at the divine centre. "The lust for status and position is gone because we no longer need status and position". Instead of one moment "making decisions on the basis of sound reason", and the next moment "making decisions out of fear of what others will think of us", we will live in the simplicity of "openness, unself-consciousness, and naturalness.
The tyranny of self, things, and people
The chapter goes on to say that simplicity frees us from the tyranny of self, the tyranny of things, and the tyranny of people. It lays aside others good opinions of us in favour of focusing first on seeking the kingdom of God. This is where we start to find inner simplicity! Brief descriptions are given to practical tips for simplicity within certain scenarios – e.g. refraining from buying things that aren't useful, rejecting anything that is producing addiction, giving things away, rejecting jargon and abstract speculation for plain honest speech, and rejecting anything that breeds oppression in others.
But it all comes back to this fundamental truth: nothing must come before the kingdom of God. Even including our desire for a simple lifestyle. The sheer fact that a person is living without things is no guarantee that they are living in simplicity. As Foster says, it is possible for a person to be developing an outward life-style of simplicity and to be filled with anxiety. We have anxiety because we are anxious about tomorrow – and no amount of eliminating the clutter in our coffee table drawers will change that.
My inner wardrobe
In my own life I look at the scenario of my 'inner wardrobe' like this: I can't afford to minimise my clothing wardrobe by way of fewer and quality 'investment' pieces as the blogs urge me to, until I know how I want to dress in order to feel 'me' in each different situation I find myself in. And I can't be confident of what situations I'll find myself and how I want to dress in those situations in until I know the type of character I am designed to play in my life's story.
I can't play the main character in that story well until I know the author of the redeemed version of that story. Knowing Him equates with trusting Him, and when I let Him be first in my life, He will teach me how to be that character inside out. I will go to Him before trying to figure it all out – before trying to simplify my life in my own efforts.
Then and only then will my life will have the inner simplicity I desire, and that God desires of me. Not simplicity that equates with 'easy', and not simplicity that equates with 'easy to understand', but simplicity nonetheless – a lightness of soul, a focus, a confidence, a knowing, a direction, an uncluttered mind, a peace.
The inner wardrobe of simplicity – it seems a pretty freeing place to operating from.
The next time I enjoy perusing through a feel-good article titled something like '5 Ways to Simplify Your Life', I'll also check my spirit – am I giving far more priority to seeking Him first then I am to these other measures?
Janetta Hayden is a Social Anthropology and Visual Arts graduate from New Zealand, based in Perth with her Design Engineer husband Ryan. Janetta works as Filmmaker and Story Director for The Story Culture @thestoryculture www.thestoryculture.com with a passion for Community Development.
Janetta Hayden's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/janetta-hayden.html