The Art of Simplicity
by Jeff Montgomery
I recently read a short piece about a business traveler who was the epitome of planning. The story focused on his packing efforts for the current trip he was on, which involved traveling overseas.
Careful to make sure he covered every contingency, this man packed clothes for every type of possible weather and occasion, and made sure he would have some type of snack in case he got stuck in an airport somewhere. His bags included his briefcase, as well. The end result was not one, but several bags that he had to take on his trip.
So, he proceeds to take his trip. Since his itinerary called for him to travel to several countries, he spent quite a bit of time gathering his luggage, loading it into cabs or trains or other public transportation. The end result was that he was totally exhausted and not enjoying his trip.
At one stop, at a train station, he noticed that the younger people who were traveling were doing so with one backpack. They managed to carry all of their personal belongings in that one pack. What the man noticed was that they all seemed relaxed and were enjoying their travels. He had a memory of seeing similar young people in the airports. He began to envy their simplicity. He realized that he simply had too much stuff.
The end result was that he went through all of his stuff, determined what he really needed, and gave the rest away to a local charity. The rest of his trip was much more enjoyable and hassle-free.
Simplicity is a great virtue. Our culture, particularly in developed nations, is that the more 'stuff' we have the better off we are. Our 'stuff' shows that we're successful, and that we can take part. But all of this extra stuff comes with a price. We have to deal with our stuff.
Like the man in the above story, we get encumbered by all of the material things we own, and they begin to rob us of our enjoyment in life. They also rob us of the ability to focus on what's true and right in our lives. The more we have, the more we have to take care of, which means our time is taken away from more important things - God, family, doing good works, or just simply enjoying life.
I think this principle also applies in our work. It's easy to accumulate 'things' that supposedly help us do our job better. Organizers, planners, Palm Pilots, organizational software for our computers, cell phones - all of these things are supposedly designed to make our working life easier.
But just like our personal possessions, all of these so called productivity aids can do two things: distract us from the task at hand, and actually give us more to do. All of these devices require attention to update and to manage. Palm pilots come with accessories. Planners have to be filled out. Calendars have to be updated.
All of this extra work has another affect - it raises our stress level. These work accessories dump on us more tasks to take care of, in addition to the actual work that we need to get done. This leaves us less time to address the tasks set before us, which in turn makes us work longer and harder to get those things done.
Our call as Christians is to make our work pleasing to God. He loves to see us doing our best. He loves to know that in our hearts we are glorifying him by seeking excellence in what we do. When the tools become the gods, then our focus strays from the one true and living God, whom we are seeking to please.
Now, don't get me wrong. Some productivity tools are good. Being organized and planning our tasks are keys to doing our job well. I myself use a planner, and quite obviously I use a computer. But there have been times that I had all the extra accoutrements and it made my working life that much more complicated.
We have only to look to the lives of the saints to see the benefits of living the simple life. Most of the saints lived very simple lives. Many gave away or gave up great wealth in order to follow God. St. Francis was the son of a wealthy merchant, and he gave up absolutely everything in order to live in poverty and simplicity. He jettisoned the distractions and was able to live fully for God. St. Clare of Assisi made a similar commitment.
Even Jesus, the embodiment of the living God, spent his earthly time with few, if any possessions. The Apostles and early disciples lived a communal life, giving everything they had to the community in order to support everyone equally in their mission of building the Church.
This is not to say we must all give away every tool we might use in our working lives. But I believe that there is a call we receive from God to live as simply as possible so that our eyes can remain focused on him. Look for simplicity in your working life, and you will find God.
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