When Ron’s wife died from cancer at the young age of 37, it forever changed him. A driven, corporate executive, Ron decided to rethink his priorities and live more simply. So he quit his job and became a consultant who was paid on an hourly basis. That eliminated his 70-hour workweeks and provided him with increased discretionary time. He sold his luxury car and downsized his house. Those reduced his monthly payments significantly, easing his financial obligations.
More interestingly, Ron applied the same simplifying approach to the emotional and spiritual areas of his life. Normally a highly opinionated, argumentative type, he reduced his need to dominate conversations. He started listening more and speaking less. People began to like him more and more. Likewise, he reduced his need to collect wealthy and influential people as “friends,” choosing rather to enjoy the company of people from a broad spectrum of society. For the first time in his life, Ron was attracting real friends. Little by little, Ron discovered he liked himself better and was experiencing serenity and contentment in life.
Much has been written about the importance of living a more simple life. Usually that means cutting back on materialism. However, not as much attention is given to the importance of spiritual simplicity, the type of steps Ron took, which involves cutting back on attitudes that are unhealthy, negative, and even toxic to ourselves and those around us.
Yet reducing and eliminating unhealthy attitudes is something that Jesus consistently instructs us to do. Consider these citations: Stop judging others (Matthew 7:1). Stop criticizing others (Luke 6:37). Stop worrying about other people’s flaws, when you have flaws of your own (Matthew 7:3).
If managing a spiritual life—or life in general—feels like a heavy burden to you, here are some ways to lighten your load and experience the joy of spiritual simplicity:
REDUCE THE NEED TO WIN
One evening after a day of filming in Texas, the actor and martial arts expert Chuck Norris went alone to a small restaurant. As he sat in a corner booth, a large man towered over him and, with an angry edge in his voice, told Norris that he was sitting in his booth.
“I didn’t like the tone of his voice or the threat implicit in his suggestion if I failed to heed it, but I said nothing and got up and moved to another booth,” says Norris.
A few minutes later, the large man headed back toward Norris. Here it comes, Norris thought to himself, a local tough out to make a name for himself by taking on Chuck Norris in a fight.
As the man stood before Norris, he looked directly at the actor and said, “You’re Chuck Norris.”
The actor nodded.
“You could have [beaten me up] back there a few minutes ago,” the man said. “Why didn’t you?”
“What would it have proved?” Norris asked.
The man seemed to think that over for a second and then extended his hand to Norris for a handshake. “No hard feelings?” he said.
“None,” Norris responded, and shook his hand.
Looking back on it, Norris recalls, “I had avoided a confrontation and made a friend. I won by losing.”
Sometimes what may seem to be a loss ends up actually being a win. You don’t have to turn everything into a competition, a fight, or a comparison.
We live in an angry time. From road rage to political rage, people can explode at any given moment. All of us can help restore civility by reducing our anger.
Consider this ancient parable about dealing with anger: A farmer was going by boat to deliver his produce to a nearby market. As he made his way upstream, another boat was coming downstream and headed directly into his path. As the boats came closer, the farmer began trying to veer away. All the time he was shouting, “Be careful. Get out of the way. We’re going to collide.” As his voice grew stronger, so did his anger toward the other boatman.
Despite the farmer’s efforts, the boats collided. The furious farmer turned to yell at the other boatman. His anger evaporated when he saw the boat was empty and had simply come loose from it’s mooring. Calming down, the farmer gently pushed it aside and continued on his journey. According to the parable, the man never lost his temper again because from that time on he treated every situation he faced like an empty boat.
REDUCE THE ATTITUDE OF SELF-IMPORTANCE
When we think we are more important, busier, or better than others, we create barriers between ourselves and those around us. That’s sure to result in dissatisfaction with our life and relationships.
In his book Prescription for Living, best-selling author Bernie S. Siegel, M.D., tells how knocking down the walls of self-importance radically changed his life. In 1974, Siegel was a pediatric surgeon at Yale. He had a prestigious career, a wonderful wife, and five beautiful children. “By most standards I was a success. But I was unhappy,” he recalls.
Like many doctors, he was trained to maintain an emotional distance from his patients. “I treated people’s disease but shielded myself from their lives,” he writes. “I was so miserable behind the wall that I’d built that I considered leaving medicine.”
However, before abandoning the practice of medicine, Seigel decided he would first try a different way of doctoring. “I’d allow myself to show concern for those in my care,” says Siegel. “Once I took that step, I began to see how bizarre it is for physicians to stand apart from patients. So, I came out from behind my desk—literally—and asked patients to call me by my first name. My world changed. It was now rewarding being a doctor and helping people live better, longer lives.”
Life brings a variety of hurts and wounds: it’s an unavoidable part of being human. Of course, we can heal from emotional injuries—but only if we choose not to carry bitterness, anger, or hate toward the person who caused the hurt.
Emotional baggage is a heavy load to carry around. One woman discovered this through an unusual suggestion from her therapist. She had begun going to counseling because she was extremely unhappy and angry after going through a divorce. She harbored hard feelings and hatred toward her former spouse. Since traditional therapy was not working, the counselor chose a unique approach. At the conclusion of a session, he handed her a brick, saying it symbolized her old relationship. He instructed her to carry it around in her purse for the next seven days.
As the week went on, the woman’s purse seemed to grow heavier and heavier, providing her with a clear reminder of how burdensome the weight of her resentment had become. By lugging the brick around all week, she soon understood what the therapist was trying to help her see—holding on to negative feelings was not in her best interest. Before long, she was ready to relinquish those hard feelings. To symbolize her lightened load, she crushed that heavy brick with a hammer and scattered it into pieces. She was able to let go of her bitterness and resentment and move on to a new phase in her life.
Interestingly, the word sabotage comes from the French word sabot, which means wooden shoe. It has been said that when a labor dispute arose during the Industrial Revolution, workers would often throw their wooden shoes into the machinery, thereby damaging the machine. Thus, the word sabotage applied to any destruction of factory machines, railroads, bridges, etc. But sabotage isn’t limited to physical structures—we can sabotage ourselves without even knowing it.
Too many people commit self-sabotage by viewing themselves in harsh, negative ways. When it comes to their own unique talents and abilities, they sabotage their lives by convincing themselves they are unable, unworthy, incapable, inadequate, or incompetent.
Do your best to reduce and eliminate self-sabotaging thinking. If you have made a mistake, forgive yourself, accept that no one is perfect, and keep moving forward. The time and energy you use beating yourself up could be used to accomplish a greater good.
By intentionally cultivating spiritual simplicity, you will experience, on an increasing basis, more harmony and balance in daily living. Life itself will become a greater source of pleasure and joy. And you’ll find that you gain more by having less.
Based in the Midwest, Jay Sheen specializes in writing about spiritual health.