I once was visiting a beautiful home, finely furnished with exquisite furniture, lovely artwork and impeccable décor. However, the heavy draperies around the windows blocked most of the natural light in the rooms, and left an atmosphere of heaviness and, quite frankly, suffocation. Although the home was beautiful I couldn't wait to leave and enjoy the freshness and plainness of the light and air outside.
I can't help but think, as we enter into this season of Lent, about the "heaviness," the complications of everyday life, that have the potential to snuff out the fresh light and air of Christ in our lives.
What am I talking about? I'm talking about living simply. Obviously Lent is a time for penance, reflection, renewal. It's a time for introspection and consideration of things eternal. What I'm proposing this Lent is paring down life, getting rid of the 'heavy draperies' so that things eternal can shine into our daily thoughts and lives.
How can simplicity of life be accomplished? I'm going to offer a formula set forth by philosopher and professor Peter Kreeft in his classic 1990 book, Making Choices: Practical Wisdom for Everyday Moral Decisions. (It's rated a full five stars on Amazon.com. Buy it there or at your local Catholic bookstore. I promise you won't be disappointed.)
First, attain mastery over time. The clock should not be our god. It is true we need to watch the clock to make it to work, keep our dentist appointments, and get to Mass on time. However, American society is too focused on schedules. Take time to get at eye level with your child and really listen. Make time for 'date night' with your mate. Do one thing at a time. Do not worry about work when you are home with your family or your home projects when you are at work. Think about the one thing you are currently doing and do it well. (Kreeft bluntly tells his readers to stop "octopussing" — trying to do eight things at once. I might add that some of us are likely even "jellyfishing." Did you know some jellyfish have hundreds of tentacles?) Slow down and here's the biggie: pray… without watching a clock. God is the creator of time, reminds Kreeft. God can multiply time, but first we must offer our time to Him. And it is good to remember that God cannot be outdone in generosity. He will take our sacrifice and bless us a thousand fold. A good place to start this Lent is going to Confession and attending other Catholic devotions such as Eucharistic Adoration or Stations of the Cross. Like the Nike commercial advocates, "Just do it."
Second, live more naturally. Go to bed earlier and get up earlier, following nature's cycle of darkness and light. Kreeft says this aids in simplicity because the things people do in the morning are usually simple things — walking, praying, and tidying up. And the things people do in the evening or more complicating (or time-wasting) — busywork, attending parties, watching television. Spend more time outdoors (yes, even in the winter!) Breathe in the fresh air. And take walks frequently. Kreeft writes, "[When you walk] you will begin to recapture the natural rhythms of the body…It attunes us with the earth and air…It is a symbol of life, the road to eternity… And it gives us an opportunity to think."
Third, recognize that often less is more. Don't just give up sweets this Lent. Take less food. Chew it slowly. Savor its flavor deliberately. Enjoy it more. We've all seen women who have overdone it in the jewelry and make-up departments. They have baubles and beads on every limb, and layers of gold or silver around their necks. Heavy eye shadow and lip color emphasizes their faces. Who can deny that this actually detracts from a woman's natural beauty? Contrast that image with simple cleanliness and light makeup, a plain cross necklace and a pair of simple earrings on a female. One young woman I knew in college gave up make-up for Lent. That's probably considered radical in our American culture, and I don't know very many women who would do that for forty whole days, but it is a good idea to eliminate extra things. Less truly is often more.
Fourth, decrease expenses. We don't need half of what we want anyway. Love of money is the root of all evil. See what you can do without.
Fifth, embrace silence. Kreeft calls silence "the unknown power source…the great untapped resource." He says that silence is more, not less than noise. Cultivate inner silence by eliminating outer noise. Turn off the television. Skip the radio in the car. Listen more. Talk less. God speaks to us all the time, but often with the cacophonic sounds intruding into our lives we just don't hear Him.
Simplifying life truly is like pulling back or even taking down thick draperies in a stuffy, dark room. In removing the fabric that blocks luminosity we will find more light, more freshness, and quite likely more room for God.