I am writing this just over the threshold of a new year. By the time you read this the Rose Bowl will have been played and we will know whether our beloved Ducks (sorry Beav’s, maybe next year) came out on top. This is especially fun this year as my sister and her family are in Wisconsin and so we have a friendly family rivalry going on.
Despite the distraction of New Year’s Bowl games I have been noticing as I enter a new year that a single mantra keeps traveling across the neon sign of my mind: Simplify, simplify, simplify!
Of course, this is not coming in the form of a New Year’s resolution, as it is a continuation of a process that demanded my attention this fall. In the course of a few short weeks, I moved to a more affordable two-bedroom apartment, dropped out of the doctoral program that was overly complicating my life, replaced my stolen car with a smaller, more affordable and environmentally friendly car, and am lowering my expectations about how much I can cram into one lifetime. Lots of simplifying going on in my life right now.
At a worship service last Sunday I participated in an end-of-the-year fire ritual where we were invited to write one word that represented what we were going to leave behind from 2019. The question was asked, “What will you NOT be taking with you into 2020?” The answer appeared immediately for me. “Reaching” was what I wrote down on the little slip of paper that would end up in the common flame.
Part of being a “visionary” is my ability to see the future and act as if I am going to get there. But there is a downside to it. It can also lead me to “reach and overreach” and yearn for things that are just beyond my grasp. I know how to work for a future payoff. What I haven’t nurtured well is to enjoy the payoffs right in front of me.
I have been feeling it for months—something significant is changing in me. I still feel a deep pull toward “all things visionary,” but something tells me that vision in this time is not about reaching higher, but going deeper. 2019 was the year where I was forced to admit that I can’t just add more to my life.
The two clear messages are really mirror images of each other. If I am being led to let go of a long pattern of reach and overreach then it is no wonder that the mantra “Simplify, simplify, simplify!” keeps shouting at me from the recesses of my soul.
I feel like this message has something to do with our life as a presbytery as well—even though I can’t quite put my finger on what it is and what implications it might have. I do remember that when I interviewed for the position I had written in the essay portion of the process that I felt that the person in this position would have to learn to embody the soul of the presbytery as much as be the executive manager of the ecclesiastical system.
I think when I wrote that in my essay I was saying something similar to what I see emerging in my life right now. Our call may be to go deeper rather than to reach higher. Our old models of ambition and hard work may need to be replaced by even older models of prayer and contemplation.
A persistent mantra has been nagging at me for a number of months: “Simplify, simplify, simplify!” I think the message has something to do with clearing away the clutter of my life, attending only to that which is most important and most central to who I am and my call, and being honest about my actual capacity for taking on the world.
Interestingly, I am reading Martin Buber’s I and Thou right now during my morning meditation time. The reading a couple of days ago reinforced the message I have been hearing in my “simplify mantra.” Buber often takes four or five read throughs to understand him, but despite the obfuscation of his language his message pierced me right to the heart.
In this short section, he is speaking of call and that sense that our souls demand something of us that can’t be ignored. He writes,
The deed involves a sacrifice and a risk. The sacrifice: infinite possibility is surrendered on the altar of the form; all that but a moment ago floated playfully through one’s perspective has to be exterminated.
Simplify. Clear away anything and everything that does not serve your call. Go all in.
I share this with you because, if I am experiencing this, I have a hunch that many of you are as well. We all live and serve the same system, the presbytery of the Cascades. We all swim in the same ecclesiastical waters. My life serving the presbytery is probably not that different from your life serving your church and your community.
I don’t know that the call to simplify has to be there all the time. But I do wonder, in our time, if we no longer have the luxury of reach and overreach, blind ambition and working harder and harder to get what we want. I wonder if this nagging mantra “simplify, simplify, simplify” is a reminder that we are about to take a journey and we had better pack lightly.
- What do you plan to leave behind this year in your congregation?
- What is no longer serving you well as you think about the journey ahead of you?
- What weight do you need to unload so you are free enough to carry out God’s mission?
My 2020 New Year’s blessing for you is this:
Travel with God.
Hold hands and stick together.
By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades
Brian you call to simplify rings true. So often we get so caught up in doing that we end up over doing and literally burn out. When that happens not only are we hurt, but we hurt others as well. Also as we find ourselves moving through this life we begin to discover that our energy level decreases. Thank you for your thoughtful message today.
Thank you for reminder that “as we age our energy level decreases.” I wonder if my blog would have been different if we were truly an intergenerational church. I can feel a weariness among our presbytery even as their renewed hope and energy in other areas. I wonder how much of this is simply a reflection that our average member is retirement age. But honoring the energy God gave us at each stage is such important spiritual work in this culture that says, “Push, push, push” and “act and look as young as you can for as long as you can!”
Blessings to you…
Right on, Brian! For me, the simplify nagging is for me to not be the cure-all, know-all of the (Tule part of the) church, the one that keeps all the balls in the air. The Spirit is pushing me to live out my passion–to teach children–instead of being the administrative wiz that is so easy for me to fall into given my obsessive “completed staff work” personality. I pray that I am even part way successful in 2020!
I love your process of discernment as you reflect on your default position to feel responsible for everything and to follow your soul’s actual passion. Good for you!
It reminds of my favorite Howard Thurman quote, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
I am cheering for you on the sidelines!
Good and simple thoughts to reflect upon, thank you.
Trusting that we all contain wise and patient “genes”
we make sure that everyone get a turn,
we act like there’s enough to go around, and
we remember that we are loved,
then we might just be OK.
God alone suffices (Teresa of Avila)
Lovely, Suzy. Thank you.
Shalom, Brian! As usual, delicious bread crumbs for us. While “simplify” is significant advice for many, it can lead to self-centerdness. What I mean is, one can stop doing things for others but continuing doing things for oneself. From what you. are doing to simplify your life, this doesn’t seem tru fro you, but you may be more the exception than the fule. For me, simplifying means continuing to maintain a balance between loving God, neighbor and self and not diminishing only one of these. May 2020 begin a wholey decade for you. Brad
Oh, Brad, what a nice reflection and different angle to take on this. It raises the question of when is simplifying a move toward selfishness and when is it a move toward the restoration of the soul. For me, this time it really feels like the latter, but I appreciate you giving me a broader lens from which to look at this. Bless you in the year!