What is Simplicity?

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I’ve written in previous posts about simplicity and how it can assist us in remembering our mission to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ, but I didn’t really offer a definition of simplicity. It’s a tough word to define, especially when seeking to satisfy the masses. I’ve had several conversations with the EvangelicalDisciple concerning the topic and we have yet to nail down a good definition of it. Well, I have good news for everyone: I think I have found a good definition!

St. Francis de Sales (whom I quoted last week) offers this:

Well, simplicity is nothing else than an act of pure and simple charity, having only one end, which is to acquire the love of God; and our soul is simple when we have no other aim in all that we do or desire.

To break open his definition, he brings into the discussion the example of Martha and Mary as they welcomed the Lord into their home. Mary was the one who understood simplicity, for she looked straight to God, without ever allowing any self-interest to creep into her motives for sitting at the feet of Jesus. Martha, meanwhile, was so focused on herself that she became anxious and weighed down by her work. Her life had become so self-interested that she lost all freedom to rest with Jesus.

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Consider the ramifications of what life might look like for one devoted to living a life solely founded on the virtue of simplicity: no more little indulgences after consuming enough food and drink, no more excessive TV watching, spending, hoarding… no more excess at all. What else might it entail? Well, resting on Sundays, spending more time in the peace and quiet of prayer, striving for holiness and inviting others to do the same, encountering great joy in detachment from self, realizing you don’t have to defeat Satan because Jesus already did it, calmness of spirit and freedom from anxiety. The pros outweigh the cons.

If you’re interested in living a life of true simplicity, ask yourself:

Do I want serve this person because I want to look good in the eyes of others, or because I want to show him/her God’s love?

Do I want to buy this car because it looks a certain way, or because it will help me glorify God?

Do I want to grow a good garden so I can show it off to my friends, or because a good garden will nourish me and remind me to thank God for my health, and beautiful flowers will remind me of all that God created?

Do I exercise only because it makes me look better to other people, or because I can serve God better with a healthy body?

Do I want to fast today because my friends might notice and think I’m a holy person, or because it will remind me of my soul’s hunger for God’s grace?

Am I focused on myself, or on God and his glory?

Do I think only of myself and how I look in the eyes of others, or do I think only of God and his love for his people?

Do I pray only because it makes me feel good, or because God deserves my worship, reverence, and love? Do I stop praying when the good feelings vanish, or do I persevere even through the times when I can’t feel God’s presence?

Ask yourself these questions – and similar questions about things that better relate to your life – frequently. Live a reflected life so you don’t lose sight of the ultimate goal, which is the glory of God and the salvation of souls. Be simple.

Be as a Bee with a Queen

 

Bee

Consider the following example, as explained by St. Francis de Sales:

Bees cannot rest as long as they have no queen. They flutter about incessantly, wandering [here and there]; there is scarcely any repose in the hive. But as soon as their queen is born, they all gather around her, and stay there, never leaving her except to go and gather their spoils at her command.

Whenever we hear (or read) examples such as this, it’s good to actually stop and put an image in our “mind’s eye” (i.e. imagine the scene) to go along with the example: before the queen is born, the hive is in pure chaos. Of course bees cannot speak or use gestures as humans can, but they still communicate in some way so operations run smoothly in the hive.  Now, those who have done any sort of project with a big group know how important it is to have someone who at least knows the “big picture” or the general process of operation. That way, the rest of the group can go to this person and ask, “What do I do next? What role do I have in this process?” Without someone leading the crew, the problem arises of having too many people who think they know what’s going on, or no one knows what’s going on. Chaos is sure to follow. Direction is essential.

Back to the example with the bees… Not having a queen bee (the one who sees the big picture and knows how to make it all unfold perfectly) leads to chaos. When the queen bee is born, all the other bees approach and wait for direction. Chaos disappears and something as delicious as honey is produced (if we’re dealing with honey bees, that is). The hive thrives under the direction of the queen bee.

Let’s now apply that to humanity. Each human – you, your brother, friend, spouse, parent, me, etc. – lives according to what he “sees” in his own life. Some see outside of their own little ‘world’ but even then the scope is pretty narrow, considering the history of the entire world. No single human person can see the entirety of the big picture. Who can? God. For God, all things are one moment. Nothing escapes His vision, whether past, present, or future. He is our proverbial “queen bee”. Yet not all of us look to Him for guidance, waiting for His command for us to go and gather our spoils. Those who avoid His command live in chaos, as though they are bees without a queen. The saints, though, do nothing without receiving His command. Each day, they sit at His feet in prayer. Sometimes they are given very particular commands: feed this person, greet that person, give away this amount of money, visit this prisoner, comfort that mourner, etc. Always they are given general commands, which will allow the hive to thrive: feed the hungry, give money to the poor, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner, give shelter to the homeless, welcome the stranger, bury the dead, teach the ignorant, comfort the afflicted. Still a more general command did the saints receive from God: Be a holy priest. Be a holy nun. Be a holy husband, father. Be a holy wife, mother. Be a holy son or daughter. Be a holy disciple!

man praying in church

Prayer leads to a ‘hive’ that thrives. Prayer leads to a world that flourishes, breathes life, and produces true fruit.

Sit at the feet of God, as though you are a bee hovering around your queen. Wait for His command and then go gather your spoils for Him.

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