Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

November 13, 2011


Simplicity can bring joy and balance to our lives

    One spring day I flew into Wichita, Kansas. I had been invited to speak during Religious Emphasis Week at Friends University. My hosts advised me that Richard Foster would meet me at the airport and take me to my quarters for the week.  

     Richard did meet me and graciously welcomed me to Wichita. His casual clothes were quite ordinary. He had a way of making me feel comfortable in his presence. We secured my luggage and made our way to the parking lot. There we climbed into his car, a dilapidated old station wagon. Richard made sure I understood the schedule and dropped me off at my room.

     I learned that Richard was the faculty advisor for the students responsible for the week’s activities. Later I discovered that this quiet humble man was a distinguished professor at the University and a brilliant Quaker teacher. But I found in him no presumption of importance. I was touched by his willingness to take the time to make me feel welcome. And years later I still remember his kind hospitality.

     Some years later Richard published a book, Celebration of Discipline, which has become a Christian classic. It is the finest book available about the disciplines or holy habits that help Christian grow spiritually. This book and subsequent others have earned Richard global respect among Christians. I have read the book several times and I am reading it again. It humbles me – and challenges me.

     One of the disciplines Richard writes helpfully about in his book is the discipline of simplicity. Simplicity, he says, is freedom while duplicity is bondage. In his own words: “Simplicity brings joy and balance. Duplicity brings anxiety and fear.”

     I find his insights about simplicity compelling. For example, he says our culture has led us into “an insane attachment to things.” He adds that our lust for affluence has caused us to completely lose though with reality. I love the clarity with which he writes: “We crave things we neither need nor enjoy. We buy things we do not want to impress people we do not like.”

     He strikes at the heart of the matter when he invites us to take exception to the modern psychosis that “defines people by how much they can produce or what they earn.” He hammers home this challenge: “Simplicity is the only thing that can sufficiently reorient our lives so that possessions can be genuinely enjoyed without destroying us.” He pleads the case that simplicity can lead us to “a life of joyful unconcern for possessions,” and to think of what we have as “a gift from God.”

     Consider these practical suggestions Foster offers to help us embrace a simpler way of life:

1.   Buy things for their usefulness rather than their status. Cars should be bought for their utility, not their prestige.

2.   Reject anything that is producing an addiction in you. (Drinks, food, television, chocolate, etc.)

3.   Develop a habit of giving things away. If you are becoming attached to some possession, give to someone who needs it.

4.   Learn to enjoy things without owning them. Owning things has become an obsession in our culture.

5.   Develop a deeper appreciation for the creation. Listen to the birds and enjoy the grass and the leaves.

     As I studied Foster’s chapter on simplicity I thought about my week in Wichita and that old station wagon. Richard was practicing simplicity before he wrote about it in his book. That old car got him where he was going and kept him free from the debt of a prestigious car. I smiled as I thought about meeting Richard. He was a humble man living a simple life with a joyful unconcern for possessions.

     I admire a man who practices what he preaches. And I am praying for the grace to be one myself. + + +