Beyond Simplicity

David Chronic has served with WMF in Romania from 1997 to the present. His article appeared in The Cry, vol. 7, no. 1 (Spring 2001).

I was savoring the smell of fresh-made coffee in the kitchen when the doorbell rang. I winced through the peephole, not expecting anyone at such an early hour. The hallway of my apartment building is poorly lit, so all I could make out was the figure of a lady. I unlatched and opened the door to see a familiar face. It was Mirela. When I first met her, Mirela lived with her father and her three girls in a neatly kept four-room apartment. Three years ago Mirela lost her job. Simultaneously, her father died and her brother sold the apartment forcing Mirela and her girls to move. The family found a rat-infested shack and tried fixing it up. But a year later, they were forced to move again.

Mirela somehow found out where I lived and came to tell me her story. I invited her in past the kitchen to the living room. Though it was evident how exhausted Mirela was, she sat with all sophistication; but because she was so exhausted, she expounded and elaborated so as to have more time to sit and recover.

As she told me how she must move her family again and how she is searching for a place that she can afford, I began to think about the context of the conversation. There I sat in a comfortable chair vis-à-vis Mirela. I sat under a simple ceiling light and surrounded by a table, chairs, plants and a wardrobe full of books and trinkets. At the end of my short hall, I had a bathroom with a toilet, bath and frequent hot water. I had a room with a bed, computer, guitar and several changes of clothes. Then there was my kitchen with a refrigerator, some food, dishes and cutlery – not to forget the wafts of fresh coffee that my nose kept catching as I listened to Mirela. She wanted help, and I am a Christian. Yet, I was enjoying more than Mirela and her three girls would ever dream of having. Mirela came for help but ended up helping me by challenging my faith and questioning my obedience.

After I became a Christian, I began to see the importance of simplicity. Scripture teaches that I must love my neighbor and that I cannot separate my humanity from the rest of humankind. If Mirela is suffering, then I suffer. If Mirela’s girls need help, I must help them. Not to respond would be disobedience to God and depreciation of my own humanity. I must practice a lifestyle of simplicity for the sake of Mirela. Dr. Samuel Kamaleson says that we are to attach ourselves to the One who is calling us and detach ourselves from all else. Attaching to Jesus leads to detaching from the world and to simplicity of lifestyle. This is not simplicity for the sake of simplicity, but simplicity for the sake of relationship – relationship with God and relationship with each other.

A lifestyle of simplicity is a place to which God is calling us all, but there are some dangers in walking this narrow path. First, there is the danger of moving from detachment to depreciation. Detachment is completely abandoning ourselves to the Father whose love demands our all. Depreciation is devaluing the things we are attached to so that it is easier to give them up. Detachment is looking to God; depreciation is looking to our “valuables.” Soren Kierkegaard speaks of depreciation in his book Fear and Trembling. Commenting on the call of Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac on Mount Moriah, Kierkegaard points to the temptation to depreciate that which one must renounce. If Isaac meant less to Abraham, it would be easier to give him up. But God does not call us to depreciate. Rather, God calls us to resign ourselves wholly, trusting that God will reorder our values.

Kierkegaard says, Resignation is not giving up thinking about one’s heart’s desire; on the contrary, being resigned requires retaining the original interest but accepting that nothing on earth will permit it to be satisfied. Our hope then rests in God alone. We detach from ourselves and attach to God. Though we suffer loss and though we die, we believe that in our flesh we shall still see God.

A lifestyle of simplicity has another danger. It is the danger of seeing simplicity as an end in itself. It is the Pharisaic temptation of dropping our eyes from God to humanity. Simplicity is a relative term. A simple lifestyle in the US looks different than a simple lifestyle in India. If I strive to live more simply than the Jones’, then I make simplicity its own end and am nothing more than a pious Pharisee who wants to be admired for his religious acts. Jesus says that he has no reward with the Father who is in heaven for he has received his reward in full. Pharisaic simplicity is thanking God that we are not like “other people.”

Our simplicity must go beyond comparisons with each other. It must be rooted in discovering who we are before God. In front of God we must be undone by our utter poverty. This desperate poverty is where we must stake our commitment to simplicity. Simplicity rooted in poverty is a lifestyle that cries, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13). It is through this realization that God has compelled the church throughout history to take vows of poverty. This is a lifestyle of simplicity at its core. It embraces the reality of fallen, impoverished humanity apart from God and prophetically denounces materialism, consumerism and Mammon as false gods. Gandhi said that we must live simply so that others may simply live. This is certainly true in a world where 90% of the resources are consumed by 20% of the people, and where there are vast canyons between overweight societies that die from overeating and malnourished societies that die of hunger. We can almost alter Gandhi’s statement by saying that we must live simply so that we all may simply live.

By detaching ourselves from ourselves and attaching ourselves to God, by resisting the depreciation of our valuables and renouncing ourselves to God, and by rejecting a Pharisaic spirituality of pious comparisons and embracing a lifestyle rooted in our own poverty, we can truly celebrate simplicity for the sake of God and for the sake of humanity. The fruit of such a celebration means life for Mirela, for her three girls and for me.

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