The Short List, The Simple Life


Only a few things are truly, really important in this life. You may nod your head in agreement, but a good look at our busy lives often reveals that we have traded the few and necessary things for the many and the not-so-necessary. And, after a little time goes by and our attachments to the unnecessary but nice begin to grow deeper, it can be difficult to discern the difference between what really matters and what doesn’t – or shouldn’t.

Let’s try a little experiment to test this theory. If you were asked to narrow your commitments to – let’s say the five most important things in your life, what would make your short list? And equally important, what would be transferred off of it?

Here, I’ll give it a go, since I don’t like to preach anything I’m not willing to practice myself. Here’s my short list:

  1. Being with God (this includes all aspects of relationship with and duty unto Him, in the various forms it may take season by season)
  2. Loving and nurturing my marriage and family and growing with them
  3. Sharing my creative gifts with the world so they can know God’s love
  4. Loving and helping people develop into healthy, mature adults
  5. Sharing the companionship of friends

That wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be! I hope yours was easy to put down, too. In reality, I could add subletters to each item on the list, and easily transform it into a much longer list. But the point of narrowing down the things that I know I am meant to commit myself to is supposed to be that I might live a simple life.

How do I define simple? Uncluttered. Unharried. Unpressured by the unnecessary.

I’ve shared before about the importance of prioritizing commitments, and of reevaluating our commitments with each new season. I still believe this is a crucial step in living out our callings and seeing the dreams God has given us come to pass. It is critical if we don’t want to waste the time we have been given. The reason it has to be done every so often, all over again, is that life so quickly becomes complicated and cluttered.

It becomes complicated by the things we weren’t expecting. Things that don’t go according to plan. It becomes cluttered by the multitude of opportunities we have every day – in every direction – to divert our attention just slightly enough to veer a fraction of a hair off the original course. And if we entertain enough of those opportunities, they add up to a significant investment of time, energy and resources. The result is that we have nothing left to devote to the simple and the small because it’s all been spent on the complicated and the neverending list of things we think we have to do.

In our world, this is normal. Color-coordinated, classified lists abound with superhuman expectations of what we ought to be able to accomplish in a day. The burden, when we stop to think about it, is cumbersome at the least and crushing at best, or should I say worst. But of course, we don’t often stop and think about it – both because we are far too busy and because it’s too much to bear. We don’t have the time to be that overwhelmed. So we numb ourselves with ceaseless activity and chase the reward of more and greater accomplishments, hoping tomorrow will be a better day with better goals and bigger dreams….and more simplicity, somehow.

It’s exhausting to think about, isn’t it? Yet, this is the reality so many of us live. Plugged in, always on, multi-tasking and killing it, getting stuff done. Check, check, check, check…The list, however, seems to only get longer, doesn’t it? Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like the “more” we chase never delivers us safely to a level of settling down and into the peace and quiet and comfort we are believing it will. Instead, the “more” we chase only leads to the need to do more in order to sustain that more…and on and on and on we go.

I’m reading a book by Elisabeth Elliot called Keep a Quiet Heart. The title intrigued me, both because I long for that, and because somehow I know I was/we were created for such a life. I bought it because, in my mile-a-minute racetrack-of-a-life, I crave the simplicity that would allow me to live that way. Quietly…..

In her book, the author talks about the short list that is often neglected because we are greedy for doing, being and having more of what our world says will make us better. Sounds like the garden all over again, doesn’t it? Eat this fruit that God told you not to because it will make you wiser. We’re still falling for the same old trick of wanting to do more than God meant for us to do, be more than He desires for us to be (in ways He never designed for us to know), and have more than He has chosen to give us.

It’s a treadmill that never stops, and while we’re on it, the minutes are ticking by. As we go from upgrade to upgrade, we are actually trading down on the life we were meant to know. The life of being present. The life of being truly satisfied. The life of being rich inwardly. The life of deep peace and lasting joy. There are many who love their long lists and feel motivated and accomplished for having completed them, but when the noise of the day dies down, what greets them? Only a brief respite, followed by another day with another long list.

Dear Woman of Breakthrough, I want to invite you to take a fresh look at your list of commitments and responsibilities today. Is it too long? Are you too busy to slow down and have – no, keep a truly quiet heart? Does your life feel like too much, most or all of the time?

I want you to know that it’s ok to slow down. You actually have permission to get off of the treadmill you’ve been stuck on. God has invited us to live simply. To be present for what really matters. To unhook from the lures of life in this chaotic world and grab ahold of the values of Heaven instead. To know Him, and to delight in Him, which leads to delighting in the people around us.

A Scripture came to my mind as I was pondering this. Micah 6:8 says,

“…the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

We can expound on those three requirements and turn them into 640 different ways to do them, like the religious superstars of Jesus’ day. They appeared to be very powerful men, but in actuality, all of their activity had gained them nothing before God. They were the supposed “experts” in their knowledge of God and His ways, and yet, for all of their ceaseless activity and pursuit of more and more knowledge, they never acheived the one thing they were doing it all for. Life with God became a distant reality they had convinced themselves they were chasing, but really they were only getting further and further away from it with every extra bullet point they added to their lists of success.

So why don’t we try a different approach instead? Why don’t we take God’s invitation to keep a short list, starting with the One He has proposed, and weed out anything that doesn’t fit into these pursuits? My guess is that our lives would begin to look and feel very different.

I’ll admit that it isn’t easy to ditch the long list and the complicated, busy life. It takes almost constant consideration and determination. I have to be vigilant of the pace I keep, and the room I protect for God and His desires. All too easily, I can become like the Inn Keeper of Jesus’ day, with no room in my life for Him to come and stay.

So I recalibrate often, sometimes daily. And I fight the onslaught that seems to constantly come my way, demanding my time and attention. I keep as my priority the short list and the simple life, so that I am available to encounter God and to be an encounter for others with Him. And for all of that struggling to preserve and maintain a quiet, simple life, I can tell you one thing for certain: it is worth it.

May you ponder your list today, and your life. Is it what God has called it to be, or has it grown a mind and a routine all its own? If your list has overtaken you, it’s time to pause and put things in their right order again. It’s time to simplify. It’s time to live your God-given priorities, instead of being enslaved to what the rest of the world prioritizes. God promises rest for those Who live the simple life with the short list. If rest – real, soul rest – is a distant dream for you, today is the day to switch programs and come home to the place God has reserved for you to know and thrive in.

His presence is home, and His ways are light and unburdensome…the complete opposite of our frantic pace and dwelling places filled with chaos. If you can be still long enough to ask, you will find that your soul is craving what God is holding out to you today – what He has always been holding out to you. Don’t fuss over getting off track and stuck in the ditches of doing too much. Just ask Him for the strength to start over and to keep it simple, hour by hour and day by day. He will help you to live the way you were created to. He will quiet your heart with His love, and once He does, you will never want to go back to living the way you have been.

Be blessed, and shorten your list today, dear Woman of Breakthrough!

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