Thursday, September 16, 2010

Live Simply

If you know me at all, you would probably not choose "simple" or "reliable" as a descriptor. I gather complication and chaos into my life as others accumulate salt shakers or lost puppies. I have suspicions that this has to with some innate need to control and create order in my environment, but I only took two psychology courses so I can't be sure.  At any rate, the hobbies, causes, and commitments roll on in.

What you may not know is that there is another part of me that craves simplicity, thus my obsession with Thoreau and vandwelling (stop laughing, Mom!). This results in an ever-frustrating cycle of do-and-abandon. I'm forever jumping on bandwagons and geting hair-brained ideas only to get bored with them or forget about them a few days later. A you can imagine this also means that there are many half finished projects stuffed on my "closet." But no matter how many balls I have in the air or how many self-improvement projects I take on, here is this nagging sense of suspended flux (if such a thing exists!) as the drive to complicate and "do" wars against the desire to simplify and simply "be." It's a waffley mess of inconsistencies and it's absolutely maddening!

Since I quit bible college early back in 2006, I've been less comfortable with this tendency to leave things incomplete, this habitual unreliability. Ostensibly, I had quit school because I had enough "idle" preparation and was ready to roll up my sleeves and jump into the fray. I then proceeded to have the worst summer of my 21 years. It was full of pain and huge challenges, much of which, I believe, was designed by God specifically to show me just how un-"ready" I was to take on the world. God has been breaking me down and allowing myself to break myself down ever since.

I'm four years into the process and it's a slow one. Slow because I keep building it back up (why do we do that??). I've come to understand that a crucial piece to learning and growing efficiently is the ability to listen and to see. To see what is going on around you as well as how you're responding to it. You must also be able to hear and see God's insight and purpose. One cannot hear with cacophony of white noise created by busyness.

I had actually made a promise to trust God with my "idleness" a bit of time ago and fell flat. Now as I go into a new school year with my plate filling up quickly, I feel that unrest that comes with being outside if the Lord's best for me and I need to keep that promise. Unfortunately this means more quitting. Sadly, I've become accustomed to quitting things over the years, but it never feels good.
So if you're like me, if I'm the only crazy one in the world, take heart! You're not either! We all experience varying degrees of neuroticism. Take a few breaths with me and think about what you're not seeing or hearing because of the white noise. Consider whether the cause or distraction of the day is worth what you're missing. In economics, we call this opportunity cost (please, God, let that be the correct term!), you only have one brain and it only has so many channels, that it makes it your attention that much more valuable.
Let me share a few insights I've learned over the past 4+ years of doing the wrong thing:
Because it makes sense to me, I use the "fraction of your life" or 24-hours-day model:
First of all you spend perhaps 10-12 hours of the day sleeping, eating, for hygenic purposes. We're mortal beings and this is unavoidable :) But this means that approximately  HALF of your life is spent maintaining a vehicle that is inevitably going to break down, die, disintigrate, and pass out of all memory. That's an empty investment, kids, and pretty much unavoidable, kind of puts things in perspective, doesn't it? Now consider the amount of time we spend decorating and grooming these dust-bags! I'll be the last to put a heavy trip on grooming or dressing, but it's something to consider.
Second, if you work full time, you spend about 6 hours a day at work or getting to or from work. It's probably more but even so that's 1/4 of your life during working years! Let's say you only work for 40 years of your life (lucky you!) assuming you live to 80 (above average), that means over 1/8th of your life is spent working. If you're working at a job you hate or a job that doesn't reap some kind of eternal rewards, that's an empty investment too! Life is seriously far too short to spend 1 eighth of it, or 3 hours of each day doing something you hate or thing is trivial. We all have jobs like this at some point, that is often out of our control. But we can control whether or not we stay there.
What about school? That's 7 hours a day, 3/4 of every year for 12-20 years, let's pick 14 years just for giggles, that's 10.5 years or, using the 80 year model, another 3 hours of each day over the long haul. Now I'm not saying school is an empty investment, i actually think it's one of the most valuable time investments you can make even beyond the valuable human interactions. But let's say you veg out in school, or worse you filled your head with empty knowledge and gained no wisdom! Knowledge itself doesn't last and even if it does, it is useless without wisdom. So kids, don't waste your time counting cracks in the ceiling.
That's three quarters of your life! That leaves only one quarter or maybe 6 hours of every day left that you can use as you choose. But then, you say, what about all the external demands, social demands, family demands, etc.? Well let's consider these "demands" and you're ability to choose them. You may feel like you have not choice but we always do. But I know personally that every decision you make can bring other demands down the road, which again makes every decision you make about your time even more weighty.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average american spends 2.8 hours of every day watching television, other studies put the number closer to 4 hours of every day. It may seem like decompressing or relaxing to us at the time, but it adds up to another eighth of our lives, or HALF of our personal time, that time that isn't dedicated to staying alive or fulfilling work or school obligations. I'm in the same boat, I blew that average out of the water only last night!
So, again, think about "liesure moment" of your life: every party, every sports event, every fundraiser, every weekend camping trip, every community organization meeting, every moment spent volunteering and ask yourself if you're investing in eternity or if you're adding to the white noise that drowns out what you really need to be hearing, that distracts you from what you're really needing to be seeing. Think of what you could be doing instead and ask yourself, "Is this worth the cost?" If it is not, are you going to let social pressures make you waste your life?
These are all questions I have to ask myself, because I have to admit, I am a little worried. I'm 25, a child in many ways, but I've already invested every moment of about a third of my life! I can't get those hours back.
So God, help me to keep my life simple and to quiet the noise, to slow down long enough to hear You! Keep me in mind when you're praying for the poor lost should of the world, if you're withing striking distance, don't be afraid to smack me when I venture toward the edge of this wagon, and I'll let you know how it goes.

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