Our life experiences color the lenses through which we see the world, including words!
When seeing the words “simplicity” and “settling,” my friend, Norman, could not help but reflect on his work-life. Having been in the military, then working internationally and later on in ministry with an itinerant system, his life was anything but simple or settled!
Upon deeper reflection, he saw the positive sides, or wisdom, in both words. He offered me a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer to explain (I'm including a longer version of it for context):
“A man can hold his own here only if he can combine simplicity with wisdom…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…The wise man is the one who sees reality as it is, and who sees into the depths of things. That is why only that man is wise who sees reality in God…There is no true simplicity without wisdom and there is no wisdom without simplicity.”
Within this quote I, too, saw wisdom in both “simplicity” and “settling.”
And I was reminded of the Benedictine vow of “stability.” There’s a literal vow of stability for the Catholic men and women who commit to enter into, and be faithful to, a particular community in a particular place. It is fascinating to hear the stories of those who have been in a particular monastery for 40 years or more.
However, this literal vow to a place may be an impossibility for many of us as it was for Norman during his working years (though it is much more of a possibility during his retirement years!).
There is also a metaphorical or figurative vow of stability which is remaining focused on the Kingdom of God or what Bonhoeffer calls the “simple truth of God” wherever one finds oneself.
This does not mean ceasing to question or doubt, both of these can deepen faith (as working through questions and doubts in a marriage can deepen the relationship). In fact, settling our eye on the simple truth of God frees us to question and doubt!
One could say that "settling" in this context invites one's gaze to "rest and remain" on God.
So for Norman (& for us), “settling” does not have to be a negative word meaning a life-draining “giving up” or “resignation” and “simplicity” is not something that only occurs in retirement!
Instead, both can be the foundation for a creative life with God as we allow ourselves to see “reality as it is” by diving deeper into “simplicity” and “settling” as ways of Wisdom.
Spiritual Direction is a wonderful place to explore "simplicity" and "settling" in your own life.
I asked my dear friend, Linda, what she thought the difference between "simplicity" and "settling" were and her answer surprised me.
"Simplicity asks, 'What do you truly want?''"
She went on, "With settling, I may settle for what I don't want and since it's not what I want, I keep looking for it.'"
Then she shared an example from her own life.
Many years ago, a woman asked if she wanted a certain set of dishes for her wedding and if she did, this woman would buy them for her. She really did not want them, but she felt uncomfortable saying "no" so she received them as a wedding gift. Since she had them and could get more pieces to match, she expanded her collection of dishes she did not want but settled for. But she noticed something.
Whenever she was at a store that sold dishes, she looked at the patterns. Years of time and energy were spent on looking for dishes when she already had a full set! Her longing was left unsatisfied because she had settled so many years ago, afraid of offending the gift-giver.
Now having retired, she decided it was not too late and she knew what she wanted. Much to the surprise of her family (who never knew she did not like the dishes!), she decided to box up her collection and put them for sale on a neighborhood social media site . Then she went out and bought the dishes she truly wanted, a beautiful butterfly pattern. Another woman happened to see the dishes she had for sale and was overjoyed for she had been looking for those exact dishes because they reminded her of her mother!
Both were full of joy and satisfied with their purchases.
Guess what happened after that? My friend stopped looking for dishes!
We went on to talk about how we tend to buy things that are only on sale or we get what is cheap because we can have "more" of the item. Sometimes this is okay, but when it becomes a pattern, our collection of unwanted, unused stuff grows along with our dissatisfaction which compares and wants more.
What do you truly want?
It can be a difficult question. We need to stop and think rather than compulsively or fearfully say "yes" to what we do not want (or allowing others to decide for us or think we should want what others have).
Jesus often asked people like blind Bartimaeus, "What do you want me to do for you?"
It's not that Jesus could not see what Bartimaeus wanted, He wanted Bartimaeus to "see" and say for himself!
It is a simple question.
Yet answering honestly may just simplify the amount of internal and external stuff that becomes a burden--now that's a gift!
It’s what the old Shaker song says, at least! In fact, some lyrics say 'tis "the” rather than “a” gift to be simple.
But nothing seems simple anymore.
We live in a world of information (and misinformation!) at our fingertips. We're bombarded by choice at the grocery store and online. Constant comparison is exacerbated through social media. And stores like HomeGoods, Tuesday Morning, Ross, Overstock.com, Lowe's, Home Depot, and others are happy to feed our "more and better" obsession.
"Complex" is more apt to describe our times rather than "simple." This is not necessarily a bad thing, it may be important to look at the complexities at work under the surface, rather than oversimplify an issue or situation (or even a person or group of people!).
So in our cultural context, what is the gift of simplicity? And if we do discover it to be a gift, how do we go about receiving it?
I began to return to simplicity in my blog last week, but I want to explore this question over the next few weeks as I glean from others' insights and experiences. Maybe you have some wisdom to share with me as well (my daughter sure did)!
On a walk with my young teen earlier this week, I asked her, “What is the difference between simplicity and settling?”
“I think it has to do with what changes,” she replied.
She went on, “There can be all kinds of changes on the outside. But when a person settles, there’s no change on the inside.”
“So for you, simplicity is a gift or practice that changes us…how interesting! And, would you say that simplicity helps us deal with the changes on the outside of us?”
“Yes, I mean, that makes sense to me.”
“What a good perspective! I’m going to be thinking about simplicity and change for a while.”
What does the dance between simplicity & change offer you?
I am invited to continue exploring simplicity as both a gift and a practice that offers deep change—peace and inner transformation.
Simplicity may change me by changing the way I view “all the things.”
Perhaps it gives the gift of discerning eyes when faced with a storm of choice and change!
Mine is the piecemeal house
with patched couch
peeling and cracked cabinets
broken back-slat chairs
Clutter made up of books,
boxes, and bags of
papers, poetry, and prayers.
-My Piecemeal House, Kasey Hitt, 2021
One day I got caught up in the comparison game and found myself on the losing side.
Comparison games are anxiety-causing no matter what side you're on and being on the losing side most often leads to feelings of shame. So to get my feelings out rather than get stuck in them, I scribbled down this poem. The last line surprised me as it invited a shift. It was a call to come home to a value and spiritual practice I appreciate but can often lose sight of: Simplicity.
On Sunday, my husband played the old Shaker song on the piano, “Tis the Gift to Be Simple” (aka "Simple Gifts"). The rest of us sang. We started having fun with it by playing multiple versions on Amazon Music—fast and slow tempos, lyrics and instrumentals, solo singers and choirs, brass, dulcimer, and piano versions…
We stopped once we got sick of the song! However, listening to it over and over helped us hear, meditate, and move with it so the message could go from head to heart.
'Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.
When I revisited my poem, I saw how the words started with my feelings of shame as I described some worn-out parts of my house. It ended with words that led me deeper into the soul(s) residing there. A spontaneous smile and warmth replaced the shame. And right here in my house, just as it is, in a neighborhood with “valley” in its name, I discovered love and delight.
Kasey is a scarf, ball and club juggling spiritual director just outside of Nashville, TN. Play helps her Type-A, Enneagram 1 personality relax, creating space for poetry and other words to emerge. She also likes playing with theological ideas like perichoresis, and all the ways we're invited into this Triune dance.