The Gifts of Simplicity

By Elisa Tremblay | Special to the Compass | July 28, 2021

A few weeks ago, I embarked on our annual summer road trip to visit family and friends. Our 20-hour journey took us through much of the Midwest and through the rolling hills of many of the East Coast states. At one point, as we were driving through the countryside of Pennsylvania, I decided it was time for me to switch from looking at the scenery to watching a video on my smartphone.

To get the video to play properly I fumbled with my cellular signal and struggled to connect my wireless earphones to my device. Then I worked to get the video to play on the correct app in the best format. As all this was going on, something inspired me to look up from my technological distractions and notice an Amish family in the distance, riding in a buggy along a road, not far from the highway. The stark contrast between my technological struggles and the sweet simplicity of the Amish family caught my attention.

I was inspired to put my smartphone video efforts down and thought, for a large portion of our remaining car trip, about the word “simplicity.” As the years go on and technology continually changes, people spend a lot of time and effort learning how to keep up with all the advances. Therein lies the tension. Maintaining a working knowledge of many of these technological advances requires a level of complexity that accompanies it all. I could not help but think on our road trip that this level of skill sometimes comes at the expense of some of the precious gifts that accompany a simple life.

What are some of the gifts of a simple life that we can sometimes take for granted? One of my most favored and precious gifts is time. Ecclesiastes 4:6 states: “Better is one handful with tranquility than two with toil and a chase after wind!” Time burns like a fire some days and can be quickly consumed by work and activities, leaving very little left to cherish the moments around you.

How often have you heard empty-nest parents remark that their children grew up too fast, that time just flew by. Time is a gift and we are keenly aware that we have a limited amount of it on this side of heaven. When we can regain some of it, we are given an opportunity to cherish our loved ones around us.

Another gift of simplicity — or as dictionary.com states: “freedom from complexity and intricacy” — is the renewal of the five senses. On our visit, a good friend talked about their experience hiking the Camino de Santiago in Spain. This is a pilgrimage where one can hike upwards of 500 miles on a journey from France to the shrine of the apostle St. James the Great in Compostela, Spain. Our friend explained how, by removing distractions and concentrating on a simple task, walking from one place to another, their senses became heightened.

The famous adage, “Stop and smell the roses” is true. Simplicity allows us to listen more, notice things better and hold onto those we love. These simple activities of listening and noticing can also lead to a renewal in our relationships. Simplicity also allows us to think and reflect; it helps clear our mind to focus on what is most important.

Although the list can go on, I would say another gift we receive when we choose simplicity is the ability to notice and hear God more in our lives. 

Although God can speak through the many people and things around us, sometimes he rids us of our distractions so we can better hear him. To paraphrase 1 Kings 19:11-12, the Lord is not always in the wind, the earthquake or the fire. Sometimes he comes to us as a small, silent voice. Simplicity challenges us to ask if our homes and families are an environment for  hearing this still small voice or are there ways we can provide more opportunities for this?

As the miles went on for our road trip, I was grateful for the technological advances such as navigation systems and portable entertainment. However, there should be a balance in life and it does not hurt to step out of routine and get back to basics. Take a moment this summer to refresh and renew your marriage or your family through simplicity. God is always ready to give us these gifts and so many more when we stop and appreciate his beautiful creations.

Tremblay is the marriage and life ministries director for the Diocese of Green Bay.

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