The author Austin Kleon includes quirky little cartoons in his books. In “Keep Going”, one of these cartoons depicts two characters discussing the deeper things of life. The first character remarks “I’m on a quest to make daily contact with my inner spirit, and pay attention to my everyday life”, to which the other character responds “That’s so inspiring…What brands of pen and notebook do you use?”
This cartoon reminds me of my very first blog, created in 2015. 52 Weeks of Simplicity, it was called. My aim was to map the small and subtle ways we can live with a deeper focus on Jesus. After all, our lives can turn complex or chaotic without a moment’s notice. The blog was my attempt at providing practical and real-life solutions for how we might with live with Jesus amid the ups and downs of regular life.
I made it to week 29 before the blog petered out and drifted off to internet obscurity. Yet I remember the overwhelming trend to reduce simplicity to matters of functionality and productivity. I constantly encountered websites and articles that advocated a “simplified” existence, only to turn around and base it on better shelving units, coloured notepads, or the newest journal – all of which could be purchased by the link provided. The message seemed clear; Simplicity involved the productive management of our exterior lives. This is exactly what Kleon highlights through his illustration. It can be easy to reduce all that is spiritually life giving to a series of products and commodities.
If we base our spirituality on external commodities (podcasts, apps, blogs even), then we will always be on the hunt for the fresh and the new. We chase fresh experiences, or the type of popularity that ensures we are recognized as someone “in the know”. This is easy to do. We hear of someone who successfully engages their spiritual life in a certain way, and we believe that a similar ‘system’ will work for us. Whether we adopt a particular way of prayer, a bible reading plan, or a popular study, we attempt to fit our internal life with God into a prefabricated mold.
This rarely works. Not only do we become disillusioned by the commodity itself, but we will inevitably become tempted to disregard the entire practice. It’s not just that Lectio Divina is not to our liking, for example, it’s that we feel the act of reading the bible is a waste of time. Or, instead of looking for a devotional more suited to our temperament, we come to believe that the idea of prayer is simply nonsensical; Eventually we give it up all together.
Here’s the truth of the matter: our life with God is simple. Simplicity, as defined by Richard Foster, is a “single hearted focus on God and God’s kingdom.” What this means is that we reach out to Jesus as the very basis of our lives. This is where we start. Yes, external frameworks can help us, yet they must be secondary to our primary task of simply reaching out to Jesus.
So, what do you do if you are feeling frustrated with your current way of spiritual living? What do you do if the avenues and frameworks of your spiritual life just don’t seem to be ‘working’ anymore. Put them down, just for a moment. Put down the prayerbook, the meditation app, or the bible reading plan. Put them down so that you can reach out to Jesus in a different way. Rest assured that the Lord will not think less of you. Having put down your external framework, simply reach out to Jesus in whatever way seems apt for you. Some may do so through praise music or hymnody; some may choose to sit in silence; others may decide to read their favourite passage of scripture. The important part in all of this is to not choose a new system. Follow where the Spirit of the Lord is drawing you. In doing so, you may find a new way of reaching out the Lord, one that produces a sense of vibrancy and life to your spirit. Or you may find that you miss your time of structured devotion. Either way, the Spirit will guide you.
The reality is that our spiritual life is always lived in the constancy of grace. Jesus accepts us as we are, addresses us as we are, and calls to us, as we are. The heart of faith is to claim this simple truth and respond to it.