I felt my fingers tightening and the sun warming my shoulders.
A group from our church had joined neighbors from around our city for a day of rehabilitation projects — painting, construction, weeding, and clean up.
We wrestled with deeply-rooted weeds, tore out rotted fence posts and removed dead branches from trees, all so that our neighbors could be better prepared for the fall and winter months.
Spending this day with my hands in the dirt and my knees next to neighbors taught me a lesson about simplicity.
The work we were doing — removing invasive plants to allow new grass to grow — served as a metaphor for the clearing, weeding and simplifying I have felt drawn to in this season of my twenties.
The cultural current of today sells us on full schedules, full bellies and full minds.
However, I am learning the beauty and freedom found in simplifying — about choosing to make space, rather than fill up.
In a society that tells us to fill, simplifying is counter-cultural. Rebellious, even. It sounds good on paper, but it requires intention and hard work.
The idea of making space might sound freeing, but it takes effort. Like digging weeds out of our neighbor’s yards, clearing commitments can be challenging.
If this is a season of your life when you, like me, find yourself stretched thin, overwhelmed or too full, here are a few lessons in the hard work of simplicity that I’m learning from the people — and the soil — in my neighborhood.
As I uprooted some nasty ground weeds on that service day, I was shoulder-to-shoulder with a local business owner. She and her husband own a bar in the small, downtown area of our city. As we dug our trowels into the soil, she told me about how they are cultivating a community space at the bar.
“Bars are natural gathering places,” she said. People come there to celebrate and to commiserate, and everything in between. It’s an honor to make space for that to happen.”
I loved her use of the phrase making space. It embodied one of their values as a business, but she also touched on the tie between physical and spiritual life. When we clear physical space, it lends itself to less mental clutter too.
Simplifying your life may start with your physical space. Can you clear your living room of clutter to make it more welcoming to guests, or donate old clothes and furniture?
Simplifying your life may extend into your schedule as well. Saying no to commitments, setting aside times to share meals with friends and taking time to enjoy your own hobbies are ways to clear mental room.
The hard work is in trusting that not everything can or should consume your full attention, and you will have to make choices about what is most important in this season.
The beauty is that you will have time for organic conversation — for celebrating and commiserating — in even more organic ways.
Although our 20s are a great time of life to travel and take in new cultures and experiences, I am learning that there are many benefits to choosing to keep a smaller sphere in day-to-day life. We can serve others and commit ourselves to things that matter, but we don’t need to travel across the world or even across a metro area to do so.
The woman whose weeds we were pulling on the service day showed me a glimpse of what this looks like. She had inherited her home from her father, and was keeping it in the family. She spoke easily about the neighbors she knew, and the changes see had seen in the community over the years.
Her knowledge of the people and place around her was deep because it wasn’t wide.
Simplicity may start with choosing a smaller sphere in your day-to-day life. Maybe you can choose to shop, eat and play in one area, and get to know more of your neighbors in the process.
One thing I love most about our faith in Jesus is that it is simple. It is timeless. People across thousands of years have been compelled by the same basic tenants of love, trust and grace.
The simple nature of faith doesn’t make it less beautiful, or less profound. In fact, maybe it’s simplicity that makes it even more so.
I think Jesus knew simplicity. He focused on teaching more than writing, and kept his sphere of life small. He was recorded with his hands in the dirt and his knees next to neighbors.
However we steward our time and resources, let us look to Jesus as our example and leader, opening our eyes to simplicity.
Simplicity may look like returning to the aspects of faith that were most compelling for you when you were young, or remembering family traditions, or mentors who have shaped your journey.
What are ways that you have stewarded your time and commitments in your twenties that have been life-giving? Where do you feel stretched thin? Who have been good examples to you as you balance the two?