We have too many pens.
Molly and I know this. A few years ago we bought pencil boxes to keep them in. We have one for mechanical pencils, one for Sharpies, and our largest one is for ballpoint pens. Assuming they hold their ink, we could live our next couple of lifetimes without ever having to purchase another pens.
We pick up clutter. Mess. Junk. We keep stuff “just in case.” We accumulate.
That’s true of possessions. It is also true of commitments. We make friends, build relationships, and choose to sign up, be present, and to attend. Our lives get full.
There is one more area where this is true: we allow excess in our thoughts. We’re inundated with information. We’re flooded by news. We’re overwhelmed by messages. Notifications: red. Emails: unread.
Our cultural and economic pause has forced me to take notice of the excess. I’ve slowed down enough to see. I’ve been present enough to feel, and aware enough to notice. My pace has blurred my vision, dampened my emotions, and weakened my observational powers.
Where things have been full, where pace has been fast, now there is space, and movements have slowed.
Slowness and margin are two soul training exercises, as James Bryan Smith calls them. These are not well know as Christian spiritual disciplines, but that is what they are.
They are closely related to simplicity. To live simply involves several tensions, or paradoxes. Richard Foster notes that simplicity is both a grace and a discipline, it is easy and difficult, it encompasses the inner and outer life, and affirms the goodness of material things while admitting their limits. Simplicity is not simplistic. It can be a lot of work to adopt a life of simplicity. Boundaries need to be clear. Commitments need to be clear, too.
Arriving at simplicity requires commitment to de-accumulation of possessions, commitments, and a discerned approach to receiving information. We also can commit to plain speech, letting yes be yes, and no be no.
During a walk last week I thought about ways the pandemic has led me to optimize, to refine, to sharpen systems, to eliminate waste and hurry and excess. I didn’t decide to do these things. Circumstances created the opportunity. I’ve responded.
But we don’t need a pandemic to optimize. We need planned stoppages. We need Sabbaths. We need little breaks, time to think, assess, adjust, and plan. We need rests between the beats. Those are habits we can cultivate, rhythms we can adopt. Ancient wisdom points the way.