I’m reading through a book with a couple of friends that has been like a breath of fresh air in a life that can often feel noisy and distracting. It’s called Abundant Simplicity and was written by Jan Johnson. She encourages us to slow down and take a good look at our lives — how we spend our time, energy, and money — to see what behaviours and activities we engage in that are actually life-draining and which separate us from God.
Almost every page has challenged me in some way. I’ll admit that there have been days where I’ve left the book on my nightstand unopened, knowing that it will shine light on something that I need to change.
If I can think of one thing in my life right now that takes me away from God, it is shopping. Actually, it is not shopping itself, because that can be necessary and good. But for me it is often guided by unhealthy motives like greed, envy and pride. I am guilty of participating in the “frenzied quest for physical attractiveness” as Johnson puts it, which takes away from pausing and listening to God and enjoying his presence in my life.
The book is full of wisdom and encouragement to let go of certain habits to make space for spiritual growth. Johnson writes that “habits of simplicity help us connect with God in a way that is quite practical. They clear the mind and calendar to make room for better things, such as holy leisure and gut-level prayer.”
The times that I have resisted the temptation to go to the mall, or browse through my favourite online clothing sites, I’ve asked God to show me how else I could spend this time. Maybe it’s taking a walk, or messaging a friend, or spending a few minutes in quiet prayer and meditation.
The point is that I am not giving in to what my flesh desires but opening myself up to God.
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10b NIV)
When I have become frustrated with myself, when I feel that I am not growing in my faith, when I don’t feel like I am getting a taste of this abundant life Jesus has promised me, it is often because I am holding onto habits that prevent me from inviting more of God’s richness into my life.
Letting things go is hard. Being satisfied with the clothes in my closet when what I really want is another cute jumpsuit is not fun. Following Jesus can feel like we’re a fish swimming upstream sometimes — selfish choices come easier. However, if I can raise my gaze a little bit higher I’ll begin to see what God wants for me. And what he wants for me is better than anything I could think up on my own.
Jan Johnson writes in her book, “God gives us grace to be gentle with ourselves. The Holy Spirit makes us aware of our shortcomings not so that we’ll feel guilty and force ourselves to shape up. Rather, the Spirit gives us insightful awareness so we have a place to start. God is not mad at us, but mad about us. God is a safe shelter in which we can face our underlying motives and determine our next steps.”
On this adventure of becoming more Christlike, may we be full of grace for ourselves, and may we laugh at our mistakes (like when we find ourselves in the Winner’s changing room for the third time this week), but may we be serious about turning our gaze toward Jesus as he reaches his hands towards us saying “Leave that behind, now come and follow me.”