Trapped by Complexity

Simplicity is constantly under attack. Perhaps a more accurate statement is that we are trapped by complexity, which seems to be our default setting, and simplicity becomes the casualty as a barrage of complexity invades our lives.

Our hurried lifestyles and constant scurrying after progress certainly add complexity to life by giving too many choices too often.

How can we discover who we truly are and what makes us happy if we are constantly distracted by choices thrown at us by progress?

Yet progress is impossible to completely ward off, and we soon discover that we must simply and deliberately choose to not take it all in. Even the Amish, who represent a long-forgotten simplicity in life, live lives more complicated than they once were. Even though they don’t personally maintain them, the fact that the Amish are the focus of many web sites and are themselves a tourist attraction shows the impossibility of keeping progress at bay even when simplicity is a religious doctrine.

Interestingly, the Amish are such a draw because of their simplicity. Life used to only become complicated mostly by choice. Now, complexity happens to us at the speed of progress.

Where the Journey Began

simple-and-healthy-lunch-1317488-1278x912Teaching my boys that value of simplicity is a focus of mine. These lessons include a deliberate limiting of extra-curricular activities, a focusing of time and efforts on fewer and better quality activities, and a prioritizing of events and opportunities that constantly present themselves.

We’ve also incorporated simplicity into our eating. With about 20 meals that we cycle through, my guys love that they get their favorites often. Because they feel the quality of their meals are better since they regularly have their favorites, they more look forward to meals. We also find simple joy sharing these favorites regularly.

When I first began to deliberately simplify my life, I thought I was pursuing simplicity in order to be healthy and strong. My initial push for simplicity came after undiagnosed food allergies created an environment where depression, anxiety and illness thrived. This experience not only forced me to simplify my eating habits, but it also directed me toward a less-stressful and more fulfilling career.

At first, I was very unhappy at what I saw as a severely limiting diet. But the illnesses caused by my food allergies provided the necessarily motivation to pursue lifestyle change.

For the first year, I convinced myself that having multiple food allergies (dairy, gluten, eggs, crabs and cashews) would cause misery for the rest of my life. I hated reading all the food labels, I quit going to my favorite restaurants, and I had to cook separate meals for myself. Oh, and allergen-friendly food is more expensive too.

Now, years later, adapting my diet feels quite natural, and I find that less food choices makes grocery shopping much easier. Plus, my husband and I no longer go through our usual back and forth “Where do you want to eat?” conversation when dining out. We basically have 3-4 choices most of the time, and choosing among those few is definitely much simpler than choosing among the myriad of options found in most cities.

So many people feel trapped by complexity. They feel hopeless because a way out keeps alluding them. At least, that’s how I felt when I just couldn’t climb out of the pit (turns out there is a labyrinth in the pit too). Yet, taking the first few deliberate steps toward simplification often starts the momentum needed to affect major change.

While I didn’t know what change needed to take place for me to be healthy, I kept looking and trying and adjusting. Eventually, I discovered many small changes that added up to make a huge difference for healing in my life.

Complexity pursues. Simplicity must be pursued. And while complexity will never cease to pursue, simplicity will begin to pursue as we allow room for it to do so by slowly pushing out the complex.

DISCUSSION: What is one area in your life you would like to simplify? What small steps could you take to begin that process?

How to… Pray for Others

Maybe I am over-thinking this. Maybe I compare myself too much to others. And maybe I’m just making excuses to keep from stepping outside of my comfort zone. Sure, I pray for others in the privacy of my own home, but ask me to pray when others can hear me… I’ll do it, but I end up worrying the rest of the day about what I said and how stupid I sounded. And even when I pray “in my head” for others, I usually fumble through with “please help…” and “please heal…” and “You know their needs…” What I’m praying just seems feeble and week. Not only that, but prayer sometimes feels awkward and uncomfortable to me, especially when I’m praying for others.

Here’s what I know for sure:

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people.” (1 Timothy 2:1)

“Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:18)

“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 5:13-16)

Clearly, scripture encourages Christians to pray for others. But shouldn’t those prayers be more than a child’s prayer of “Please help…” followed by a list of names. Shouldn’t they be more than saying a person’s name followed by “heal them” or “give them wisdom”? I use about 3-4 of those sayings (please help, heal them, etc.) that pretty much make up my intercessory prayers. Yet, I feel like there’s something missing. I mean, I can pray with great detail about my own needs. Shouldn’t I be able to offer something more for others too?

Until reading What’s Your Pleasure on A Curious Band of Others, I didn’t think too much about how I prayed for others. I even commented after reading this post that I didn’t struggle with intercessory prayer. But then came that small voice inside (a.k.a. the Holy Spirit) that made me rethink my approach to intercessory prayer.

Don’t get me wrong. Prayer of any sort offered with sincerity pleases God. But just like communication within relationships deepens and becomes more detailed as the relationship grows, so should our communication with God as we grow closer to Him. More for my own growth than as any sort of advice, the following 4 tips on how to pray for others are now offered. This is not a prayer formula; rather, it exists as encouragement for deeper conversations with the Lord.

  1. Use empathy. I can think about a situation that a person is going through and what I might need if I were in that same situation. Then, I can pray accordingly.
  2. Find models of maturity. There are those who are really good at praying out loud. Typically, they are the pastor or Sunday school teacher (though that’s not true in my case). While copying these individuals verbatim seems manufactured, certainly gain insight and ideas on how to pray from them. Just like a child learns from a parent, I can learn from those with more maturity in their prayer lives. Caution: I must refrain from feeling as if I need to pray exactly like these people. Instead, I must simply be willing to learn from them.
  3. Realize that deeper does not mean wordy. In fact, the Bible warns against wordiness. (Matthew 5:6) Maybe specific is a better word than deeper. When possible, offer specific prayers for others. In some cases, my past experiences will allow me to pray more specifically for someone than the actual person could pray for themselves because I’ve been through a similar and found victory already.
  4. Pray in the Spirit. Ephesians 6:18 says to pray in the Spirit. Henry’s Concise Commentary explains doing so as praying “by the grace of God the Holy Spirit, in dependence on, and according to, His teaching.” In other words, let the word of God and the prompting of the Holy Spirit guide my prayers.

As a Pentecostal, my prayers for others also often consist of praying in tongues as the Spirit enables (Acts 2:4).  What’s more, Romans 8:26-27 assures us that the Holy Spirit “helps in our weakness” by interceding for us. So, even though my prayers usually feel inadequate and even though I often stumble with the right words, I know that the Holy Spirit by far makes up for where I lack.

DISCUSSION: Do you pray regularly for others? What advice can you offer for making intercessory prayer effective?

For more reading on prayer, please see the following posts: A Plea for More Prayer and What’s Your Pleasure on  A Curious Band of Others

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Deciding to Pursue Simplicity

Simplicity for any individual is defined to a great extent by personality and temperament. Introverts, for example, in general tend to need slower-paced lives than do extroverts.

A person’s interests also direct what simplicity looks like to them. Just because someone else finds an activity relaxing, others may not find it to be so and may even discover that it adds a level of complexity that works to undermine their ability to discover a simple life.

For example, I tried scrapbooking but found the process too complicated with too many decisions to make and supplies to buy. My mind feels much more content with a simple photo album with dates of events written in the margin. For me, scrapbooking made life more complicated. For others, it’s a relaxing pastime.

Clothing is another example. I found myself constantly frustrated with trying to decide what to wear each day, and then I noticed I only wore about 20% of the clothing that I owned anyway. So, I systematically whittled my wardrobe down by over 40%. Yet, I have friends who love to try new trends and constantly mix up their wardrobes. They like to express themselves through their clothing.

Simplicity also pursues each individual in unique ways. For instance, significant foot (nerve entrapment) and back (slipped discs and spinal stenosis) problems along with Piriformis Syndrome limited my shoe options to only a few pair for a long time.

The limit came not from simple obedience to the doctor, either. The severe foot and ankle pain gave me the option of either wearing only those few pairs of shoes or not being able to walk. This is not a simplicity I had planned on or in any way pursued, but it definitely found me.

Small things quoteA principle of simplicity that seems inherently true regardless of the person is that small things done consistently over time add up to make a huge difference. In other words, simplicity does not come through any one major event or leap. Rather, there exist a multitude of small changes and adjustments that together add up for big change and create a simpler life.

The combination of elements that create my simple life will look like no one else’s. But, the principles for achieving a simple life are essentially the same and involve one major decision… the decision to pursue simplicity.

DISCUSSION: What does a simple life look like to you? Have you made the decision to pursue simplicity?

10 Marriage Maintenance Tips

I’ve been there… to the pit of despair… several times… and back again. (Just like Bilbo.) Up until this point, my marriage has always returned to the pit after climbing out and living at the edge for a while. I hope this time will be different. But who am I to give marriage advice? My husband and I certainly do not have it all figured out, but we have struggled together long enough (about 20 years) to have some ideas. With that, I offer the following 10 marriage maintenance tips.

  1. Model godly marriages. Find marriages that have stood the test of time and model (that doesn’t mean copy) what they do. Go to church together. Pray with and for each other. Protect each other.
  2. Learn from broken marriages. Couples who have gone through divorce are often a great source of learning from others mistakes with regard to marriages. Listen to what they have to say.
  3. Spend regular and quality time together. Explain to your kids why them going to bed on time is important for mom & dad’s time together. Connect via email & text when apart. Play Scrabble together. Watch movies. Have coffee together regularly. Find ways to connect, daily whenever possible.
  4. Rely on each other’s strengths. One partner should not have to pull all the weight, but sometimes one does pull more weight than the other. Allow your spouse to be strong for you.
  5. Bring the best you every day. Yes, this changes from day to day. Yes, sometimes your best doesn’t feel like much, but still… Your best is all you ever have to give, and God does amazing feats with our meager best.
  6. Share the smallest details. The laughs the frustrations the stupidity. Share the details of life. No, this doesn’t mean bring all your junk home from work, but it does mean realizing that connection is often found in the details of life.
  7. Argue well. Disagreements and arguments will happen, so we might as well learn how to do them well. Sometimes, it’s even okay to argue in front of the kids. (For a terrific article on this point, please read Why I Argue in Front of My Kids      (Sometimes).
  8. Have fun together. Enjoy each other’s company. Tease one another and joke around. Let the kids see you flirting. Send “fun” text messages to one another. Find simple ways to have fun.
  9. Intimacy. Guys, this is a 24/7 commitment for you (women tend to be like crock pots). Remember this. Ladies, this is more of a physical need for men than for women (men tend to be like microwave ovens). Don’t forget that. And for both of you, remember that intimacy is not always just about the physical.
  10. Surprise one another. Bring home a special gift, like a latte or ice cream, that your spouse would enjoy. Men, clean the bathroom. Women, forget the pajamas. Surprises bring spice to a marriage.

Maintaining a healthy marriage involves deliberate effort. And, just maintaining isn’t really the goal, growth is. Always improve. Always grow stronger. Remember that “you’re either green and growing or ripe and rotting.” In addition to communicating, forgiving and sacrificing, the above 10 marriage maintenance tips can help move your marriage out of the pit and on to the mountaintop and even from one mountaintop to another.

Discussion: What is your top marriage maintenance tip?