Making Space for the Life We Really Want
Although the primary commandment of Christianity is to love God and others, Christians are sometimes known for being crabby and intolerant. Churches split; wars are fought with words in blogs and on websites; leadership meetings may be stressful scuffles instead of places where brothers and sisters seek to meet and hear God together. Why is that?
We humans want to have our own way. We think our way is right and so others should do things our way. Dying to self, taking up our cross, and being crucified with Christ are difficult. Yet following Christ’s selfless way is so much better. It frees us from the weight of self-preoccupation, self-importance and even self-obsession.
We learn selflessness by practicing disciplines of abstinence (simplicity, fasting, solitude, silence, chastity) because they train us to die to self as we set aside normal things we like to do for a certain length of time. For example…
- Simplicity of possessions: not owning or buying things we can do without; being content with what we have;
- Simplicity of time: living an unhurried life; not cluttering our schedule with activities;
- Simplicity of leisure: entering into experiences of joy, beauty and celebration without exhausting ourselves;
- Simplicity of speech: showing love with fewer words and more attentiveness; refraining from making statements to impress others.
We learn to be content without getting everything we think we want.
These days followers of Christ practice mostly disciplines of engagement (such as Bible study, prayer, worship, service and fellowship), which help us take in the life of God. This is good but when we keep breathing in the richness of God without breathing out our self-centeredness we become bloated and swollen—unable to use what we have taken in. Abstinence disciplines are like breathing out. As we say ‘no’ to certain things, we create space to say yes to seeking God and soul-nurturing companionship with God.
Without practices of simplicity, there’s little space for hanging out with God. We wake up in the morning and feel driven to:
- be busy and be productive
- get going on all the things we’ve promised to do
- clean, fix and take care of our possessions
- give our crucial feedback about important situations
- participate in the frenzied quest for physical attractiveness
To limit the time and attention we spend on these things is not to miss out. In fact, it is a relief. A life of personal interaction and adventure with God is so much more interesting. Our mind and calendar are cleared for better things God is inviting us into. We become content as we realize we’re satisfied with earning an adequate income and living in our current apartment or home. We see the beauty in ordinary things as gifts from God. We live life treasuring Father, Son and Holy Spirit and joining them in what they are doing today.
Grace and peace,
The above is excerpted from my new book Abundant Simplicity. ©Jan Johnson
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