A few months after my mother died, a mama bird made a nest in the floodlights of our back patio. While we sat in the cool spring air and reminisced about Mom, shedding tears and laughing over joyful memories, we watched this bird calmly build her nest, rest on her eggs, then swoop out and back to feed the new babies. It was a beautiful reminder that life goes on, but it was also an opportunity to have a close seat for bird-watching. I’m not usually enthralled with birds, but in the midst of our grieving, it was therapeutic. Since then, I haven’t really thought much about birds until I started on a recent journey of de-cluttering.
For the past few decades I’ve been mastering the art of complicating my life with far too much of everything. It reached a climax a little over a year ago. I had been in a free-fall descent into the insanity of busyness, accumulation, and worry and I hit bottom the week before we left for our three-week tour of China and South Korea. It was perfect timing. It helps to step into another crazy world when your own is crashing in on you. So now I am attempting to de-clutter. It’s not just my possessions. I’m also de-cluttering my commitments, my eating habits, my parenting, and my relationships. Last week I wrote my monthly column about this for Mia magazine, which you can read here (yet another shameless plug). I’m working through this simplicity business so if you’re curious about how I plan to de-clutter these areas of my life, you might bookmark Mia Magazine Online. I’ll be posting about it each month. And no, I’m not ditching friends or leaving my daughter to parent herself. But I have allowed junk to accumulate in my schedule, on my plate, and in the way I do relationships and parenting, so it’s time to clean it out and carry it to the curb.
In this journey toward simplicity, I’m thinking about the birds Jesus speaks of in Matthew 6 as he delivers the most amazing sermon on the side of a mountain. I like to read this passage from The Message translation because the language seems to correlate well with the setting.
If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than the birds.
I know exactly zero people who live this out, including me. If I could calculate how much mental energy I have expended on food and clothes (and accessories), I would crawl shamefully into the nearest hole. Careless in the care of God? Not me. Free and unfettered? Don’t think so. And it’s not just food and clothes. Insert house, cars, vacations, finances, reputation, career. But life doesn’t work like that, we pragmatists say. People must give attention to making a living, putting food on the table, caring for our homes, looking our best, building a career. This is true, but we don’t just give attention to these things. We’re prone to obsess over them, depend on them, and I’ve done it for so long that I don’t know a good alternative way to live. And when I read radical words like “careless”, “free”, and “unfettered,” I tend to wave it off as Jesus going way overboard in order to make a point. But I’m guessing that Jesus didn’t say things he didn’t mean, and every translation of this sermon has him repeating the same message: calm down.
I’m working on it. It helps to read these words every morning to remind myself that a life of simplicity frees me to see things a little more clearly. And maybe if I toss out some of the clutter in my line of vision, I might be able to do a little bird-watching.