Want to simplify your life? It’s easier said than done. To get there, you’ll need to make some hard choices and take a few spiritual practices from Jesus’ playbook.
There’s no easy way to simplify your life.
Real simplicity is a spiritual discipline. And like many spiritual disciplines, it’s not easy to pull off. It takes work. But if you’re ready for the challenge, the gospels present a road map of spiritual practices to help simplify your life.
1. Declutter everything.
Jesus was a clutter-free kind of guy. With a few possessions, a few family members and 12 good friends (make that 11 good friends), he changed the world. By avoiding clutter in the form of possessions, activities and relationships that weren’t necessary or helpful, Jesus gained the freedom to focus on the most important things.
Decluttering is about more than throwing away the boxes of junk in your garage. To simplify your life, you need to evaluate everything — and get rid of the habits, routines, commitments and relationships that are holding you back from focusing on the things that are most valuable to you.
2. Stop spending.
There’s no room for consumerism in a spiritual life. In the parable of the rich fool, Jesus warned, “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15). Yet, for too many of us, that’s what life has become — a revolving door of purchases and possessions.
If you really want to simplify your life, you need to consciously pull away from the consumer lifestyle. Instead of going to the mall, go for a walk. Instead of surfing Amazon, surf a good book. Instead of buying a new one, fix the one you already have. It won’t be easy, but maybe part of the reason your life is so complicated is that you’re working too hard to afford things you don’t really need.
3. Learn to say no.
At some point, we bought into the idea that it’s spiritually admirable to say yes to everything. In reality, saying no is frequently the more spiritual option. Jesus said no all the time. In Mark 1, Simon tells Jesus that the people are waiting for him. Instead of rushing down the mountain to heal them, Jesus said no and moved on to the next town.
Saying no (even to good things) isn’t a character flaw. It doesn’t mean that you’re lazy or shirking your responsibilities or forcing your friends to do the heavy lifting. And it definitely isn’t unspiritual. In many cases, saying no is more spiritual because it forces you to humbly admit your own limitations.
4. Prioritize people over productivity.
At Lazarus’ house, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, leaving Martha to do all of the work in the kitchen. When Martha complained, Jesus said,
“Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part …” (Luke 10:41-42).
Work is necessary. But work and the need to accomplish can overshadow your interactions with family members, friends and strangers (i.e., friends you haven’t met yet). When that happens, it’s time to rebalance the scales and simplify your life by re-prioritizing people over being more productive.
5. Go outside.
Nature’s is God’s antidote for a complicated life. Time after time, Jesus stepped away from the business of being Jesus to be alone in creation (e.g., deserts, mountains, gardens). Reflecting his commitment to nature, his parables are filled with references to the natural world (e.g., the sparrow, the lilies of the field, the fig tree).
Nature is restorative. When I spend time outdoors, the “fracturedness” of daily life disappears. I’m centered and at one with my surroundings, myself and my God. Do my problems and frustrations disappear? No, they’re still waiting for me when I get home. But they’re not nearly as big or significant as they were before I stepped out the door.
The time to simplify your life is now
Of course, the argument against going outside or interacting with people or decluttering is that these things take time. But you’re not getting any younger. Life really does go by in the blink of an eye and you can’t afford to squander it on things you don’t really care about.
For the most part, your life is what you make of it. Whether you admit it or not, you make time for the things that are truly important to you.
And if it’s important to simplify your life, maybe the time to make time for these things is now.