Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Simple Life

I stumbled upon this stunning blog the other day. Really, it took my breath away. My eyes welled up with tears while listening to the background music dance with the poetic way this mom expressed her beautiful thoughts. The way she portrayed her ‘simple life’ just struck a chord with me. Obviously she lived on a farm because everyone who lives the simple life lives on a farm, right? Her magazine worthy pictures on the site just oozed with family love and camaraderie. There is one shot of one out of her six children giving the baby calf a bottle of milk. It just melted my heart. I sighed to myself and thought, “Ah… the simple life.” When I clicked out of the site, the music stopped and I was met with the whaling of little ones tugging on my pant leg asking for milk, a snack and another piece of my sanity.

After feeling a bit discontented with my own non-farming life, I asked myself, “What does it even mean to live ‘the simple life?’” Do I have to live on a farm to claim this highly desirable yet seemingly unattainable status? Do I have to home school, have five, six or seven children or make my own bread from scratch? Is there room for my not-so-large yet messier-than-most family to live such a life?

Truth is, the simple life can also mean something different than a lovely family with six home-schooled children living on a farm. Lest we be dismayed, discouraged and feeling inadequate, I believe the simple life can indeed be attainable to anyone anywhere- whether living on a farm or right in the middle of a bustling metropolitan. I’ve come to realize that the simple life has little to do with possessions, circumstances, or number of children and everything to do with our inner thoughts, perspective and our individual and unique lens we filter life through, everyday.

The simple life is a way of thinking. It’s letting those thoughts change your life so you can say ‘yes’ to the important and ‘no’ to the distractions. It’s figuring out what to value and what to just let go. It’s about contentment, avoiding comparisons like the plague, and being unexpectedly gracious and kind. It’s being genuine, down-to-earth and letting your guard down. It’s identifying with people and moving closer to relationships and further away from superficiality. It’s finding humor in the things you could fall apart over. It’s being true to yourself when there’s an opportunity to stand up for what’s right, even if it’s unpopular. It’s having it fresh in our mind that today is a gift, a special opportunity to pour into another’s life whether that someone is our own child or a total stranger. It’s looking our hardships square in the face and shouting, “I’m blessed, I’m blessed, I’m blessed!” It’s seeing the big picture when life so often is only pointing at a tiny piece of it. It’s bringing others up when it seems everyone is hurting, fighting an impossible battle. It’s forgiving when mercy isn’t warranted and remembering life is but a breath. Make it count…. bring something beautiful to it that only you can give.

To me, this is the ultimate simple life; keeping first things first, and not sweating the small stuff. It’s constantly remembering we are not the center of the universe and letting that reality drive us to be part of the larger community where we have something to give rather than only looking to see what we can receive. It’s letting technology aid these efforts, not hinder them. It’s choosing to be the victor and not the victim in any given circumstance.

Recently an old high school acquaintance 'friend requested' me over social media. He wrote me an unexpected message telling me that he had a horrible time in high school and wanted to let me know, thirteen years later, that I was one of the few that brightened his day. He thanked me for ‘always having a smile for him.’ I had absolutely no idea that I was contributing anything to him or anyone else. In my own eyes I didn’t do anything seemingly special... but to him it was what helped him get through high school. I was floored and so grateful I was able to bring light to his life all those years ago. It was a gift to him I didn’t even know I was giving. Getting this message from an old friend reminded me of one of my favorite quotes by Marianne Williamson.

Maybe all you did was stay in your pajamas all day, didn’t even brush your teeth… but you nursed that little baby from sun up to sun down. You’ve nourished another. Find peace and pleasure in such a gift. This is the simple life. Maybe you’ve not met your quota at work but during lunch break you listened to another tell her story, and you were there, present, connecting, enabling her to feel heard, important. This rare gift of attention- this is the simple life. Maybe you’ve reached the end of your rope emotionally and physically and are just about ready to collapse when you hear the baby crying, again. Somehow when there’s nothing left to give, there you are giving, again and again. This, my precious friend, is the face of raw sacrificial love, the greatest gift of all. That smile at a stranger, that undeserved gesture of kindness, that moment in time, this is the simple life.

Perfection is an illusion. The simple life is not necessarily living like the Amish as much as living like yourself, in your own mess- except with a new lens that sees and yearns to live out gratitude in spite of the circumstances, not because of it. Go ahead, go live the simple life, right smack in the middle of your very busy non-farming kind of life. As you live it out you unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.