by Ann Hagman
No Church season is closer to my heart than Lent. Lent is derived from the Anglo Saxon word lenctem, meaning spring. The word reflects the lengthening of days as we move from winter towards summer. Lent is the 40 days (excluding Sundays) between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. Traditionally it has been a time of fasting commemorative of Jesus’ 40 days of fasting in the wilderness following his baptism. Lent also recalls the 40 days that Elijah and Moses both spent with God, as well as the 40 years that Israel spent wandering in the desert. Lent prepares the way for the greatest observance of the year, the death and resurrection of Jesus. Following Easter comes Pentecost or the coming of the Holy Spirit, and Kingdom tide, the post-Pentecost season that stretches across the summer until the celebration of Christ the King around Thanksgiving time.
Lent is the perfect season of the year for solitude and self-reflection. As we spiritually journey into the desert, Lent is a time to reexamine our boundary lines and get realigned, set in right relationship with God and the world around us. This year I would like to suggest a Lenten path to travel as the days grow longer and Easter approaches. That path is one of simplicity.
Simplicity, contrary to the suggestion of its name, is not a particularly simple or easy way. Life is very complex and the walk of simplicity is complicated and demanding, but the rewards are a hundredfold. Simplicity is not about poverty, or a renunciation of possessions, or a set of dos or don’ts. Rather simplicity is a spiritual discipline that reorients one’s life by deliberately organizing it for a purpose. It is spiritual because simplicity deals intimately with the beliefs and views that lend shape and order to our lives. Simplicity is a discipline because we have to work at it and practice it in order to apply it in our lives. Adhering our life to a focused center reduces the fracturedness of our lives. Our priorities are aligned to the focus of our lives, and the way we live out our simplicity in terms of our time, energy, and money becomes a reflection of our inner beliefs. Each of our paths will be unique to our situations.
On the most basic level, simplicity means being honest and sincere with ourselves about our faith and what really matters most to us. Simplicity requires at least two things: being willing to be vulnerable by embracing openness to God and to life, and believing it is God’s path to abundant life for us.
If you think simplicity might be a path that you would benefit from traveling, you can pursue it in any number of different directions. For instance, your outward expression of simplicity can be material, relational, financial, or spiritual. By material I mean dealing with the physical stuff in your life. Is your home full of things that add beauty or function or that simply take up space and require energy and money to maintain them? Relational simplicity applies to our relationships with people and time. Do we truly listen? Do the people who matter most in our lives receive the time and energy from us that properly reflects their priority to us? How do we use our time? Do we expend significant amounts of time on unnecessary matters?
Financial simplicity encompasses the way we spend our money and use credit. Are our financial investments wise? Pleasing to Christ? Helpful to others? Spiritual simplicity involves our relationship with God and our understanding of life. It includes honesty and integrity.
Simplicity touches every area of our lives as we open more facets of ourselves to God and the central value that directs our lives. Pick the area that draws you the most and begin your journey there, trusting in God’s grace and guidance. Often times it is helpful to use a resource to focus our devotional efforts. My book Climbing the Sycamore Tree: A Study in Choice and Simplicity is a useful resource for the faith focus of simplicity, especially as it affects our economic choices. There are also many other good books to help guide you.
May the 40 days of Lent enlighten you as you allow Christ’s light to shine more brightly in your lives and lead you into a path of simplicity and abundant life.
Ann Hagmann is a chaplain for Hospice Austin (Texas) and the founder of Whispering Hope Ministries for Healing and Wholeness. She worked for more than 14 years as a manager for AT&T and Southwestern Bell before ordination. Hagmann served 10 years as a United Methodist Church pastor. She holds a B.A. in psychology from the University of Arkansas and a D.Min. from Perkins School of Theology of Southern Methodist University. This article first appeared in Alive Now online, March/April, 2002.