10 Principles of Simplicity

In my last post I talked about the beauty and importance of simplicity

Now, a few suggestions for practicing this. In his acclaimed book, The Celebration of Discipline, Richard J. Foster offers 10 principles for simplicity. It was written a decade ago, and yet is surprisingly relevant. I will mention each one, followed by a fitting quote. Then I will punctuate each of them with a successful personal experience, or a personal failure. Since some of these points connected with me more than others, the length or brevity of my “punctuations” will reflect that.

1. Buy things for usefulness rather than status

“Stop trying to impress people with your clothes and impress them with your life.”

This is cutting advice considering the city of Santa Barbara (or any part of Southern California). We are known more for image than we are for utility. And it’s hard to separate the two sometimes. I’ll admit, the jackets I wear to keep warm at night, also look really good! Rather than beat ourselves up over this one, I think it more helpful to rephrase this point in this way: “Do the things I own promote my quality of life or just my standard of living?” I hope for more of the former.

2. Reject anything that is producing an addiction in you.

“Remember, an addiction, by its very nature, is something that is beyond your control…How do you discern an addiction? Very simply, you watch for undisciplined compulsions” (91).

I gave an exhaustive sermon on Alcohol and the Christian back in 2013. It’s my most viewed sermon to date. I suspect the reason for its popularity is two-fold: Santa Barbara really likes their alcohol, and no one has ever given a full-blown sermon on alcohol here before. Now, there are countless Christians who can imbibe without sinning; there are also many other who cannot. I think it’s at this point that a careful distinction needs to be made about what we are free to do. Christian liberty means you have the gospel-freedom to partake (if you can), but it also means you have the gospel-freedom to abstain if you should! Some Christians drink too much (Eph 5:18), or against their consciences (1 Cor 8:12), or against their health (Isa 5:11), or against a weaker brother (Rom 14:21) when they, in fact, need to stop. They are deceived if they think drinking, for them, is a freedom. As the apostle Paul posits, “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Cor. 6:12, NIV). If you are mastered by anything, it’s not freedom. It’s slavery. In this case, true simplicity prevents you from developing a bondage to an otherwise good thing.

3. Develop a habit of giving things away

“Masses of things that are not needed complicate life…most of us could get rid of half our possessions without any serious sacrifice” (92).

This is a hard one, because I like my stuff. But we are graciously forced to downsize periodically because of the size of living in Santa Barbara. There’s simply not enough five bedroom homes to accommodate our love for things. This makes life easier, and, well…simple.

4. Refuse to be propagandized by the custodians of modern gadgetry

“Timesaving devices almost never save time.”

I was one of these guys. I stayed in lines during the Steve Jobs era, waiting to be one of only thousands with the next best thing in their hands. Even though I knew the feeling would dissipate in a month, it was worth it to be among the select few in the world that had something most others did not. Silly, I know. But I couldn’t shake it. Then one day, I took Abby into a pool. With my iPhone in my pocket. For forty-five minutes. I tried to resurrect that thing using every Pinterest solution imaginable. From sticking it in a jar of rice for seven days straight, to laying it on a bed of rice in an oven at low heat. Nothing. I looked up my contract to see if I had any upgrades available. Fall of 2015. Ugh. Someone graciously lent me an older version. And I’ve been learning to slow down. I had to cut out most of the apps that used to take up so much of my time, due to the lack of space. Social media stopped running as fast as it used to, and I found myself wondering if it was worth waiting five minutes to check Facebook statuses that I know are just going to be about food, ex-boyfriends, and photos of people’s babies. Because of the pool accident, my life has gotten simpler–albeit in a small way. However, the magic was in the two weeks before my friend lent me a phone, and I had nothing. No way to search social media. No phone calls. No texts. No email. I hated it at first. But within days, I felt like I had come alive. I know that sounds sensational, but it really was true for me. I spent more time in the Scriptures than I have for a long time. More time in a contemplative posture of prayer. More time with my daughter. And wife. And God. I’ve since gotten a phone back, but with some semblance of simplicity to go with it. And it’s been worth it.

5. Learn to enjoy things without owning them

“If we own it, we feel we can control it; and if we can control it, we feel it will give us more pleasure” (93).

No one owns much in Santa Barbara, so I have nothing to say about this one, haha.

6. Develop a deeper appreciation for creation

“Simplicity means to discover once again that ‘the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof'” (Ps. 24:1).

I’ve been surfing a block from my office. And there is nothing that will silence the unending flow of emails in the brain than being in the ocean. Catching a wave is pretty darn intoxicating too. What’s your “creation” experience?

7. Look with healthy skepticism at all “buy now, pay later” schemes

“They are a trap.”

When I was a teenager, I racked up thousands on a credit card, because I didn’t know any better. Those cards are payed off, but the memories remain. My friend, Gerald Torres once told me, “If you live within your means, you’ll be happy. It’s as simple as that.” I’ve found those words to be true.

8. Obey Jesus’ instructions about plain, honest speech

Passive aggression. That’s when you are indirectly hostile towards another person. Perhaps through a backhanded remark, an irritated comment spoken below the breath, or a Facebook status that doesn’t name anyone yet is clearly intended for a specific person to see. This is not how Jesus ever spoke. He was clear, direct, and honest. The reason we are not, is because we are too insecure with ourselves to be honest in conflict. Or because we fear. We fear the tension that will escalate when we deal with the hard issues in an interpersonal relationship. So we cover the truth, mask our feelings, and don’t say anything. Then we attach some level of piety and self-righteousness to our (in)action, thinking we took the high road. But we didn’t. This is evidenced by the fact that we cannot let it go. At least in our minds. We play the scenario over and over in our heads, thinking of what we could have said, or should have said. And we get angry while we do it. All of this anger is directed towards that person who originally upset us. We could have dealt with it at the beginning, but not it’s building up steam. Then when said person enters the room, we release a little passive-aggressive steam, couched in a note of sarcasm. And both sides of the relationship suffer for it. All of this can be prevented by being honest and forthright. Go figure.

9. Reject anything that breeds the oppression of others

Welp, that’s almost everything in my kitchen, my closet, my car, and my office. To do this with any shred of integrity, you’d have to make your own clothes, ride a bike instead of a car, buy organic veggies, free-range meat, and American products. Guess how much that would cost? Do any of us do this? Why or why not?

10. Shun anything that distracts you from seeking first the Kingdom of God

Imagine a life that looks like this. Not an individual life, but corporate. Imagine everyone in your church free from status-envy, addictions, stinginess, the race to be cutting-edge, the obsession with belongings; or if we all developed a care for our surroundings, an aversion to debt (except to owe love); if we were easy to understand, and said what we meant, and if we all worked together to free the oppressed, and ran from anything that did not look like God’s will. I think our church would start to look set apart in Santa Barbara, yet, strangely alluring as well. Why? Because we don’t need anything except what we already have. What a glaringly different and attractive way to live. Such is the power of simplicity. No wonder Paul’s quirky instruction…

“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.” 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 (NASB)

About Lazo

Lazo is the pastor for preaching and vision at Reality SB where he is committed to challenging Santa Barbara's independence by calling the city to follow Jesus. You might like these blog posts, 5 Wrong Ways To Comfort Hurting Peoples, or Daisy Love and the Magic Eraser. You can follow Chris on twitter at @LazoChris.

Posted on November 4, 2014, in contemplative, discipleship, Millennials, reading, realitysb, spiritual disciplines, spiritual formation and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Boy did I need to read this one, Chris! Thank you for your insight and honesty. I am going to share it with my children.

    Sonia Graney 445 Fellowship Road Santa Barbara, CA 93109

  2. This post was so refreshing for me, especially today; I love simplicity, yet it seems such an ongoing job to keep the things we often refer to as “life” in perspective. In this post you’ve touched on many areas that I relate to very well… And I did get a good giggle out of your Iphone account! I’ve taken a vacation from FB, and it’s just as you said: hard at first, but “oh the joy!” now in the TIME I have to actually do other beneficial things!

  3. #1 and #4: I’ve managed to hold onto my current phone for the last 3+ years, but it’s been a struggle, for exactly the reasons you outline.

    I might have found the right compromise though: The Google/Android “Project Ara” phone this January. It’s cheap, but most importantly, modular, so you can upgrade based on need rather than slick marketing.

    #5: Tab and I have a rule that she is allowed to take a picture of the finished plate at a restaurant and say how awesome it was, rather than not be in the moment.

    #9 and 10: I’ve often wondered at this, especially for Christians who do things in the ethereal (day traders, speculative traders, etc.) Is the use of the phrase “make it your ambition” the same “soft” language as Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 7:9? In other words, “it’s ok, but you should likely not want to do it.”

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