JANE’S FALLS: Outwardly, my lifestyle would appear to many people as simple – even austere or severe – and my modesty of apparel would tend toward the drab or even seedy. There is a big difference between self-negation, which would deny the goodness of God’s creation, and partaking of the Bread of Life.
This insight was emphasized when, after returning from a trip that included a visit in an Old Order Mennonite home, I realized that even with my computer and stereo, my household was plainer than theirs, comparatively lacking in colorful and comforting touches such as living plants, afghans, and samplers on the walls.
Since then, I’ve been becoming aware of the dimensions of a tension within me; one side desires the community symbolized by Old Order plainness, and another is nurtured in expressive flair. I’m recognizing that this second side has been deeply repressed in recent years, as much by a feeling of poverty as by any religious concern. (As a profession, journalists are being paid even less than teachers these days; as a result, it becomes very easy for me to embrace a “simplicity” that rejects any form of monetary expenditure.)
Coming to grips with some very basic practices, such as ordering well-made and styled clothing that is both simple and expressive, has been an unexpectedly liberating exercise, one that helps me overcome feelings of victimization and deprivation in America’s highly materialistic society. When these things become personal idols, then we need to worry.
Friend Richard Foster has written (in Money, Sex and Power, page 72), “Simplicity means to receive material provision gratefully. Through Isaiah, God promises, ‘If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land’ (Isa. 1:19). We are not rigid ascetics who cannot abide a land flowing with milk and honey. Rather, we rejoice in these gracious provisions from the heart of God. Complete personal deprivation is not a good thing, and we reject it as a sign of duplicity, not simplicity.”
This understanding is leading me into a new cheerfulness and freedom in the use and enjoyment of possessions. There is a clarity in choosing what is functional and practical, lacking in frivolous details, and is in no way wasteful. (It is fascinating to observe that what is elegant is also often simple in its design and execution.)
On a more intimate plane, it has been a personal shock to discover that inwardly my life has been anything but simple: rather, there have been many compartments, each separated from the other by thick walls. While these have allowed me to juggle the many professional, spiritual, and social activities of my life, they have also kept other aspects, especially painful emotional dimensions, buried and thus seemingly out of the way. Maintaining these walls extracts a high price, especially in the daily “energy” of living.
It is surprising to discover how little the people around me actually know me or know about me – even those with whom I’m close. When are “modesty” and “humility” really obstacles to knowing one another in that which is eternal?
Fortunately, the pastoral counseling is helping to break through these walls, to cast light on areas of darkness within, and to attempt to integrate these diverse facets of my life. The process is often emotionally draining, and yet healing.
Management of my time remains a major challenge. There is never enough for the activities and projects I already have, much less those I would desire to add. Establishing priorities and keeping them in focus helps in avoiding becoming bogged down in time-consuming clutter.
I strive to be just in my dealings, careful to fulfill promises, and am challenged to make my Christian faith a part of my daily work. It helps to have a believing brother or sister in the workplace; in my largely secular office, I’m surprisingly finding that supportive relationship in a sincere Jewish co-worker, even when we would disagree on points of theology, rather from a self-professing Christian.
WILLOW BROOK: Our home is old, broken down, much neglected.
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