Contact Us

Use the form on the right to contact us.

You can edit the text in this area, and change where the contact form on the right submits to, by entering edit mode using the modes on the bottom right. 

         

123 Street Avenue, City Town, 99999

(123) 555-6789

email@address.com

 

You can set your address, phone number, email and site description in the settings tab.
Link to read me page with more information.

Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Filtering by Tag: Simplicity

When you're too busy: Richard Foster's "Freedom of Simplicity"

Ben Goshow

I am so tired of chirping about my busyness. We all do this, accepting the perpetual drain of our energy and the greed of the calendar as the implacable reality of modern life. We are busy, and there is nothing to be done about it, no matter our will for it to be otherwise. I am reminded that busyness is a particular malady of the city. I can’t help but feel that the most recent years, the years we’ve been in Toronto, have been unusually frantic. Whether this is technology constantly increasing the speed at which we live or whether it’s the reigning ethos of all cities, I only know that life grows more and more crowded and that somehow, I feel less human in the clamor and compunction.

Even this – this writing to which I set my intention more than two years ago now (yes, remember when you woke up to a new blog post every day?) is difficult to do. There are writers groups’ in which I now participate. These new writer friends write wonderful essays, which I now feel a certain obligation to read and reflect upon. The book I’ve written is to be marketed, and a week has been swallowed in the administrative details of asking people to read and review it, scratching down their addresses, completing the marketing questionnaire whose questions I meet with a troubling perplexity: “What is the central these of your book?” I find myself busied by the periphery of the writing life – and writing less than I want.

I had wondered at the beginning of this year what should be my writing goals. There was an internal goading – set goals! – and the fear that without them, I would be adrift. But I could never commit to anything. When could I get that new book proposal finished? How many articles could I reasonably finish a month? What books did I want to read this year? How was I actually going to get better at this craft?

But I’m back to the page this morning, having no more answers than I did at the new year’s arrival. I don’t know from day to day what a “realistic” and “reasonable” writing life actually looks like. I only know that my actual life – the one I live away from my desk – requires my flexibility and presence. Not to mention I’m up to my elbows in laundry.

How do we find coherence in all the disparate parts of our lives – our various selves and our competing obligations? This is a question that Richard Foster tackles in a beautiful chapter in his book, Freedom of Simplicity. He describes a particularly fragmented season of his own life where he was busied with good—and alienated from God.

Freedom of Simplicity

He had been reading from Thomas Kelly’s, Testament of Devotion. “We feel honestly the pull of many obligations and try to fulfill them all. And we are unhappy, uneasy, strained, oppressed, and fearful we shall be shallow.” “Yes,” writes Richard Foster, “I had to confess that I was in all those words.”

Kelly again: “We have hints that there is a way of life vastly richer and deeper than all this hurried existence, a life of unhurried serenity and peace and power. If only we could slip over into that Center! [And] we have seen and know some people who seem to have found this deep Center of living, where the fretful calls of life are integrated, where No as well as Yes can be said with confidence.”

“Quietly,” Foster concludes,” I asked God to give me the ability to say No when it was right and good. . . I was deeply committed (to God), but I was not integrated or unified.

Yes. This is exactly the state in which I usually find myself. Splintered between many goods, all for which I feel some degree of responsibility, and inwardly anxious about their demands. This is not peace. But what to do about it?

Which may be the most fearful question of our lives: what do we do about the sins we recognize in ourselves as the oldest and most chronic, the sins by which we’ve actually built our lives and made it, in some way, habitable? The sins, were we to be most honest, that we cherish? What to do about those sins that are now us?

I’ve written a book about desire, so of course, I want to affirm that repentance begins with desire. Do I really want to be done with this? Do I really want to walk in newness of life? Or is my sin consoling for its familiarity? Am I afraid of the disorientation of giving it up?

Yes, desire is a necessary and important beginning. But Richard Foster also writes this:

“The inner integration I have described in the longing of many. We weary of competing commitments and exhausting schedules. We desire to be obedient to God in all things, and have a growing knowledge that this frantic scramble is not his will. We yearn to enter the deep silences that give unity and force to our service.

Desire, however, is not enough. If we expect to enter the inward simplicity for which we were created, we will need to order our lives in specific ways. The things we do will not give us simplicity of heart, but they will put us in the place where we can receive it.

I think he’s talking about intention, commitment, courage, habit, discipline, and practice. Repentance will not only produce renewed and holy desire. It will not only produce a change of heart. It will catalyze obedience.

What is this obedience for me? I’m not yet sure about this, but Foster has an interesting exercise for those of us who feel busied to near-death. I’ll admit, I do NOT want to do it.

Keep record of your activities for a month, rank what you’ve done according to the following (1. Absolutely essential 2. Important by not essential 3. Helpful but not necessary 4. Trivial), and “ruthlessly eliminate all of the last two categories and 20% of the first two.”

“We are too busy only because we want to be too busy.”

Maybe this is word for all of us feeling hurried and hustled by life, driven away from the Center who is Christ.

 

 

 

 

(Suburban) Mission Impossible: Live with Less

jenmichel@me.com

By city standards, our house is spacious: four bedrooms, a small basement playroom for the children, and additional storage in the basement. We have a driveway and a garage, and the backyard is three times the size of an average city postage-stamp size lot. It’s a center hall colonial, likely built in the 1920’s, and it’s solid and clean. We like to say that we were prayed into this house by the staff at our church who, when we’d come looking for rental houses in Toronto a year and a half ago, had taken us by the shoulders and prayed for God to work miracles of grace and provide the right house. That night, our realtor had called to say another house had just come up for lease. Were we interested in seeing it? By comfortable suburban standards, our house lacks many of the amenities considered normal. No icemaker. No central air conditioning. No walk-in closets. The seven of us share one bathroom, and the kitchen boasts not more than thirty inches of workspace and ten cabinets. (And not a single lazy susan.)

We’ve done what feels like the suburban impossible: taken our super-sized family and moved somewhere smaller.

Here’s where I’m supposed to tell you how spiritual it has all been, how we’ve shed my attachment to material luxuries and conveniences, how we’re now ready to move to Mumbai. Closer to the truth is the subtle lure I feel back to the suburbs, where life is comfortable and convenient.

I don’t think I knew how deeply I’d drunk of the fountain of comfort and convenience until we moved into the city. (And again, let me admit that by city standards, we are living very comfortably and conveniently.) But on the day I must drive my feverish child to the doctor’s office (where there is neither a parking lot nor street parking), and I have to park across a busy street which I’ll then need to cross on foot with two four-year-olds in tow (inevitably, we’re walking in blinding rain), I curse the city and think about the suburban doctor’s office we used to visit and park FOR FREE. When I want a quick cup of Starbucks, there is no convenient drive-thru on the way to school. When I need to return books to the library, I find all seven of the library parking spaces are taken. When I need to pick up a prescription, there is no 24-hour drive-thru CVS, where I could hand the script to someone from the window of my mini-van and circle back in fifteen minutes. I must park (and pay to park) and go inside and wait.

And the house we’ve rented and squeezed ourselves into, the one renovated with its fresh coat of paint and new carpet? It would cost us almost two million bucks to buy this house. Which means that if we stay in Toronto, we’ve likely to have to move somewhere even smaller.

It’s no wonder people move out of the city. Why would they stay when it costs significantly more to have substantially less?

Assuming, of course, that having more is the goal to which we’re all meant to be striving.

Which takes me to the best lesson of all in city living.

We can live with less. Less space. Less comfort. Less convenience. And we can even do it happily. (Most days, at least.)

When our closets are smaller, when our kitchen has fewer cabinets, when our living space has shrunk, we will have to be strategic and choosy about the things we buy. And guess what? We will buy less and even begin wanting less. And the less we buy, the less we maintain. The less we maintain, the more time we have. The more time we have, oh who of us wouldn’t know what to do with some surplus hours?

And I can’t help but wonder: isn’t that the promise of real freedom?

(Which isn’t to say that tomorrow I might not be dreaming of what it would be like to have a guest bedroom and a kitchen with an island and an office with a door.)

“We really must understand that the lust for affluence in contemporary society is psychotic. It is psychotic because it has completely lost touch with reality. We crave things we neither need nor enjoy. 'We buy things we do not want to impress people we do not like.' ...It is time to awaken to the fact that conformity to a sick society is to be sick.” Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline