Simplified Living

Simplified living is about more than doing less. It’s being who God called us to be, with a wholehearted, single-minded focus. It’s walking away from innumerable lesser opportunities in favor of the few to which we’ve been called and for which we’ve been created. It’s a lifestyle that allows us, when our heads hit the pillow at night, to reflect with gratitude that our day was well invested and the varied responsibilities of our lives are in order. . . .

Simplified living requires more than just organizing your closets or cleaning out your desk drawer. It requires uncluttering your soul. By examining core issues that lure you into frenetic living, and by eradicating the barriers that leave you exhausted and overwhelmed, you can stop doing the stuff that doesn’t matter and build your life on the stuff that does.

– Simplify. Ten Practices to Unclutter Your Soul by Bill Hybels (Tyndale, 2014).

SimplifyThe title Simplify drew me, and the way Bill Hybels communicates so clearly using Scripture and personal story makes this book an easy and interesting read.

But as I skimmed the table of contents, I wondered, does this book promise too much?

  • “From Exhausted to Energized”
  • “From Overscheduled to Organized”
  • “From Restless to Fulfilled”
  • “From Wounded to Whole”

Who wouldn’t want that kind of transformed life? I found it enormously attractive. But could ten practices accomplish that? Could it really be that simple?

On closer examination, I could see that the subtitles for each chapter provide a sharper and more limited focus. So going “From Overscheduled to Organized” is really about “Harnessing Your Calendar’s Power” and “From Overwhelmed to In Control” is really about “Mastering Your Finances.” Each chapter outlines practical principles — so the chapter on finances outlines five beliefs of financial reconciliation including “All I have comes from God” and “I live joyfully within God’s current provision for my life” (page 64). Each chapter concludes with related action steps — like “commit to the five beliefs of financial reconciliation” (page 80) or “find a life verse” (page 224, as part of “From Drifting to Focused: Claiming God’s Call on Your Life”).

The book offers some good basic advice in areas related to simplicity like personal finances and the use of time, and in more general areas of Christian living like extending forgiveness and addressing our fears. Together the broad range of topics moves beyond simplifying life to form an introduction to Christian living.

To those struggling with over-commitment, finances, fears, and other issues, this book offers encouragement, hope, and a place to start. The book isn’t comprehensive, but the steps are clear and doable as a way toward living “fulfilled” and “whole.” I appreciate the author’s desire to help those who feel burned out, stressed out, and overwhelmed.

At the end of the book though, I had two questions:

1. While I agree with the author about “Replenishing Your Energy Reserves” (page 1, subtitle to chapter 1), is being depleted of personal energy the root cause for our overwork, overuse of social media, overspending, pornography, and other ills? These are not simply personal issues, not simply evidence of our own inner stress, but part of larger social, cultural, and systemic issues. Simplify seems to over-simplify these complex realities, and I would have appreciated some acknowledgement of the bigger picture.

2. While we might desire to be “In Control” (title of chapter 3, page 55), isn’t there also a limit to this? Whatever we might do to organize ourselves, to choose wisely among all of the competing demands we might face, whatever practical steps we might follow, the truth is that we’re not “in control” of our lives, that not all barriers can be eradicated, and at the end of the day everything may not be put in order. For me living a simplified life also means acknowledging the mystery of God, placing my trust in God because so much of life is beyond my or anyone’s control, realizing that interruptions and other circumstances of life — that I may or may not have chosen, that may or may not be in order at the end of the day — can be unexpected blessings in disguise and fresh opportunities to acknowledge the grace and presence of God.

So if you’re feeling overwhelmed, Simplify offers some practical help. But know also that when life is chaotic and overwhelming and beyond your control, God is with you and is not overwhelmed.

The book includes a “Life Verse Catalog” as an appendix, and it lists one of my favourite passages of Scripture. It’s not exactly a life verse for me — I don’t have just one defining verse — but I often find myself returning to these words from Lamentations 3:22-23 (King James Version):

It is of the Lord‘s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.

What do you think? When you’re feeling overwhelmed what practical tips and Scripture offer you help and hope?

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of Simplify from Tyndale House Publishers. As in all my reviews, the opinions here are my own. 



Categories: Book Reviews, Spiritual Practice

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5 replies

  1. Simplify? What you said–“uncluttering your soul”–wow! And again I say, wow!

    It’s true, I live a cluttered life. Or rather, a life amidst the piles of things/books/papers that I need to periodically go through. I am content, right now, dealing with things as I have, for the past few decades. It works for me, and as I said, I am content.

    But uncluttering my soul?? That’s worth so much to me! I went on a silent retreat nine days ago, a Soul Care Day. I was able to set aside lots of _stuff_ that was cluttering up my mind/heart/soul, and come into God’s presence. As fully as I could, I mean. So worthwhile!

    Thanks for the reminder. And if you have time, check out my blog post about the silent retreat. http://wp.me/p4cOf8-gm

    • I love the way that you have found an uncluttered soul space in the midst of what you call “a cluttered life”! The dailyness of life and having real community with real people means a wonderful “clutter,” yet we also need simplicity and moments of silence and setting things aside. A time of silent retreat can be part of that – thank you for sharing your blog post on taking a silent retreat as one way of being kind to yourself.

  2. Thanks for this review, April. I have the subject much on my mind. I will be leading a women’s retreat in Michigan next week. The subject is Recovering Simplicity.

    Here’s the outline:

    Reconnecting with God and Our Little Girl Selves
    Saturday A: Returning to Nature
    Saturday B: Remembering the Word
    Sunday: Re-imagining Our Futures
    As women grow into adulthood, we too often grow away from our “young girl” experiences of God — our trust in God’s presence and our own passionate desires. Coming to peace with ourselves as women means locating the shape of our souls — the shape God designed in us. We will explore what it means to live deliberately as adults connected to the exuberant sense of awe and expectation that lies within. During this retreat, we will remember the Word hidden away in our hearts. We will let nature speak its Word to us. We will reflect on the lessons of simplicity God wants us to learn today as we carry forward the work of our mothers and grandmothers.

    I’d love to know what thoughts spring to your mind. Any suggestions for good activities? There will be over 100 participants, so I’ll be limited in doing craft activities.

    I will certainly recommend Sacred Pauses!

    • Shirley, this sounds like a wonderful retreat! I’m sure the women will be glad for your leadership, and I hope that you’ll have an excellent time. I sense movement in your sessions as you look around (at nature), look back (remember), and look forward (re-imagining). When I lead retreats, I often build in some time for sacred pause too–a guided exercise of re-imagining or some quiet time for personal journaling would seem to fit well with your sessions. I’d love to hear more, and hope that you’ll blog about your retreat afterward. Thanks for recommending Sacred Pauses too – I appreciate your support!

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