Cultivate the deep, cultivate the simple
“Life is deep and simple, and what our society gives us shallow and complicated.” Fred Rogers said that. As in Mister. As in the fire engine red cardigan and the songs about neighbors. And I’ve been ruminating on those words this past month.
Complicated. How often do I use that word in my daily life? How often do I run through my days living “busy,” living “complicated”?
For Lent I’m thinking about deep simplicity versus shallow complexity. What does it mean to cultivate a deep and simple life, to weed out the things that—in their seeming importance—seduce me into believing their complications are necessary?
Isn’t our culture full of those sorts of weeds? The ones we allow to grow into our lives simply because they seem that they ought to be valuable? More activities for our kids, more work, more material consumption, more commitments in church and school! And soon we don’t recognize what we value anymore, because all it seems we have time to value is our own time management.
What is deep? What is simple? The answer to those questions almost always points toward what is good.
I’m also learning to ask what is tricking me in its own complexity. There is much in life that seems important but is actually shallow, undeserving of my desires, underserving of my time.
Since this past summer, beginning around the time I miscarried last June, I committed myself to stripping out the parts of my life that were overwhelming me. Most of them had to do with my writing career. I asked myself what I really love about being a writer. My answer was this: I love creating something that is rich and beautiful, offering it as a gift to others.
Then I compared that with what I spent most of my time doing: social media, self promotion, keeping up with the blogging requirements of what authors are supposed to do be noticed and valued. And I realized I was tired. I wanted to write more simply. I hadn’t been doing the social media circus act because doing so was actually providing me a salary. I was doing it because I was supposed to.
I decided I would make a conscious effort to write more intentionally and let myself write slowly, especially while my kids are small. I took a summer break from blogging, came back in the fall in the early stages of pregnancy, and have taken my time ever sense.
It would be really nice for me to say: And since that choice my blog readership has grown! (That wouldn’t be true.) Or, now I’m inspired to write the next great American novel! (Nope.) Or even, now I have the energy to dust off my collection of poetry and actually send it out to journals. (Not that either.) But it has given me is permission to rest, permission to go to sleep early, to read, permission to play with my kids without social media demands hanging over my head.
It’s also—slowly—given me permission to not work like crazy to turn myself into something impressive. I want to believe that I don’t have to be important in my writing career to live into my calling. I’m learning to believe that.
I want to cultivate the simple and the deep in my ordinary life. I want to be present for real people in my physical life. I want to serve my church and community. I want to be a good friend, a mom who isn’t constantly busy, constantly distracted.
This Lent I took Facebook and Twitter off my phone. I’m not forgoing those things. I’m just practicing life with their incessant reminders that I need to be online. I want to make it simpler. I’m preparing for a baby to come in April. And there are real things to do. Blankets to wash, minivans to shop for, evenings to sit still and feel little baby wiggling around inside.
Last week my pastor preached on the Transfiguration and quoted NT Wright:
“How can you live with the terrifying thought that the hurricane has become human, that the fire has become flesh, that life itself came to life and walked in our midst? Christianity either means that, or it means nothing. It is either the more devastating disclosure of the deepest reality in the world, or it’s a sham, a nonsense, a bit of deceitful play-acting. Most of us, unable to cope with saying either of those things, condemn ourselves to live in the shallow world in between.”
There’s the word again: shallow. As humans, we most often train ourselves to choose the shallow. It hurts less. And in order to make ourselves feel valuable, we shape the shallow to look important, complicated. Shallow lives are dangerous things.
And then there’s Jesus. We who believe in him are the people who believe in the hurricane turned human, in the fire become flesh. How far are we willing to walk into this faith of ours? Are we willing to trust in the deep reality that leads us out of shallow complications and into the rich simplicity of Jesus?
Here’s our question: What will we cultivate this season of Lent? What are we drawing ourselves nearer to? What are we discarding?
Can we choose simplicity over the loud raging of our busy, performance-driven lives? Now that’s a question.