Keep Calm and Consider the Birds

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.

Shameless Plug: The Mia Column

I used to edit a print magazine, Mia. For three years, my publishing partners and I birthed a “baby” every three months and then proudly toted that baby around, holding her up and asking people to read her. Lots of people shared in our pride and joy, and they subscribed to the magazine. But the print publishing business is tough even if you have an excellent product, and so after 11 issues we decided to fold the print and transition to online. It took quite a while for us to take the plunge into online publishing, but I’m so glad we did. Mia online is excellent. I can say that objectively because I am no longer the editor, but instead just a lowly columnist – which I love. Finally, I get to write and let someone else worry about editing and typos. Well, mostly. I must keep in mind that a good editor doesn’t like to find any. If you find a typo or poor grammar in this post, ignore. My editing skills might be growing rusty. Excuses, excuses.

My column is called “Simply Being” and you can find it here. Selfishly, I’m writing it because I need to learn more about what it means to live simply. My life has been chaotic and cluttered through most of my adulthood. I am always looking for the next project to start, the next thing to buy, and the next activity to scribble in the calendar boxes. I find new and creative ways to multi-task while simultaneously longing for focus. I desperately want and need simplicity. But even simplifying can get overwhelming. A trip to the bookstore afforded me the opportunity to see how many books have been written on this subject. A sampling: Organized Simplicity, Radical Simplicity, The Laws of Simplicity (there are laws?), Choosing Simplicity, Abundant SimplicityInside Out Simplicity, Voluntary Simplicity, The Simplicity Survival Handbook. Really? A book on surviving simplicity? This gives me pause.

The last thing I want to do is make simplicity a project, a task, or a quest. I would like for simplicity to emanate organically from a soul that is settled. I’m not there yet. Not even close. My soul is so often on the hunt for significance, meaning, comfort, pleasure. But I wonder – what if I already have everything I need? What if simplicity is only a matter of embracing the beauty of what I have been given, where I am at this moment, what is straight in front of me instead of what is out there?

I’m nagged by these words: “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)  Maybe it’s time for me to stop putting my cultural spin on what Jesus meant.

So I’m inviting you to join me on the journey of simply being. It’s going to look different for you than it will for me, but I think we can learn from one another. I’ll post a follow-up blog post each time my monthly column in Mia is published. And yes, I’m putting that on my calendar.