Together with Debbie, my marriage partner for over forty years, I enjoy watching Masterchef Australia on TV. There is one phrase that the judges constantly use, especially when one of the contestants brings a dish that is overly complex and cluttered. One of them will say, “You must simplify, simply, simplify.”
Let me suggest that ‘simplify is an important word at this difficult time. Living through the challenges brought on by the lockdown restrictions has brought much complexity into our everyday lives. We have needed to juggle diaries, learn new skills, adapt schedules, face financial losses, deal with unfamiliar tasks, and the list goes on and on. Speaking with a single mother recently who for the past few months has worked from her ‘office’ at home, and home schooled her two kids, and done her own house work, and exercised to keep herself fit, and gone out only to buy groceries, she used a phrase that underlined this complexity, “I just feel so overwhelmed all the time.”
Against this background I want to explore what simplicity may look like. When we take Jesus’ teachings seriously, and integrate them wisely into our complex lives, his Spirit breathes on us the freedom of simplicity. Simplicity is both a grace-gift that God gives us and a sure sign that our faith has taken root within us. We discover that, amid the many challenges and crises that threaten to overwhelm us, we can live a little more freely and lightly. We regain balance and perspective regarding what matters most. There is less complexity and more simplicity.
This journey into simplicity starts on the inside of our busy lives. Jesus constantly emphasised this. In the greatest sermon ever preached, he said, “Seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33) We need to be clear what Jesus was not saying when he spoke these words. He was not implying that things like food and clothing are not important, or that we cannot have nice things, or that we do not need to plan for tomorrow.
Rather, he was inviting us to reset the direction of our hearts, to shift the point of gravity, to relocate the focus of our attention. To put it simply, he wanted us to let God become the centre of our lives. Often God is relegated to the outside or the periphery of our lives, but not acknowledged at the centre. The results are tragic. On the one hand, we have all our obligations and responsibilities pulling us all over the place, and then on the other hand, we have God tucked away in a separate religious sphere that is totally unrelated to what we are doing each day. Little wonder that we live cluttered, scattered, and unintegrated lives.
Over the years I have been learning that this all changes when we let God be God at the centre of our daily living. Gradually I have come to see that God does not want to be on the ‘outside’ of my life. God longs to be at the heart of all that I am doing, whatever it may be.
So, when I go running in the early morning, I seek God in the beauty of the new day. When in conversation with someone, I want to be surprised by God’s presence. When struggling with a difficult deadline, I ask to receive God’s help. I want my whole life, with all its many strains and struggles, to find its centre in the living God who has come to us in Christ.
You may wonder if such a life is possible today? Can we live, moment by moment, with Christ at the centre? I do believe that we can learn, with lots of help from the Spirit, to live I an ongoing communion with God. When we get up in the morning, rather than reach out for our mobile phone, we can whisper to God, ‘Lord, you be the centre of my life today.’ When we have our first cup of coffee, we can say inwardly, ‘Thank you God.’ We can recognise every person we meet as an image - bearer of God. Every email we send, we can send with a blessing for that person. As we step into this learning journey, we will find out in our own experience that we are living from a new centre with some life-giving consequences.
One of these consequences, even when life remain complex, is a simple contentment. When we consciously let God be God at the centre of all our living, we know that we are not facing things on our own. Now we have access to both the grace of God’s presence and power. We do whatever we must do, as best as we can, and we trust God with all the outcomes. We live with gratitude for every gift that comes our way, however small they may be. There is an inner peace, serenity and joy that gradually fills us, and which also begins to spill out into our relationships with those around us. We find ourselves on the journey towards simplicity.
Let me draw out one other insight from Jesus’ words about this journey. Simplicity involves putting people before things. Go back to his words one more time: “Seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness…” Here Jesus used a big word about which scholars have written much. May I suggest that this was one word that Jesus radically redefined. In Jewish culture at that time, there were 613 commandments. To be righteous meant keeping all of them. Can you imagine how stressful and complex that was? However, when Jesus was once asked about what commandment was the greatest, he replied simply: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and the greatest commandment. And the second is like it. Love your neighbour as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. (Matthew 22:37-39)
We have already underlined the importance of loving God by letting God be the centre of our lives. Now we must stress that loving God also involves putting people before things. They go together. One main reason why life gets overwhelmed and cluttered is when we put things before people. Rather than learning to love people and use things for their good, we spend our lives loving things and using people. We become overly attached to material and outward things, often becoming totally self-absorbed and self-interested. We spend our lives huffing and puffing to buy more stuff, accumulate more stuff, possess more stuff. Simplicity becomes a stranger.
One of the gifts of the Coronavirus has been to remind us that we are all deeply connected. Through the pandemic God has reminded us again of the scaredness of each human life. When we realise this, we move away from our total absorption in ourselves towards a greater interest in those around us. We begin to see that people matter. We listen to their stories. We respond to their needs. We do not take anyone for granted. Every human encounter gives us an opportunity to experience God in our neighbour. Material things, important as they are, find their proper place in our lives. Most importantly, simplicity becomes a dear friend again.
The great contemporary challenge is to find simplicity in complexity. Wonderfully, the risen Christ comes to us as we face the complexities of our current lives and issues an invitation. He invites you and me to let God become the centre of our lives and to put people before things. He promises us that, as we do this, all that we need will be given. Let us today ask for the help of his Spirit to respond to his invitation. We will discover the freedom and lightness that simplicity brings into our complex and cluttered lives. It is a precious gift!