Last week I received an email from a girl in her late 20s who attended our church for several years before moving overseas to teach English in Tsalenjikha, Georgia. That's not an area just south of Atlanta, it's the one on the other side of the planet situated between Turkey and the southern tip of Russia.
Due to unforeseen circumstances, she was forced to move out of her first residence into a place off the beaten path with a spotty internet connection. On top of that she's in a city where she doesn't speak the language, she doesn't know any people, she has no transportation and it's too expensive to make a phone call. As weeks have turned into months she's found herself transitioning from boredom to despair to slight optimism.
You could probably call those first few weeks in a new country the detox stage. The constant barrage of friends, text messages, traffic, deadlines, social media and TV had been immediately replaced by the noise of solitude and isolation. Sometimes it's the silence that's deafening. Between the stages of boredom and slight optimism, she told me about something that happened. The options were to spend $600 on the first plane ticket out of town or stick it out and try to embrace the current situation. She had taken a few Christian classics on her trip such as The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer and The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence, a 17th century French monk.
In the days and weeks that followed, the solitude and simplicity of life began a transformative work in her. She regained balance, God began to speak into her situation and she saw the bigger work that God was doing in her life. In her email she asked me this question: Is it possible that God has taken me on this journey over 6,000 miles from home to learn the discipline of solitude, simplicity and slowing?
To be completely honest, at the end of reading her email I actually felt a little envious. I wanted to be given a valid reason to slow down and stop for a while. I wanted someone to let me off the hook and allow me to turn off my phone, email, Facebook, twitter, TV, etc. Most of us don't know how to rest. We don't know how to stop. We lack the personal discipline to slow ourselves and embrace the silence.
The art of simplicity is anything but simple. In a world of increasing complexities, it's become a lost art among many. We can chalk it up to productivity or always needing to stay connected or whatever else we can think of; the reality is that most of us aren't good at rest, simplicity, and silence. We end up filling those spots with something, usually noise. It goes back to the old saying, "You can either choose to rest by choice or you will eventually be forced to rest by life." I want to choose. I want some sort of simplicity.
As I'm typing this very article and see the inbox on my computer slowly climbing, I've already received seven text messages in the short time I've been sitting here, and my twitter account always seems to be beckoning for an update or retweet. These things were designed to be tools, not masters, and yet how easy is it to find yourself in a constant barrage of information, updates and communication.
I've realized at specific times throughout my life that I've lost the art of simplicity. I've also realized that my personal walk with Christ has suffered immensely in certain seasons because of my imbalance. It's during these times when I force myself to recalibrate and I restore the peace, rest and emotional health back to my life and my walk with Christ.
I'm writing this article out of my own personal struggle. I have not mastered this by any means, but I wanted to share a few things that have incorporated into my life over the past few years. I fully understand that this list contains simple, basic principles. Simplicity is difficult, at least for me.
1. Go on a half day prayer retreat. Write it down on your calendar or it will never happen. Totally unplug from the rest of the world -- which means you may need to tell a few people that they won't be able to reach you for a few hours. Go somewhere where you can get away from all the noise and distractions. For me, it's always somewhere outside in nature. Pray, read scripture, think, reflect and possibly even journal. You may find that it takes an hour or two to actually relax and detox before you're able to really focus. You'll also find that it can be during these intentional moments where God speaks, you are renewed and you regain balance physically, emotionally and spiritually.
2. Develop a strategic work calendar. Recently, I began to break up my work calendar into certain sections where I allow or don't allow certain things to happen. It was an effort to regain control of my schedule instead of allowing others to control it for me. For instance, every morning I spend a certain amount of time in prayer and God's word. I won't check email before then, respond to text messages or transfer into work/production mode during that time. Put it in your schedule, stick to it and protect it from others who try to steal it.
3. Leave it at work. Sounds simple enough, right? If your job allows you to be off the clock and not on call then don't bring your work home to your family. When you're at dinner with your family don't be reviewing the next days activities or be on your phone.
4. Incorporate sabbath rest. A sabbath is simply a day or portion of the day that you devote to rest. It's not so much about mindless activities as it is about instituting activities that energize and renew you. Friday is my day off every week. I intentionally plan events on Friday where my family can enjoy one another and we feel refreshed after taking part in it. I protect this time on my calendar and don't let other people, events, or even my job steal that time. You will be more productive in the long run if you embrace and institute sabbath. It's our way of saying to God, "I trust you enough with my life to rest and renew."
5. Unplug. This sounds easy but has probably been the hardest for me. This means completely turn off your phone. Yep, you might not even know that your smartphone has an off button. It's there, I promise. Do your best to turn off or distance yourself from all the things that continually clamor for your attention.
My prayer for you is that you learn to embrace the solitude and watch how simplicity can restore peace and joy to your life and your walk with Christ.
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