What if we just quit bothering with the world? The easiness of essentialism.

What if, instead of worrying about the world and its expectations, we focused on only a couple of key items and let the rest of world just . . . go on its way?

Think about that: maybe there’s only a handful of things we really need to worry about, and as for the millions of other demands the world makes upon us we just ignore them.

Wouldn’t that be amazing?

My friend clued me into “Essentialism,” which redefines minimalism and suggests that we should “discern what is absolutely essential, then eliminate everything that is not.” Greg McKeon argues that we get too caught up in the non-essentials: “non-essentialism is this idea that everything has to be done and that you have to do it all. Everything is equally important so therefore I have to try to do it all. That’s an idea — if I can do it all, I can have it all.”

But what if we don’t bother with doing it all? Why would we want it all anyway?

What if we quit following every news outlet, every fashion, every new-and-latest thing, every competition and demand for our attention, and focus instead on only a few ESSENTIAL points?

We’d be a heckuva lot happier!

Consider how simpler life would be if we:

  • stopped fretting that our houses aren’t up to date (no, you don’t have to put shiplap on every wall),
  • that our kids aren’t excelling in every sport/musical instrument/dance/karate/theatrical production (freeing up afternoons and weekends),
  • that we’re not on top of every trend (anyone remember how fast Pokemon Go came and went? Men’s rompers will go the same way, so don’t give them another thought). 
  • And what if we let the world go on its way . . . without us?

I think about life in the 1800s, how people focused on survival, their immediate family and neighbors, their little communities, and had no idea what the gossip was on the other side of the state or the world. They could think about real things, urgent things, important things.

Whereas we think about silly, petty, and divisive things.

But we don’t have to. We can center our lives on very few priorities and shut out everything else.

So what would those priorities be? How about the only thing that really matters: developing Christlike attributes.

To become like Him is the main reason we’re on this earth, going through this trial of life to see what our hearts really want, and to see how we can become more like Him. And you know what? I’m thinking more and more that being like Christ is the best and only worry I need.

And that “worry” isn’t even a concern. Look what He said in Matthew 11:

 28 Come unto me, all ye that labor [to keep up with the demands of the world] and are heavy laden [with the world’s expectations], and I will give you rest [because we set that all aside].

29 Take my yoke upon you [and throw off what the world expects of you], and learn of me [instead of the world]; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls [because I teach the peaceable things of the kingdom].

30 For my yoke is easy [way easier than anything the world demands], and my burden is light [lighter than anything the world shoves upon you].

Matthew 11:28, We find rest in Christ

And that’s all there is to it.

People assume that because I have nine kids I’m constantly busy and harried. But the truth is–and sometimes I’m embarrassed to admit it–I’m not. Quite often I can spend hours each day in pursuits I enjoy–writing, reading, researching–because we don’t bother with the non-essentials.

My kids aren’t involved in many activities; we don’t run around endlessly every afternoon from one thing to another–I let them entertain themselves like some 1970s throwback mom. I don’t demand perfect grades from them (grades aren’t an indicator of future success anyway), but I let them push themselves, which they do.

My house isn’t spotless or trendy (I’ve got better things to do), I make simple meals for dinner, and, frankly, I’m pretty relaxed most of the time. I almost feel guilty about that . . . but then I decide I don’t need to bother with worldly guilt, either, and let the feeling go.

We take care of each other, study the gospel, go to church, play together, educate each other and . . . that’s about it. Easy.

I am, however, trying to increase the amount of time I spend on others, trying to find additional ways we can be of service, because that’s really the purpose of life: taking care of others as Christ did.

The apostle James put it in simple terms:

27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction [taking care of the vulnerable and needy around us], and to keep himself unspotted from the world [ignore the world].  ~ James 1:27

That’s it. Only two things, just like Christ said to the lawyer in Matthew 22:

37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind [not giving any of your heart, soul, or mind to the world which will treat you cruelly].

38 This is the first and great commandment [which will keep you unspotted and unburdened by the world].

39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself [by taking care of the vulnerable and needy].

40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets [and you need not bother about anything else].

Simple, sweet, and satisfying! (Unlike the world.)

We can do that. Anyone can do that.

And we should, because consider these words of Christ:

36 For what shall it profit a man, if he shall again the whole world [be accepted by it, follow its trends and demands religiously], and lose his own soul? [Worldliness kills the soul—simple as that.]  ~Mark 8:36

I’m not saying it’s easy to shut out the world. I’ve been working on doing that for quite some time now, trying to cut off more and more connections to it, especially through social media. Our family quit TV and radio some years ago (just getting rid of advertisements significantly increased peace in our lives). There are still many aspects I struggle with, and likely will my entire life. It’s hard to live in the world and not have some of it rub off on you, like trying to squeeze between muddy elephants without getting dirty.Image result for herd of muddy elephants

Purposely not doing what everyone else around you is can be a little disconcerting. Sometimes I suffer from FOMO: fear of missing out. But just because the crowd is insistent, just because you feel the need to be like everyone else, you don’t have to be. This image, which I ran across many years ago, has seared deeply into my soul. I want to be that guy.

Image result for man in crowd not heil hitler

I’m discovering that when I ask God how I can step further away from the world so that I can be closer to Him, He gives me ideas, nudges me away from distractions and gently prods me toward more important activities. He wants me and my family to be unspotted, and He wants to ease our burdens. I have full confidence that He can get us all the way where we need—and want—to be, because, awesomely, He’s already done it himself:

“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace [because haven’t you grown weary of keeping up with the world yet?]. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world [and so can you].”  ~John 16:3

     “You look so tired, Young Pere. So weary, my sweet boy. Did you ever have a day of peace in the world?”
     “No,” he sighed. “Not that I remember.”
     “Then isn’t it time to let go of the world?”
     ~Book 8 (Yes, there’s a book 8!)

Why God won’t always let the door open when you pound on it, and why that’s a good thing

I have a distinct memory of being five years old and walking home at lunch time from kindergarten. (Walking two blocks to home was still acceptable in the 1970s.) My teacher, Mrs. Madrin, was a bitter woman who never smiled and yelled at us for the full three hours we had to endure her. After a morning of kindergarten, I deserved a break! Waiting at home for me would be my peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich and some serious downtime with “Sesame Street.”

I trudged up the front steps of my house and went to the door, sure I’d find my mother waiting anxiously for me; her life had no meaning until I was in it again, after all.

But, shockingly, the door was locked!

Dismayed, I kicked it, banged on it, jiggled the handle—how could this be?! It’s supposed to be open, and I should get my lunch and TV time NOW!

And where was my derelict mother?

Quietly, softly into my mind came the words, She’s in the backyard.  Go there.

Was I relieved by that news? Comforted?
Heck, no—I was furious! She was supposed to be in the house, with the door unlocked!

This was NOT how I imagined things should be!

She’s in the backyard. Go there.

I kicked again, sobbed loudly for being so insulted, and finally sulked and slumped against the door. Things were supposed to go exactly as I thought they should, because the world revolved around me.
How dare it turn another direction without my permission?

Amazingly, none of my tantrums changed my situation. If my mother really was in the backyard, she wouldn’t hear me. No one was on the street to notice my despair. And still I heard the promptings to go to the backyard.

Oh, I was a prideful, vain child. I wouldn’t relent, I wouldn’t go out of my way to do what was suggested. I sat there, probably for only a minute, but I was sure it was a full hour of protesting.

Eventually, furious and hungry, I got up and trudged to the backyard—an entire forty feet—to find my mom weeding in the garden. Oblivious to the anguish and heartache she’d caused me, she said, “Oh, there you are. Ready for lunch?”

Affronted, I said, “Where were you?! Why was the door locked?”

She stood up and brushed off her clothes. “I told you this morning that I’d be in the garden when you came home, so you should come back here.”

I have no idea if she said that or not. She may have, and I likely ignored her in my dread to go to school. Startled by the news that I may have been wrong in my tantrum, I followed her inside to find my waiting sandwich and the opening credits of “Sesame Street.”

I’ve often wondered why this incident from my early childhood has remained so vivid in my head, and I know it’s because I need this reminder:

The world will not go the way I think it should.

Not every door I pound on will open. Not every tantrum I throw will give me my way. Not every fist shaking to the sky will change my predicament.

Because I’m just not that special.

It does, however, take a special kind of arrogance to believe that every whim and desire should be granted, simply because of who I am.

I possessed that kind of arrogance, I’m ashamed to say. When I was six, my friends happily announced their mom was going to have another baby, and I was stunned. Wait—people still have babies? But I thought I was the last and the best baby in the world! My mom probably told me something like that, and since I was her last, I assumed I was the last for the entire world.

It was an earth-shattering day for me to realize that other people were still inhabiting this planet, and that maybe I wasn’t the end-all of creation.

I like to think I’ve improved over the years, although my arrogance still rears its childish head at times and wails, “Gimme what I want!” I’ve learned in the forty-two years since my door-pounding episode that rarely will the world drop everything to tend to me, because there are seven billion other people, and you know what? All of them are important, too.

There have been only a handful of times when strangers have dropped everything to wait on me hand and foot, and each of those times involved me at the hospital battling for my life because a baby’s delivery developed complications, or we discovered the hard way that I have a deadly allergic reaction to morphine. (They revived me, kindly.)

Otherwise, I don’t get special treatment. Doors don’t always open when I’ve worked so hard to get to them; houses I’ve searched for and wanted go to others; jobs owed to us are given to someone else; and I have to acknowledge this important fact: there are others in the world who also needed those doors opened, those houses, those jobs. More than I do.

I’ve learned over the years to try to the door once, and if it doesn’t open, find another way. We’ve moved more than a dozen times (cross country twice), rented dingy and moldy houses, bought and sold homes we loved, got jobs, lost jobs, got and lost jobs again, have said good-byes to friends and family, and have experienced “stability” for maybe a total of fourteen out of twenty-eight years of marriage. Facing yet another cross-country move in a few months, I find myself pulling out what’s become my mantra: We can make this work.

If that door won’t open when we pound on it, then don’t pout and don’t throw a fit. Find another door. And another. And another.
And if those don’t open, how about a window?
Got a rock?

harrison-pounding-on-the-door

Maybe—maybe it’s the wrong house entirely. So let’s find another set of doors!

I’ve imagined myself going back to that old house on Edith Avenue in Salt Lake City, finding that petulant five-year-old, taking her hand, and saying cheerfully, “Let’s go on an adventure and find a way in!”

I know I would have given my older self nasty glares, but I would only laugh it off, because there’s something else I’ve remembered over the years:

The lunch is waiting.

It always was, as I pounded uselessly on that door. Mom had made my sandwich and set it on the table; I simply had to be more resourceful about getting to it. Eventually, we do get a job, a house, an opportunity, and that’s best one for us at the time. Not the most luxurious or fantastic, but the best, meaning the situation to provide us the learning and growth we needed  . . . and wanted, but didn’t realize that at the time.

The life I hoped for still happens, but in different places, in different ways, and—I have to admit—with better plot twists than I initially planned. That PB&J tastes a whole lot better once I get to it again, having “labored” so hard to reach it.

And one more thing I’ve always remembered: That quiet, calm voice will never lead me astray. It knows how to get in the right doors, it knows where my lunch is, and it’ll make my life a whole lot easier if I skip my useless, prideful tantrums and just follow its promptings.

Because He cares for me–deeply, sincerely, earnestly. So much so that He told a five-year-old how to get her lunch, and always let her remember how that came to be.

And here’s the best part: He cares for  you that deeply, sincerely, and earnestly too. Because to Him, we are all that special.

“Expectations? I didn’t expect this!” Shin shouted. ~Book One: The Forest at the Edge of the World

(In another example of “We’ll make it work,” I used my almost-five-year-old as a model for this picture below. But too delighted he was by my request that he pound with his fists on the door, that he laughed and giggled endlessly as I snapped pictures. Out of the dozen shots, I captured only one where he wasn’t demonstrating having a great time. See? We can make anything work . . .)

harrison-pounding-on-the-door