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!)

What do we think about?

Over the years I’ve become more judicious in what I read, watch, and listen to. Everything I take in effects my thoughts, which in turn alters my behavior. 

Maybe it’s because in the past few years my parents and sister died, and a dear friend is losing her battle to cancer, that I’m acutely aware that life is short.

I don’t have time–nor do I want to have time–to waste. Every day needs to be focused on improving my mind and my heart.

Hugh Nibley, in “Zeal without Knowledge,” summed it up best:

what do we think about

The more I’ve decluttered my mind (as I’ve been doing with my house) the simpler everything is. There really is time and space for the important stuff.

No men who Jaytsy cared about were interested in fashion or the theater. It was all fake and contrived, and unappealing.
But she knew what she did love, and it was glorious to no longer worry about the world’s opinions. She loved real things. Dirt on her hands and under her fingernails. Flicking insects off the corn. Filling wagons with potatoes. Braiding the greens of onions together. Measuring milk yields. Churning butter. Sampling cheeses. Looking into cows’ eyes.
~Book 4, The Falcon in the Barn

The family MUST come first

Contrary to common societal belief, as a wife and mother, I do need to put my family first. That’s why book four—The Falcon in the Barn—is a bit delayed. I’m now hoping for a January 2015 release (and that’s ambitious, too, so I apologize). I understand your frustration; I feel it too. I had planned to have Falcon ready by November but circumstances won’t let me.

Because I have a family that needs me.

Financial constraints have required me to get a part-time job. And another part-time job. One is only for 12 weeks, and requires me to grade papers at home for many hours. The other keeps me out of the house for 20 hours a week. All together, this means that the four or five hours I used to enjoy writing each day has diminished to 30 minutes (if I’m lucky) and usually late at night when I’m wiped out because I had to catch up on taking care of the house, homeschooling my kids, and figuring out why we’re out of milk again.

Writing progress is pretty grim.

On the other hand, I have enough income to keep the electricity and water on, and the car insurance up to date. Never mind that my joy of writing—along with all other hobbies—has to take a back seat for who know how long. But that’s ok, because my life’s not about me; it’s about taking care of my spouse and children.

Virginia Woolf famously wrote 85 years ago that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” If I had plenty of money, I could quit my jobs and write.

But not only do I not have money, I don’t have a room of my own. My computer is perched in the corner of my bedroom, where—just now—my 7-year-old and her friends trudged in to ask for Otter Pops (we supply the neighborhood). Of course I said yes, then skimmed what I had written to find my spot again.

Interruptions define my life, because my life is all about family. I can think of only a handful of times over the years that I actually shut my door and told my family that no one was allowed in for the next half hour. Otherwise, the carpet to my computer has been worn thin, because they know they’ll find me here, either writing, editing, or grading papers. And I will never turn them away. They have to come first. I committed myself to being their support long before I committed myself to writing a book series.

virginia woolf

She wasn’t the happiest of women, committing suicide by drowning when she was 59.

Virginia Woolf didn’t have children (but likely was bi-polar, which some may argue is just as grueling), so she didn’t understand the pull and yank between being me and being mom/wife. I know it’s counter-culture to claim that I need to be mom/wife first. (“What about your needs? What about your development?” goes the familiar crank.) But frankly, I’ve known too many women who put themselves first, and lost everything else that was important. One writer admitted to still pounding on her laptop during the labor of her baby, and was so obsessed that she devoted all her time to her book . . . and none to her marriage, which ended.

It’s popular to say, “Oh, I’ve worked so hard! I need me-time,” but I’ve discovered over the years that “me-time” can be accomplished in about thirty minutes a day, even less if secret chocolate is involved. Some women I’ve known spend hours on themselves/hobbies/pursuits to the benefit of no one, not even themselves.

Oh, I’m not perfect. I’ll confess to fantasies about everyone going away for a week or so, leaving me with a perfectly clean house, full fridge, and absolute silence so I can write nonstop and really get something accomplished. I’m jealous of friends who take vacations without husbands and children, and drool over what I could get done with so much freedom.

But I also know that after an hour of such freedom I’d get fidgety, and would be on my phone to make sure everyone was all right, that clothes were on (we have “free ranging” issues with our toddler), and that they ate something more substantial than Nutella sandwiches again.

Because honestly, I’m not entirely all right without them. Working away from home, while leaving me with desperately needed cash in our bank account, also leaves me with great anxiety that I’m not doing my duty to my family. When I come home, I’m a mixed bag of relief and disappointment; relief that my 14-year-old remembered to change the toddler’s diaper and the living room isn’t too chaotic, and disappointment that my 16-year-old reports that everything was just fine without me.

Until circumstances change, I’ll lurch and strain and struggle to fit in 135 things where there’s space only for 97. I’ll forget a few things (note: I ended up doing the dinner dishes at 11:30pm) and maybe later tonight I’ll squeak in a half hour of rearranging book four, but only after I’ve gone with my husband to an alumni event at the college, and picked some apples with my kids at a neighbor’s, and did some sewing for Halloween costumes (curse the church for having a costume party TWO WEEKS before the actual date!), and run a load of laundry, and finished dinner, and helped my daughter with homework, and my son with homework . . .

So, yes—Falcon’s coming, my friends. But while I so dearly love writing it, I need to love my family more.

Thanks for understanding. (P.S. Took me another two days to actually post this after writing it. Sigh.)

Mahrree sighed and said, “My children have me tied?”

The thought had never occurred to her. True, her life was completely different now. But caring for these little children, who she thought were funny more  often than frustrating, loving more often than loud, was an honor. It said so in The Writings, and she’d chosen to believe it from the moment she knew she was expecting her firstborn. And choosing to believe it had made all the difference in her attitude as a mother. ~Book Two: Solider at the Door