When my children were small, I was a stay-at-home mom—except I was rarely at home. I volunteered, carpooled, and took the kids on excursions to museums, the zoo, even the mall. When I was home, I worked part-time as a freelance writer. My pace was intense.
I remember having coffee with an older friend, describing my life to her—mothering my children, keeping my house in order, volunteering at three places, working for four different clients.
My friend looked at me sympathetically. "You have 'focus creep,'" she said. I was scattered, going in too many directions.
I knew I had to simplify. So I pulled out colored pencils and turned to a fresh page in my journal. On one side I put the months of the upcoming school year. Along the top I listed all I'd said "yes" to: leading a Bible study, coaching my daughter's soccer team, volunteering at school, and so on.
Then I drew arrows down from each commitment through the months to see how long I was committed to them. Soccer season ended in late October, so it was a two-month commitment. Next to each arrow I wrote the hours per week required. What emerged on the page was the picture of an overcommitted woman. I'd committed to more hours than there were in a week!
Next came the hard part—asking God where I should prune. What should I focus on, what activities should I let go?
That exercise began my journey toward what I call Sabbath Simplicity, which I define as a "sane-paced, God-focused life." Here are three spiritual practices that helped me.
Slowing the Pace
So often I mistakenly assumed that if I wanted a richer spiritual life, I needed to do more religious stuff. But activity, even cloaked in Christian window-dressing, is still activity.
Romans 12:2 says, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world"—and our world is hurried. The pace of life for Christians should be countercultural; we should be known as people who have time to listen, to care. The mark of a Christian is love, and you can't love in a hurry.
I talk to many women who say "yes" to as much as they can because they think it's the nice Christian thing to do. Or they feel pressured to stay busy. What they forget is that every time they said "yes," they automatically said "no" to other options—such as snuggling on the couch with their husband or kids, or having a few moments alone.
Rather than doing more, I realized I needed to do less so I could see God at work, listen to his voice. Slowing my pace began with one little word: no.
When my friend Patti felt God invite her on a Sabbath Simplicity journey, she realized it meant dropping the number of hours she spent volunteering to concentrate on her four young children. While it wasn't easy, Patti discovered she became more loving, more joyful, more peaceful. The fruits of the Spirit flourished when she slowed her pace.Say "no" wisely so you can say "yes" to what truly matters.
Christian simplicity has been practiced for centuries (way before Real Simple magazine). It's about focus—our focus on God. The possessions we have, the food on our table, the clothes we wear, aren't to be held tightly; we're to be willing to let them go. Jesus taught that when we seek God's kingdom first, everything else takes its proper place.
When Marlene Eissens, a teacher, decided to change careers, she radically simplified her life. She kept some clothes, a computer, and books, but only as much as would fit in her car. Marlene went to graduate school, became an intern, and had to raise her support. She depended on other people to provide housing.
Eventually Marlene was able to stay in the home of a Marine who was serving in Iraq. "God met me and provided," she explains.
Today Marlene, 47, is a pastor in Endicott, New York. She has a house, but resists filling it with stuff. Anything she hasn't used or worn for six months gets donated to charity. "Less is more," she says. "I feel real freedom in that. If there's less stuff, it's easier to focus on God.
Simplicity begins with saying "enough": You have enough stuff, you have enough activities. Adds Marlene, "I think simplicity really starts with each person going before the Lord, saying, 'Help me, teach me, what it means for me.'"
In the Bible, God commands us to take one day a week to put aside our regular work and to rest and focus on him. Most of us have no idea how to do that. Sabbath is about trust—taking time to let God run the world without our help for a while.
To begin keeping the Sabbath, I had to learn the word stop. Stopping meant putting aside work even if it wasn't finished, resting even though my to-do list beckoned.
Engaging in this practice has transformed my family. We worship at church, then play board games, nap, or go for bike rides. We abstain from housework, laundry, shopping. Everyone chips in to get necessary chores done, like putting dishes in the dishwasher. We eat simply—leftovers or carry-out.
Part of our Sabbath often includes serving others—at church or in our neighborhood. It's a day to focus exclusively on what Jesus said were the most important things: to love God and to love others. It's a day when we aren't too busy to talk to each other, when there's no agenda other than being with one another.
Slowing my pace, simplifying my needs, and taking a Sabbath rest are what rescued me from "focus creep." I'm still tempted to hurry; I still sometimes wish for more or nicer stuff. And I still work, have kids, and drive carpools sometimes. But I've chosen to cut out a lot. Deciding to be content with what I have, living life slower, and taking time to rest and notice God's work in the world have brought me closer to God—because there's more space in my life for him.
Copyright © 2010 by the author or Christianity Today/Kyria.com.
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