One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.
There is only one thing worth being concerned about.
Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.
I love Mary Oliver’s simple Rules for Living a Life:
- Pay attention
- Be astonished
- Talk about it
I was recently astonished with the topic of simplicity. I had been doing lots of research and planning for walking the Camino de Santiago as a spiritual pilgrimage. I was practically dreaming about what should go in my pack and what to leave behind in order to get my pack down to only 15 simple pounds of precious necessities.
My friend and I would be walking 190 miles from Porto, Portugal to Santiago, Spain over 17 days, staying at hostels, albergues, hotels and convents. The online forums had endless recommendations about everything from shoes to blister protection to safety to packs to mindsets. I browsed the internet tirelessly to see how to walk the Camino de Santiago and read books on how to do a spiritual pilgrimage. I’m an Enneagram One after all and need to do it right. I prayed, planned, packed, pitched and practiced walking. But before I had even set foot on the Camino my 18-pound pack already felt too bulky. Not literally though. I had trained for weeks carrying that much weight, but I still felt like the whole thing was too complicated. I wanted to throw off everything, metaphorically and mentally, and just walk. Just simply be with God. Mary Oliver’s formula was inviting.
Hebrews 12:1 agrees that we should lay aside any weight that hinders our walk. I wanted to have only the bare essentials so that I could focus on the One Thing that is worth being concerned about. When Martha was frazzled with all her preparations Jesus gave her permission to lay it all down and just sit at His feet like Mary. I wanted the same: a light pack, loose plans, and heaps of delight, curiosity and expectancy as I simply walked each day with God.
Doesn’t that sound like luxurious freedom?
Life is complicated.
That was one of the quickest lessons I learned on my pilgrimage. When my life was simplified down to only 18 pounds on my back and follow-the-yellow-arrows, there was still plenty to vie for my attention and take me from the spiritual realm of One Thing to an earthly one: mainly, food, shelter, clothing and health.
When we got to our accommodations we had to shower and wash our clothes (by hand) right away so that they would dry overnight to wear again the next day. Then we would find a place to eat in a town we didn’t know.
What did we feel like eating?
How far were the cafes?
Did we have enough more steps in us to get there?
Were there other things to see in this town that were worth our precious energy?
Even making decisions felt too complicated, but simple decisions and plans are a daily necessity. We needed to decide how far we could walk the next day and then book an albergue for that night. We needed to plan when to get up in order to cover the miles and still get to our albergue in time to again wash clothes early enough for them to dry. In the morning we needed to care for our blistered feet, reorganize our packs, and find the trail again.
Martha, Martha. So few things could so easily put us into logistics mode instead of the One Thing we wanted most.
Simplicity is not easy. It takes intentionality, effort and will power. The entropy is toward chaos. Things devolve over time, not evolve. We have to constantly shed and filter and sort and maintain if we want to keep our life simple.
I found that it helps to plan for simplicity and then make the choice to enter it and embrace it.
All my planning beforehand did pay off. It was worth researching what I would need and what was unnecessary. I had the things I needed and not too many extras. I knew enough to get on the right path, stay on the right path and stay safe and healthy. That was enough. I was prepared mentally to lay aside distractions and spend some amazing quality time just being (well, walking) with God.
We can plan simplicity in our non-Camino lives by gently but ruthlessly eliminating unnecessary things. I didn’t need extra pounds in my pack, and we don’t need extra clutter in our lives. Get rid of all excess. Trust that God will provide as he always does. Don’t bring unnecessary and complicated things into your life and get rid of unnecessary things that distract.
Once I actually began my pilgrimage I had to choose to enter and embrace the simplicity I had planned for; lay aside all else, mentally and physically, hold my plans loosely and just walk. My daily walk time was a precious priceless connection with God- abiding, enjoying, being. It will not be taken from me. I am forever changed.
We can plan for simplicity by incorporating being into our routines. Keep your schedule simple and free of excessive activity. Plan downtime. Plan alone time. Plan God time. Plan margin into your schedule. Actually put it in your calendar! If you don’t work at getting your pack down to a reasonable weight it will keep getting heavier. If you don’t work at simplifying your schedule and routines they will devolve toward complexity and excessive activity that keep you from entering the Secret Place.
Once simplicity is created and protected, we have to choose to enter it. You are free to choose Martha’s way of work and worry. That path will always be there. But the One Thing is right in front of you. Simplicity means keeping the main thing the only thing. Lay aside all else and enter it!