Recently I was blessed to read and review Barry C. Black’s latest book (Nothing to Fear) published through Tyndale House. There was a great deal that spoke to my heart, mind, and spirit in the book. One of the chapters near the end especially grabbed my attention. The title was “Live A Less Complicated Life”. When I looked at the title I was aware I would likely read a lot more of what many are writing and urging all of us to consider—simplify our lives.
As I began to dig into the chapter, I found many of the things I thought I would see as well as some things that were worded in a fresh way and caught my attention. One example is these sentences near the very beginning of the chapter:
“How can we stay fearless in a world that seems to guarantee to every life the complications of misery and trial? Perhaps the answer is to stop believing that ‘whatever will be, will be’, and to begin, with intentionality, to choose simplicity, the less-complicated road not often taken.”
I can easily confess that I have lived most of my life chocked to the brim. I can give you hundreds of reasons why, including that most of them were really good things. One of the craziest of those was when I was teaching full-time while going to graduate school, being a wife, and being a mom. During those five years, we also had two children graduate from high school and later one of those graduate from college and get married with all the things those add to a schedule. I was also still trying to stay active in a ministry at our church. Yes, I know it sounds crazy.
One of the side effects was that I got used to living that way and thought it was “normal”. I got used to less sleep, less exercise, less time to read and relax except on vacation. There was less time to enjoy cooking in the kitchen or meandering through a shopping mall with my favorite coffee. There was also less time for leisurely lingering over time with the Lord each morning.
Vacation would mean I would need the first couple of days to get enough sleep to enjoy the time. I would take a deep breath of the fresh air, read a great book, enjoy fabulous time with my husband, and take in spectacular scenery before jumping right back into the pushed schedule.
If I am honest, I will tell you that I am not sure I would change much of it given the circumstances and goals at the time; but after two years of retirement with less complications, I see how rich my life can be when it is full and yet simpler. Much of that comes because no job or role demands I do something or go somewhere at a specific time or place whether it affects my sleep or quiet time or not. One of the benefits is that I sleep better at night and another is losing a few pounds because there is not so much cortisol surging through my system.
Hans Hofmann, a twentieth century abstract expressionist painter defines simplicity this way:
“the ability…to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak”
Even though he was undoubtedly speaking of this in the context of his art, it is a definition that speaks volumes to me.
Black’s book lists nine principles to address the theme of the chapter and I won’t detail all of them here, but one of them is not on a lot of lists you might read on this topic and bears repeating here. Under “Number your days” Black brings the truth home in convicting words:
“We are not to number our weeks, months, years, or decades; life is too fragile and brief. We’re told to number our days. This suggests to me the importance of enjoying the spice of every day of life. Could it mean that we should live every day as if it were our last, because one day it will be?
The body doesn’t seem to adequately forewarn us when we’re reaching the end of life’s journey.
But the Bible warns us, ‘Be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.’”
Of course we are to serve and do a great many things with the time that has been allotted to us, but we ought never to fail to simply ‘be’ as well.
A few years ago one of my dearest friends and I had lunch together at a lovely restaurant set in the midst of a beautiful landscape including a lake, trees, and various bushes. It was autumn and as each of us got back in our cars to get back to our complicated lives and were driving the winding lane to the street, I noticed a row of trees whose color was vibrantly spectacular!! I called my friend on her cell phone to comment on them and she said she hadn’t noticed them.
Yes, it was a small thing like many small things we can miss. I have often been the one who missed seeing something of great beauty too, but this one instance reminded us both we needed to choose to be more intentional about living a less complicated life. This incident is one we tease about, but remember often. The good thing is that neither of us has missed the beauty of stunning autumn color when we are leaving a restaurant again. That’s a blessing because it reminds us of God’s goodness and creative genius.