Adventures in Thanks-Living

Living the gift of life one breath at a time

Archive for the tag “simplicity”

Hold Lightly–and then LET GO!

Travel Lightly

Have you ever pondered just how little you really need? I have, and the answer never fails to surprise me. I always need less than I really think I do.

This month I’m participating (lurking mostly) in a Facebook group called “The Month of 100 Things 2014.” The idea behind the group is to support one another in the process of removing 100 things (or more) from one’s life, belongings, and possessions. The convener is one Dawn Rundman–teacher, writer, presenter, and senior editor at Augsburg Fortress Publishers, where she develops resources for children. She’s also a musician, spouse, and mother; in other words, she’s one busy woman.

Even the busiest among us can stand to shed some stuff, and most of us can ditch 100 things without batting so much as one eyelash. The problem is that there’s a lot of fear and insecurity in getting rid of possessions. We start to worry and ask questions: What if I need it? What if it’s valuable? What if those hideous trousers really do come back into fashion? Fretting about the questions allows us to avoid coming to terms with the process that’s really a very healthy one.

The key is to “hold lightly” to our possessions, realizing that we really don’t own anything anyway. Everything simply passes through our hands for our use, enjoyment, and (if we’re doing things right) for the betterment of our world. God created all of it, and we get to use it for a time. It’s all about love, grace, stewardship, and faith.

Last time I checked not even the Pharaohs managed to take their belongings with them to the afterlife, but people keep on trying to hang on for dear life to the detritus of life itself. Divorce proceeding become bitter battles over such seemingly insignificant arguments over who gets to keep the Smurf jelly jar glass collection. Really?

So how does one train oneself to hold lightly in a world that proudly proclaims “he or she who dies with the most toys wins”? It takes practice and effort and the power of supportive community.

The joy of learning to hold lightly is that it makes a person more generous. If you’re willing to share your stuff, you’re well on your way to a glad and generous heart. So here’s a project for this week…

Get rid of three things each day. Just three things. That’s only 21 items for the entire week. Either give or toss each item, but preferably give so that someone else may benefit from the use of an item you no longer need or want. If you find you want to do more look up the 100 Things facebook group and ask to join.

I hope you’ll take the time to share this idea and to comment below about your experience. Want a little motivation to get started? Read Matthew 6:25-34. And then…just LET GO! Three things. Seven days. One week. You can do this! We can do this!

Photo: Alice Popkorn, Creative Commons

Advertisements

First Fruits

So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me. — Deuteronomy 26:10a

This half verse snippet from the Old Testament passage from the Revised Common Lectionary for the First Sunday in Lent is taken from instructions for the proper celebration of the Harvest Festival. The people were to bring the first fruits of their land land labor as an offering to God and as a reminder that all things come from the Creator and ultimately belong to God.

Most of us are no longer farmers. We don’t till the soil unless it’s in our backyard and kitchen gardens. We earn our livelihood in other ways. So how, then, does this instruction apply to 21st century folk? Is it strictly to be passed off as left to the tithe–ten percent of our money? I think not, although I am a believer in giving as generously as possible of one’s financial resources, more than ten percent if possible. Besides, money is a tool; it isn’t “ground” in the sense that this passage is talking about. Money is not good soil, not rich humus, or reclaimed compost. Money is a value exchange, so there must be something more.

That something, I think, is each person, your very self, body and soul. Jesus commands us in the gospels of Matthew (22:37-40), Mark (12:29-31), and Luke (10:27-29) to love the LORD completely and to love our neighbor as ourselves. This completion of the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4), “Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloyhenu Adonai Echad,” reminds us that we belong to God and to one another and our lives should reflect this truth.

So if our body, mind, and soul are the “land” that God has given us, then it follows that we give back to God the very best parts of all that we are and all that we have.

  • We must cultivate and tend to our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being with diligence, intentionality, and care,
  • We must nourish ourselves with good things–prayer, worship, study, relationships, and generosity (the five basic practices of discipleship), and
  • We must return to the LORD the very best of ourselves.

I think it is this third point that is the most difficult for me, and probably for all of us. It is so easy to take “ownership” of our lives, giving the best of ourselves as we want, not necessarily considering God in the equation. Worse yet, we tend to give God the leftovers–an hour or two on Sunday when we want, whatever funds are left over after we meet our own needs and wants, and whatever service strikes our fancy or the empty spots on our already overbooked schedules.

God reminded the people of Israel to bring their best, their first fruits and say, “The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.  So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me” (Deut. 8-10).

Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, understood this concept of first fruits that come from God and belong to God when he said, “Let me offer you in sacrifice the service of my thoughts and my tongue, but first give me what I may offer you.”

How might we offer our first fruits this week? What is the best of your time, talent, and treasure that you may offer to God, in the name of Christ, and for the sake of the Gospel? Whatever you discern, remember these words:

Don’t give last, and don’t give God less.

Give to God first, and give your best.

Blessings on your week, on your continued journey into a Simple Lent, and on your generous sharing of your very best!

Photos by Mr. Kris and JustinLowery.com. Thanks!

Being Content

“The life of contemplation in action and purity of heart is, then, a life of great simplicity and inner liberty. One is not seeking anything special or demanding any particular satisfaction. One is content with what is.” –Thomas Merton

At the end of this week, just how content are you? Are you content with your home, your relationships, your clothing, the food you had to eat, your car, your job? Do you find yourself saying, “I wish…” or “If only…”?

Lent invites us to journey inward to find contentment so that we can look outward and share our lives with others. How wonderful this world would be if we all stopped seeking any kind of preferential or special treatment or ceased to make demands! What might our world look like if knowing we have enough we can look to see that our sisters and brothers have plenty, too?

Today I watched a short video about “first world problems” voiced/acted by people in developing nations. It was a humbling few minutes. Even though I consider myself a person of fairly simple needs, I was struck and a bit embarrassed by all that I take for granted during the course of a day. I say this not to shame or point a finger at anyone, only to share my experience.

How much is enough? How much is too much? What does it mean to be content? I can answer these questions for myself, but I cannot answer them for you. Why not spend a few minutes contemplating these questions as you lean into a new week?

Here’s the video if you’d like to watch it:

Photo by JustinLowery.com. Thanks!

Note: I will be taking a Sabbath from blogging every Sunday during Lent. I hope you will enjoy some quiet time, too!

Nurture Relationships

And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. — 1 Corinthians 13:13

Happy Valentine’s Day. I hope you were able to tell the ones you love how very much you love them. Better yet, I hope you were able to show your love in a variety of simple, kind, and generous ways.

So what does Valentine’s Day have to do with keeping a simple Lent? The answer is nothing and everything. The commercial celebration we are urged and guilted into celebrating has nothing to do with Lent. The idea of love–of God, neighbor, and self–has everything to do with today.

…you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these. — Mark 12:30-31

A simple Lent begins with tending to those things most important in our lives–God, neighbor, and self. Our fast-paced hyper-connected world tries to tell us that many things demand our attention, our time, and our money; however, this is a lie.

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. — Matthew 6:21

Our needs as human beings are quite simple–food, shelter, clothes, and relationships. If we strip away all the extraneous “stuff” of life and focus on the basics, then life begins to look quite different. We find ourselves equipped to really live each precious minute.

Whoever and whatever you value–that’s where your time, your attention, your focus, your money, and your heart will be. To keep a Simple Lent spend some time this week reflecting on the three scripture passages above and on whom and what you treasure.

Choose wisely; if you do not, your heart will surely be fragmented, broken, and battered by the storms of this world.

Photo by Alice Popkorn. Thanks!

Simple Lent Begins

Today is the first day of Lent. I’ve taken a short break from the blog due to an overly busy schedule and the need to prepare for this series–Simple Lent.

For those of you who don’t keep Lent there will still be much of value for you in this 40 day series. Do keep checking in. The emphasis will be on examining identity and on simplifying life by stripping away non-essentials to live the days you are given fully and joyfully.

Ashes: Reminder and New Beginning

This day in the liturgical Christian tradition is Ash Wednesday. Priests and pastors will rub the ashes from last year’s Palm Sunday palms into each person’s forehead in the shape of a cross. This simple act with its words “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” illustrates the reality that our time here on earth is fleeting.

Every year my spouse and I undertake the duty of burning the palms and preparing the ashes for our congregations. One can buy ashes–sifted, smooth, and silky–for Ash Wednesday, but somehow it doesn’t seem right to purchase them. Just as life must be lived and cannot be bought, so too the palms should be burned, the ashes sifted and pulverized. It is dirty work, humble work, and in a way, holy work. The joy of Palm Sunday is reduced to a tiny pile of dust, changed in form and reduced to almost nothing. As I said, it is humbling to witness.

Burning the ashes raises a question that is also a lament: Why do we so complicate our time and our lives? This question has been asked through the ages, and unfortunately is nothing new. British poet William Wordsworth wrote “The world is too much with us; late and soon/Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:/Little we see in nature that is ours;/We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

The cross of ashes sears into our soul the bittersweet news that time is elusive and fleeting. Our days are short and are made for more than getting and spending, more than rushing here and there, and more than turning inward to focus on our temporary existence of flesh and bone.

The soul seeks more. The soul is the self burned away, the beautiful remainder of our identity as created beings designed for relationship, for love, and for sharing.

This day, whether you bear the ashen cross on your forehead or whether you simply reflect on your life and its meaning, commit to a 40 day process of stripping away that which is nonessential. Accept the invitation to reduce the adiaphora of your life to ashes.

Remember, from ashes mixed with good soil new life may spring. The seed may grow, flower, and bear fruit. But nothing new will ever grow if the detritus of life covers and chokes the garden.

What is your hope? What are your dreams? What is essential? Ask the questions. Strip away the layers. Welcome to Simple Lent.

Thanksliving Activity:

Here’s one of my favorite songs by the group Casting Crowns. “American Dream” addresses the question of what’s really important and what matters. What is your dream? To what do you cling? What legacy are you building?

 

Photos by dennysmagikland and auntjojo. Thanks!

A Word for Wednesay

Here’s a word for Wednesday–

Simple

Ponder this word for a minute. According to dictionary.com, “simple” means:

  1. easy to understand, deal with, use, etc.: a simple matter; simple tools.
  2. not elaborate or artificial; plain: a simple style.
  3. not ornate or luxurious; unadorned: a simple gown.
  4. unaffected; unassuming; modest: a simple manner.
  5. not complicated: a simple design.

But the concept of simple is so much more than its dictionary definition–and so much less.

If you want to really live life, then keep it simple.

Be content. Want less. Let go of more. Declutter both your space and your life. Learn when to say “yes” and when to say “no.” Practice simple living.

It may take time to figure out how simple actually works. It’s a countercultural act of defiance. It is gift. Simple is a way to live, a way to be that has the capacity to set one free.

Sounds simple, right? Unfortunately, it isn’t so easy. But have faith. Try it. Practice it. You’ll get it. You will learn. It’s as simple as that.

Photos by naydeeyah and Kate Ter Haar. Thanks!

 

Ditching the Detritus

Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated. — Confucious

Simplicity involves unburdening your life, and living more lightly with fewer distractions that interfere with a high quality life, as defined uniquely by each individual.” — Linda Breen Pierce

I am convinced that “stuff” has a tendency to multiply like guinea pigs–fast and furiously. In fact, we live in a world where the accumulation and collection of stuff is encouraged at almost every turn. Buy this, collect that, you need one of these…so the consumer wooing goes. If one listens to this siren song, the result is a life full of stuff, most of which is unneeded for one’s happiness and is, in fact, downright unnecessary and even wasteful.

Think about it. Just how much does a person really need?

Do you ever feel awash in a sea of paperwork? Do you regularly look at drawers or shelves or closets or entire rooms and feel exhausted just contemplating where to start with the overabundance of stuff? Do you feel worn out from the work of managing your “stuff”? Are you holding onto things out of guilt or obligation (Great Aunt Mary’s awful vase or the dollar store tchotchke a student gave you eight years ago)?  Does your detritus (what a great word!) prevent you from living fully and gratefully? Could others benefit from what you do not need?

If you answered yes to one or more questions, then maybe 2013 is the year for you to ditch your detritus. Someone will have to do it eventually. Would you rather simplify now or leave it to your children and other family members to sort through in the midst of grief and loss? Would you rather have someone hurriedly sort your stuff, consigning bits and pieces of your life to various places–including the landfill?

The more simply you can live, the more choices will present themselves, and the more options you will likely have. Can you imagine heading out in your car with your life’s possessions or even taking off with a couple of suitcases? Granted, not every person can minimalize his or her life to this degree, but all of us can take practical steps toward ditching detritus and polishing the contours of our existence.

Here are a few ways to start:

Choose one small space and a short span of time–a drawer and fifteen minutes, a closet and an hour, a room and an afternoon–and determine to make a change. Pull everything out. Spare nothing. Make three piles. One pile is for that which you must absolutely keep, one pile is for items whose fate remains unsure, and the final pile is for items that can leave your life without question. Take the unsure items and box them away for six weeks. If you aren’t forced to open the box, then part with it, preferably unopened to your favorite local charity.

Make a memory, not a mess–What about those precious photos and gifts you keep out of duty, obligation, or love? The easiest way to deal with these items is to photograph them, and keep a digital file of memories. If you are crafty or artsy, consider making something new from them or at least making an artful arrangement for a photograph. Then release these items for others to use and enjoy.

Create some capital–If you are strapped for cash, then by all means find an outlet such as Amazon, half.com, ebay, or Craigslist to sell items of significant cash value. Books, dvds, and vinyl of marginal value (it’s no longer a good deal to sell via Amazon unless you have items of value or significant stock) can be bulk grouped and sold locally via Craigslist or through a used bookstore, game outlet, or entertainment store. Hold a rummage sale.

Give–Consider simply giving items away. Local charities are often happy to take items for resale. If you have books of value, do what my mother did, and pass them along for others to enjoy.  Share from your abundance. Remember, we really don’t “own” anything permanently in this world anyway. We come here empty-handed, and we will leave the same way. If you created some capital and don’t need the funds to pay off debt or secure a college fund, then give the proceeds to the charity of your choice. Keep only what you need; share the rest.

Determine to keep your life lean and clean–Once you’ve rid yourself of detritus, determine to live a simple life that is free of unnecessary stuff and clutter.

  • Place added value on relationships, community, and experience.
  • Make it known that you would prefer any gifts to be in the form of consumables, experiences/time, or gifts to charitable organizations to benefit others. Consider alternatives to the traditional holiday gift-giving glut, such as limiting the number of gifts, choosing to give only fair-trade or consumable items, or exchanging handmade and home-crafted gifts.
  • Keep only items that are functional or beautiful to you.
  • Maintain a “loose hold” on things. Be always willing to let items come in and out of your life without fuss.
  • Designate one period of time each week to stem the tide of clutter and consumption.
  • Avoid recreational shopping.
  • Hold to a one in/one out rule–especially with clothes. If you bring an item into your closet or life, send another item on its merry way.
  • Cultivate the art of giving from your abundance–joyfully and readily–as part of a life of thanks-living.

These are by no means new ideas, but it helps to hear this message over and against the encouragement and pressure our society places on needless, mindless, and excessive consumption. Mindful living and thoughtful use of resources helps to foster a life of thanks-living, and that is a very good thing indeed.

  • How do you discard the detritus of your life in a way that is healthy, fruitful, and mindful of the environment?
  • What advice can you offer from personal experience?
  • What do you hope to accomplish in simplifying your life in 2013?

Photos by coiros and puuikibeach. Thanks!

Big Praise for Small and Simple

Any fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius-and a lot of courage-to move in the opposite direction. – Albert Einstein

Why are we encouraged to assume that bigger is always better? That complexity is more advanced than simplicity? We choose the larger grocery store because we are conditioned to believe that there will be more choice and lower prices. The big box store is appealing because we can make one stop to purchase many different items at a reasonable price–thus theoretically saving time and money.

But is this really the case? Our locally owned grocery store has more variety per square foot than the grandiose foreign-owned competitor. One can purchase perfectly fine gardening tools at a local hardware store and plants from a community farm stand rather than driving several extra miles to save a dollar or two.

I am thankful for any chance to enjoy a smaller, simpler daily existence. I am much happier supporting a local farmer or sharing plants, tools, and time with a neighbor. Life on a smaller scale means I am able to really see the ground on which I stand rather than always whizzing by it at 65 miles per hour. I can walk to the post office and say hello to folks on the way, meet new people or greet old friends while walking the dogs, and enjoy the view of the rolling hills and orchards from the top of the hill near our house.

My husband and I can spend time together doing the dishes after supper rather than sticking them in the dishwasher and plopping down on the sofa to watch TV. It is a small and simple thing–dishes, water, and the company of the one I love–but it is worth far more than any sitcom. It’s a prime example of companionship trumping convenience.

Think about it. What do we give up when we add needless layers of complexity to our lives? More stuff requires more money to acquire it, bigger space to store it, and more time to manage it. Even modern kitchen conveniences that were supposed to save us time have only freed our time so that we can clutter it with other things.

How can you make your life a bit simpler today? What one small thing can you celebrate right now? Can you spare a few minutes to connect with those you love? Small and simple. Try it. You just might like it.

Photo by Nanagyei used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

Lessons Learned in Lent

The 40/40/40 Lent Challenge is history. I spent the week following Easter recovering from Holy Week, enjoying my family, and reflecting on the Lenten challenge to honor relationships, pare down possessions, and live more thankfully. It has been a busy time but a good one.

So what did I learn from my Lenten discipline this year?

1) I discovered that so many people have had an impact on my life and have shaped who I am today. I could spend a year writing notes and e-mails and still not exhaust the list! This tells me that virtually everyone with whom we come into contact has the potential to shape us for good (or ill). The key is to look for the best in others, to always be open to learning, and to accept the gifts others bring to your life. We do not live in isolation, and part of the joy of living is making and strengthening our web of connection and relationship.

2) I have too much stuff. It must replicate like guinea pigs in the night because there always seems to be more of it whenever I think I have cleaned out and cleared out my life and home.  Either that or I’m learning to live and be content with a whole lot less! Likely it is a combination of both! I’ll continue to dis-attach myself to as much stuff as possible and instead place value in people and experiences.

3) We all have so much for which to be thankful. Naming just one thing a day is like eating only one Lay’s potato chip or a single M & M. Splurge on gratitude; there’s no calories or fat, and the more you give thanks the fuller and richer your life will be.

Thank you for following along with me. I hope you’ll continue to stop in for more adventures in thanks-living. There’s always something for which to be grateful.

Peace and blessing!

Photos by Ben Gray, bradipo, and Nick Saltmarsh used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

Post Navigation