Introductory Note:

I love this reflection from Adele Calhoun. She explains how habits of acquiring, full schedules, and ambitious undertakings can engulf us in “muchness and manyness” that competes with our attention to God. When I consider Richard Foster’s description of Simplicity in A Celebration of Discipline and read Calhoun’s reflections here, it makes me wonder if we could add another Beattitude to the list: Blessed are the aging, for they have more margin for God. Some margin comes to us circumstantially and some through intentional discipline. Calhoun’s reflection questions and spiritual exercises in this excerpt from her Spiritual Disciplines Handbook encourage us to take hold of both opportunities: we can embrace losses and limitations as occasions to have our priorities re-calibrated, and we can regularly engage in Spirit-guided purging of non-essentials so that our love for God and others can flourish.

Grace Pouch
Content Manager

Excerpt from Spiritual Disciplines Handbook

An old Shak­er song goes “‘Tis a gift to be sim­ple. Tis gift to be free.” We may agree with the sen­ti­ment, but there has nev­er been a more com­pli­cat­ed, clut­tered, bureau­crat­ic soci­ety than the one we live in today. In fact, the good life” is often defined by how full, busy and com­pli­cat­ed our lives are. Mod­ern life is not sim­ple. It is always about adding one more thing. But the more we add, the more can go wrong: one car, one set of prob­lems; two cars, two sets. Adding the lat­est, the biggest and the best to our lives wreaks hav­oc in our souls as well as our environment. 

Keep­ing it sim­ple has fall­en on hard times. And though we like the idea, we also like our choic­es. Jesus teach­es us that free­dom is not found in hav­ing and doing but in keep­ing God and his will first in our heart. Do not store up for your­selves trea­sures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for your­selves trea­sures in heav­en… For where your trea­sure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19 – 2 1). Jesus wants us to know that we don’t need all the things or expe­ri­ences we think we do. What we real­ly need is to keep first things first — Jesus and his king­dom. Life becomes much more sim­ple when one thing mat­ters most. 

Through­out church his­to­ry fol­low­ers of Jesus have inten­tion­al­ly vowed to live sim­ply. Fol­low­ing the exam­ple of the Lord, they have giv­en up com­fort and pos­ses­sions and the clut­ter of life to leave larg­er spaces for lov­ing God and neighbor. 

Sim­plic­i­ty cre­ates mar­gins and spaces and open­ness in our lives. It hon­ors the resources of our small plan­et. It offers us the leisure of tast­ing the present moment. Sim­plic­i­ty asks us to let go of the tan­gle of wants so we can receive the sim­ple gifts of life that can­not be tak­en away. Sleep­ing, eat­ing, walk­ing, giv­ing and receiv­ing love, the ben­e­fits we take for grant­ed, are amaz­ing gifts. Sim­plic­i­ty invites us into these dai­ly plea­sures that can open us to God, who is present in them all. 

Aging has always been about sim­pli­fy­ing and let­ting go. Soon­er or lat­er we real­ize that we can’t man­age all the stuff and activ­i­ty any­more. We have to let go. The prac­tice of let­ting go and embrac­ing sim­plic­i­ty is one way we pre­pare our­selves for what is to come. One day we all will have to let go of every­thing—even our own breath. It will be a day of utter sim­plic­i­ty — a day when the impor­tance of stuff fades. Learn­ing to live sim­ply pre­pares us for our last breath while cul­ti­vat­ing in us the free­dom to tru­ly live here and now.

Reflec­tion Questions

  1. In what ways are you sus­cep­ti­ble to the enti­tle­ment men­tal­i­ty of our age? 
  2. How has the more is bet­ter” men­tal­i­ty shaped you? 
  3. Do you envy those who have more things or more oppor­tu­ni­ties than you? Explain. 
  4. How much of your iden­ti­ty is wrapped up in what you own and where you go? Who are you with­out all these acqui­si­tions and opportunities?
  5. What is it like for you to give away things you still want and like? 
  6. When have you down­sized? What was it like for you? 

Spir­i­tu­al Exercises

  1. Ask God to help you speak the sim­ple truth. • Prac­tice speak­ing sim­ply — no dou­ble mean­ings or half-truths that put you in the best light. • Let this prac­tice help you become aware of when you ratio­nal­ize, deny, blame and spin. 
  2. Uncom­pli­cate your life by choos­ing a few areas in which you wish to prac­tice let­ting go.” Clean out the garage, base­ment, clos­et or attic. Go on a sim­ple vaca­tion. Eat more sim­ply. • What is this like for you? 
  3. Inten­tion­al­ly lim­it your choic­es. Do you need six dif­fer­ent kinds of break­fast cere­al, hun­dreds of TV chan­nels or four ten­nis rack­ets? What is it like to lim­it your choic­es? • Does it feel free, or do want and envy sur­face? • Talk to God about this. 
  4. If some­one admires some­thing of yours, give it away. Find out just how attached you are to your things. • What is that like for you? 
  5. If you can get where you need to go by walk­ing rather than dri­ving, try walking. 
  6. Make a cat­a­log of all the gad­gets you have in your home, from the dish­wash­er to the lawn­mow­er. • Which gad­gets have made you freer? • Which could you share? Which could you get rid of and not real­ly miss? 
  7. Where have you com­pli­cat­ed your life with God? • Con­sid­er what actu­al­ly brings you into the pres­ence of Christ. Spend time there.
  8. Prac­tice giv­ing no excus­es, no apolo­gies, no spon­ta­neous yeses. • When you are tempt­ed to say yes, stop your­self and say, Let me think about this for a moment. I’ll call you back in ten min­utes.” Even ten min­utes can afford you the time to con­sid­er whether you real­ly want to say yes. • When you are tempt­ed to apol­o­gize for some­thing like a messy house, don’t. An apol­o­gy can give the impres­sion that your house is always neat and clean. Per­haps peo­ple need to see that you do live with a cer­tain amount of clut­ter and that it’s OK. • When you want to make an excuse for some­thing like being late or eat­ing on the run, let the excuse go. Accept your­self and the real­i­ty of your life. • No excus­es, no apolo­gies and no spon­ta­neous yeses can actu­al­ly be a step in dis­cern­ing what you tru­ly need to apol­o­gize for.

Tak­en from Spir­i­tu­al Dis­ci­plines Hand­book by Adele Ahlberg Cal­houn. ©2015 by Adele Ahlberg Cal­houn. Used by per­mis­sion of Inter­Var­si­ty Press, P.O. Box 1400, Down­ers Grove IL 60515 – 1426. www​.ivpress​.com

Pho­to by Joel & Jas­min Førest­bird on Unsplash

Text First Published October 2005 · Last Featured on Renovare.org October 2021

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