Excerpt from The Making Of An Ordinary Saint

Sim­plic­i­ty is an inward real­i­ty that results in an out­ward lifestyle. Both are necessary. 

The inward real­i­ty of sim­plic­i­ty is beau­ti­ful­ly encap­su­lat­ed in Matthew chap­ter 6, espe­cial­ly Jesus’s con­clud­ing words that we are to seek first the king­dom of God” and the right­eous­ness of this king­dom, and all that is need­ed for life will be added to us.1 This laser-beam focus on a with-God life” in God’s king­dom is the inward real­i­ty of sim­plic­i­ty. As Jesus reminds us, when our eye is sin­gle, our whole body will be full of light. 

Three key atti­tudes of heart help to sum­ma­rize this inter­nal focus. If what we have we can receive as a gift from God; and if what we have we know is to be cared for by God; and if what we have can be avail­able to oth­ers when it is clear­ly right and good, then we are liv­ing in the inward real­i­ty of sim­plic­i­ty. But if what we have we feel that we alone have got­ten; and if what we have we believe is up to us to hold on to; and if what we have we can­not make avail­able to oth­ers when it is clear­ly right and good, then we are liv­ing in duplicity. 

To expe­ri­ence the lib­er­at­ing inte­ri­or spir­it of sim­plic­i­ty will affect how we live, some­times quite dra­mat­i­cal­ly. How­ev­er, we quick­ly learn that the out­ward lifestyle of sim­plic­i­ty will be as var­ied as indi­vid­u­als and the mul­ti­fac­eted cir­cum­stances that make up their lives. We must nev­er allow sim­plic­i­ty to dete­ri­o­rate into anoth­er set of soul-killing legalisms. 

Nev­er­the­less, it is pos­si­ble to think in terms of cer­tain con­trol­ling prin­ci­ples that can guide our deci­sions in the out­ward lifestyle of sim­plic­i­ty. For exam­ple, we can think in terms of buy­ing things for their use­ful­ness rather than their sta­tus. Or we can learn to reject any­thing that is pro­duc­ing an addic­tion in us. Or we can learn to enjoy many things with­out need­ing to own them. And we can devel­op many oth­er sim­i­lar prin­ci­ples. When our inter­nal focus is clear, the Spir­it of God will most cer­tain­ly guide our out­ward decisions. 

Always remem­ber that sim­plic­i­ty is both a dis­ci­pline and a grace. It is a dis­ci­pline because we are called to do some­thing. Sim­plic­i­ty does not just fall on our heads. We are to take up a con­scious­ly cho­sen course of action that involves both group and indi­vid­ual life. It is also a grace: a grace because the life that comes from our efforts is giv­en to us by God. We know this by expe­ri­ence, for the results are always far in excess of the effort we put in. The life which sim­plic­i­ty brings is a super­nat­ur­al gift to be gra­cious­ly received. 

In the midst of the Nazi ter­ror, Diet­rich Bon­ho­ef­fer said, To be sim­ple is to fix one’s eye sole­ly on the sim­ple truth of God at a time when all con­cepts are being con­fused, dis­tort­ed, and turned upside-down.”2 Such a focus will set us free from dou­ble-mind­ed­ness and enable us to cut through the Gor­dian knots of life.

Fos­ter, Nathan. The Mak­ing of an Ordi­nary Saint: My Jour­ney from Frus­tra­tion to Joy with the Spir­i­tu­al Dis­ci­plines. Bak­er Pub­lish­ing Group.

For each chap­ter in Nathan’s book, Richard Fos­ter writes an intro­duc­to­ry essay — like this one from the chap­ter on simplicity.

[1] See Matthew 6:33

[2] Diet­rich Bon­ho­ef­fer, Ethics (New York: Touch­stone, 1995), 70.

Originally published October 2014

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