This post on simplifying choices was originally posted June 13, 2005. I am republishing it here with a few edits.
When someone becomes convinced they need to simplify their life, it can be overwhelming. There are usually many areas out of whack whether they are financial, time commitments, relationships, work requirements, material possessions, etc. In each of these areas you have to do some serious evaluating. More of what? Less of what? What comes first? What can wait? How do I do this without driving myself and my family crazy?
David and I faced some of those same questions. Along the way we’ve developed some questions to help us when we were making choices. These questions are the result of a fair amount of trial and error. It isn’t a definitive or even a complete list, but it might help some others as they think through similar issues.
Does It Glorify God?
This may seem like an obvious consideration, but I think it is important to mention it first. Does it glorify God? Does it bring me closer to God? Does it conflict with biblical wisdom and truth? The ultimate goal of simplifying should not be for selfish pursuits. It should be to free us from the less valuable (and sometimes worthless) things of this world so we can focus on what God has put us on this earth for.
However, this doesn’t mean that every pursuit has to have a “Christian” veneer to it or be church-related. I think feeding the birds can glorify God and bring someone closer to God. So can tending a beautiful flower garden, writing letters to family members, and training seeing-eye dogs. The wisdom comes from knowing what those pursuits should be in your particular walk with God.
What Will Simplicity Look Like in My life?
What is simplicity to one person is not necessarily to another. I don’t think there is one model of simplicity. People will live simple lives in a variety of ways. Our comfort levels can vary greatly and will impact the choices we make. For me, there is nothing simple about living paycheck to paycheck, going without health insurance, or living in a tiny home. For some people, those might be key elements to their choices and they are happy with them. I would not be. I would not be happy with a kind of simplicity that meant we couldn’t afford vacations once in a while, couldn’t go out for coffee, or had to only shop at second hand stores. Again, some people make those choices and are very happy. Those would not be choices I would want to have to make.
On the other hand, some people would find having their own home-based business anything but simple. We love it (98.6% of the time) and it has simplified our lives in many ways. However, not everyone would have the same desire and I can understand that.
The ways we invest our time and energy will vary. For me, there is nothing simple about sewing. I know the basics from having been a Girl Scout a long, long time ago and having a mother who did some sewing. But I don’t enjoy sewing and I don’t have the patience for it. I’m too much of a perfectionist. I also don’t do home canning. I think canning is cool, I think it looks beautiful when it is all done on the shelf, and I would love to be able to say “I did that!” But at this point in my life it has been more important for me to work part-time in our new business with my husband the past four years than it was for me to can. I am blessed with gifts and am fortunate enough to be compensated well for using them. In my case it makes more sense to purchase our canned goods on sale (with a coupon!) with the money I help earn while using my gifts. For me, this is simplicity.
Are My Goals Clearly Defined?
I think it is also important to have clearly defined goals developed through lots of prayer and conversation. What are you trying to achieve in simplifying? Is it to have more time? Be freed up financially to go to the mission field? Have more time and energy to homeschool? Be free to pursue an artistic endeavor? Start a family business? It is critical that everyone involved understands the goals and how they were determined. To have half of the family on one page (or worse, half of a marriage) while the rest is on a totally different page is a recipe for disaster.
We had several goals in mind that either have come to pass or are in the process of coming to pass. And we continue to refine and revist those goals as we go. We wanted me to not have to work outside the home. We wanted David to be able to work at home. We wanted to use our creative gifts in a way that blesses other people but also produced the income we need. We wanted to be freer to practice hospitality more often. We wanted to be at home, not running around. We wanted to have more control over our daily, weekly and yearly schedule, especially if we were blessed with children so we would have freedom to homeschool and set our own schedule. We wanted more quiet time for reading, studying and just resting. We wanted financial breathing room. We wanted to pay off our house long before we reach retirement age. Those are the goals that drive us right now.
Am I Choosing the Best Things?
It is important to focus on the best things. Not the good, not the very good, but the best. I think as Americans our lives are filled with good and even very good things, but not the best. As Christians this should especially be true. We should be living lives that are filled with only God’s best for us since we have the Holy Spirit to help us discern what that is.
Instead, I think many Christians do things because the latest book says you should, the other families you know think you should, or someone at your church guilted you into it. (I have discussed this a lot more in some of my other simplicity articles on this blog.) Only you can know what is best for your family.
This was one of the harder lessons for David and me to learn and something we still struggle with. At times it has been hard for us to do something we are convinced we need to do no matter what anyone else thinks or whether people around us approve of it. We have improved a lot in this area over the past couple of years, but this has probably been the biggest challenge we have had to overcome. But we have to trust that God is leading us into what is best for us.
It truly is worth it to struggle through these choices. Seven years ago I could not have imagined that we would be where we are now. Well, actually that isn’t true. I could imagine it or we wouldn’t have taken the first step! But it has been better, albeit somewhat harder at times, than I would have ever thought.
One of the motivating factors for me is the desire to hear Christ say someday, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.” To know the joy (and relief!) that I made it and did what Christ wanted me to do. To be found faithful. To have rid my life of the unnecessary and have focused on the best.
God hath given to man a short time here upon earth, and yet upon this short time eternity depends.
If there are any regrets in Heaven, they will only be that we did not use our earthly time more for the glory of God and for growth in His grace. If this is so, this may be Heaven’s only similarity with hell, which will be filled with agonizing laments over time so foolishly squandered.
Donald S. Whitney
Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life