If ever there was an idol thoroughly ripe and ready for a great heaving into eternal hell fire, it has to be the idol of simplicity. This leapt to my attention, not for the first time, this morning when I made the grave mistake of wandering from the “Holds” section of our depraved local library (lest you think Nazis are a thing of the past, try returning Hank the Cowdog late) and into the cookbook aisle. My sight was immediately accosted with drivel — 5 Easy Ways to Feed People So That They Will Never Ask You to Do It Again, Eating with No Grain and Only a Fraction of a Grimace, Whole 30 to Become Half a Human. I might be paraphrasing. A little.
We are people captivated by convenience and ease, by a false simplicity. The only simplicity worth having is that simplicity we don’t want: simplicity of heart, childlike faith, accepting what our Father gives us without throwing a fit about it, because He is our dad and if He says we need it, then we do. No, we have no use for true simplicity. We want systems. We want all the ways to save time, money and calories… I have never been able to figure out what we are saving them for. Is there a certain age that we reach when we finally get to use all this stuff we have banked? When we can take all the time we want doing the most menial of tasks, when we get to eat whatever and never think about how many reps we will have to fit in that night to pay for the privilege? And if so, is there a system for calculating what that age is? I would hate to miss it. I already have the sneaking suspicion that I missed the day in elementary where we chose our height and difficulty level for adulthood…
There is a paradox here (there must be — how else could we see the truth?) — true simplicity gives rise to perfect complexity, the sort that can be in awe of fungus that is good to eat and the mystery of breastfeeding, that can know it is worthwhile to make a thing with your own hands, that saving time can be the most deadly waste of all. But when simplicity is the goal in and of itself, all such glorious complexity is once and for all abandoned for the sake of efficiency, of economy, of a time-saving system or technique.
Ironically, our quest for simplicity often goes hand in hand with a devotion to busyness, and thus the vicious cycle is born. You worry that if the only socialization your kids receive is at home (gah, what if they start talking like me??) and church, that they will grow up to be like that oddball who sings with a sign on the corners of intersections trying to get you to buy mattresses, so you sign them up for activities and sports and lessons (I wonder how many of the decisions we make as parents have their beginnings in fear…). This busyness drives you to seek out ways to “maximize your time”. You meal prep — perhaps you cook one day a month and freeze it, if you are an ambitious homemaker at heart, or maybe you just buy pre-packaged meals and snacks, things that can be heated up quickly or eaten on the run. You make a detailed plan for getting all the laundry done as you seek the simple life… but true simplicity just does the wash, and thanks God for having people to dirty the clothes He gave you.
The quest for simplicity blinds us to the stunning complexity that is living.
Don’t get me wrong — the frozen pizza is not the problem. I love frozen pizza (actually, Costco has this crazy cauliflower crust pizza right now that is killer, even as I hear my sister gagging as she reads this — I promise, it is better than the last one I fed you) and canned food is a gift. It is always about the heart. Simplicity is a bad master. So is complexity, for that matter. Pride creeps in on both fields and makes a mess of our enjoyments and our work.
All well and good, you might be saying (well, not you personally, because you are one of my readers, and thus a rather enlightened personage who can smile and nod with the best of them, but possibly you have friends whom you have handed this off to. Let’s allow a paragraph for them, shall we?), but the laundry actually does need doing and I think better with a system! Without a plan, my whole house reeks of stinky socks! Take a breath (well, unless you haven’t been doing your laundry… then perhaps stick to metaphorical deep breathing). This is not an indictment of planning or of systems. It is not even necessarily a criticism of trying to find the easiest, fastest, cheapest way to do things. There are good reasons for pursuing all of these goals. The evil I find is when the means becomes the end. We are a forgetful people; we build idols out of anything and everything.
Let’s contemplate an example of what I am talking about, shall we? It is August as I write this and all the vegetables on the farm are ripe for the taking. There is tremendous abundance. I am delighted by everything about summer squash: the color of sunshine, the smooth, thin exterior, the butter-colored flesh, and a flavor mild enough to serve with anything. Our visit to the library was cut blissfully and providentially short by the knowledge that we needed to get back home in time to bake a yukon gold potato and summer squash torte that I had prepared for lunch. This delicious dish was new to me and I think it demonstrates the principle I am fumbling around to express. There is nothing inherently difficult or fussy about this torte. It is thinly sliced potato and squash, layered with drizzles of olive oil and a cheese and salt and pepper mixture, with green onions sprinkled throughout, baked to a golden, crispy-edged perfection. Yet it was captivating — appreciation led me to take the time to slice, to stir, to grind, to arrange, to bake. It took time and attention to use the gifts of the ultimate Husbandman well, and the result was lovely, a feast for the senses. It was not the easiest way to use the vegetables, it was not the least expensive lunch, it was in no way time saving. But there is glory in gratitude. One of the interesting side effects of offering up your time and money and effort during the preparation of a thing is that it tends to encourage a similar offering up in the receiving of the thing. A torte that took two hours to prepare (not even considering the time and effort spent in the growing of the vegetables) could certainly be scarfed down in mere moments… but it felt so natural to eat it slowly, to lift layers and perceive what the heat of the oven had accomplished in the time it was given. Simple, right?
You are up to your eyeballs in the generous, way over-the-top gifts of God. And the only simple part of this gift-giving is meant to be the receiving — wide-eyed, hands clapping, laughter bubbling out of you because He did it again! He made wild things grow in the wood, He caused the carpet fibers to hold their form and be soft under your feet, He spoke flowers and hummingbirds and green lacewings into existence and taught them to dance. So sing while you work, drink your water from a pretty glass, be in awe that hair can be combed, live amazed. He has not given you the future; today’s gifts are more than enough to keep you occupied, to fill your arms and your thoughts and your affections.
This story is way to big to waste on simplicity.