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Simplicity: It’s Far From Simple

February 15, 2010

Then he said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.’ (Luke 9.23)

Since sharing my three practical suggestions for the pursuit of simplicity (see De-Clutter, Live Intentionally and Relocate), I’ve been struggling with a serious case of writer’s block. Not that a week- or month-long (or permanent) hiatus from blogging is necessarily a bad thing; it’s just that I expected the topic of simplicity to yield more (72?) than three posts.

But I’ve given it some thought and I’ve come to the conclusion that my struggles to produce more than three posts on the pursuit of simplicity stem from the misleading emphasis my previous posts placed on simplicity alone while completely ignoring the pursuit thereof. As it turns out, there’s preliminary work to be done in order to attain the simple life.

Simplicity isn’t simple precisely because it necessitates self-denial.

We are culturally conditioned creatures. Every one of us is shaped in one way or another by the people and events, narratives and philosophies that define our respective world(s). Sure, we tend to consider our personalities and general dispositions in terms of our “nature,” but it doesn’t take too much introspection to discover the undeniable connections between your life experiences—influenced as they are by your predetermined social identities—and your so-called nature.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that it’s disadvantageous (and a lie!) to hide behind our “natural self” as we all do to varying degrees. “That’s just the way I’m made” is a poor justification for the way we treat one another and choose to structure our lives. For in so many ways we are who we are on account of the corrupt world in which we live. There’s very little that’s truly natural about that which we call our “nature.”

Of course no two people are the same (nor should they strive to be), but there’s good reason for each of us to undertake the work of self-denial, difficult though it may be. But too often our theologies serve to rule out the possibility of embracing even the slightest degree of asceticism in our lives; for why should I consider denying myself if God made me this particular way?

It seems to me, however, that this question is based on an incredibly false premise. For Christians, God doesn’t make people exactly the way they are. When the psalmist writes “it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb,” we need not (and should not) extend this proclamation to all areas of our lives. The God of love revealed in the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth didn’t create your hyper-competiveness, your greed, your massive ego or your alpha dog disposition which accounts for your need to control and manipulate every situation. (But these are just random examples.)

Face it, each of our lives depart from goodness and truth—that which God has truly created. But the very real potential for embodying such goodness and truth in our lives, just as Jesus and so many others have done in their own lives, is none other than the everlasting hope of the Gospel. That we can depart from our “natural” selves is truly good news. It’s far from simple, but let us deny ourselves as we seek to let the potential for goodness and truth come to a full realization in our own lives.

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