The Constant Need to Simplify

We’re focusing on 4 spiritual disciplines this year as a church – one each quarter.  The first one is simplicity – simplifying our lives in order to make room for the Lord.  Often, our lives are so busy that we allow important things like our relationship with the Lord to get pushed aside.  Simplicity is the act of cutting back on those things that are controlling our lives so that we can have margin in our lives for spending time with the Lord.  I wrote an article in 2002 when my children were 11, 7, and 6 years old about simplicity.  As with most young families, life was busy, and we were being controlled more and more by our calendar.  I had to do something…so I wrote an article about it! 🙂 And we also worked hard to simplify as a family.  Here’s a portion of what I wrote:

I’m reminded of a reunion I attended with several friends from college. We all met at one of the beautiful beaches on the shore of Lake Michigan. We spent the day catching up, eating, and swimming. The day was going along perfectly until a couple of us guys decided to climb to the top of one of the large sand dunes and run down it full speed into the water. I’ll never forget what happened to my fiend, Jeff. He is an average sized guy with short legs. As he raced down the side of the dune with reckless abandon, something awful happened. He allowed himself to go so fast that his short legs couldn’t keep up. Jeff’s body – chest first – hit the hard, sand-packed beach and skidded, coming to a stop within feet of the water. He lay there motionless for a couple of seconds and then shot up with his hands in the air as if to say, “I meant to do that!” He claimed that it didn’t hurt, but his fire-red chest told a different story.

Jeff went too fast, and he crashed. Families today are going too fast, and they are going to crash as well. Mike Yaconelli sees Satan at work behind this. He says in his book, Messy Spirituality, “While the church earnestly warns Christians to watch for the devil, the devil is sitting in the congregation encouraging everyone to keep busy doing ‘good things.’ “

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Many families will crash, all the while claiming that what they are doing is “good.” If we don’t make a serious effort to fight the onslaught of busyness in our homes, then we will be sucked in like everyone else. As I have been talking to families about their busy schedules, I realized that mine was too busy as well. Therefore, my wife and I have had to recently make some tough decisions.

Our daughter, Emily, is an excellent gymnast. She finished in the top group of girls this year in the state competition. She has been taking gymnastics for almost 3 years and has emerged as the best gymnast in her entire gym. A couple of weeks ago, her coaches visited with Michelle and I to unveil their plan for her. Among other things, they said that in order for her to continue at her level, she will be required to come to the gym 4 nights a week and compete nearly every weekend for 5 months straight. We were torn. Gymnastics has been very good for Emily, helping to develop her character in many ways. However, after much prayer and much discussion (discussion that included Emily as well), we decided to pull her out of gymnastics. Michelle and I were probably more saddened about it than Emily was, but we know that for the health and well-being of our family, this was the right decision. Now our lives are much less hectic, and we are able to show families firsthand that simplifying is a good thing.

We did put her back in to gymnastics later on, but I remember that period of “rest” from the grind of gymnastics as being very good for our family.  As our kids grew older and became more involved in extracurricular activities, we had to do other things to simplify like requiring them to clear out their Sunday schedules so that we could be together as a family for worship in the morning, eat lunch together, and attend our small group in the evening. I also remember encouraging our athletic son to choose only one sport rather than participate in two or three per year so that he could attend church and youth group with greater frequency.

Simplifying is not easy, and it will require sacrifice.  However, if we don’t discipline ourselves to constantly work at it, our relationship with the Lord and the intimacy that we need with Him will suffer.  In his book, Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster does a wonderful job with the issue of simplicity.  If you’d like to read an excerpt of his chapter on simplicity, click here.  I highly suggest you read the entire book this year.  Here’s the link for it at Amazon.