As fall turned to winter, I found a prayer for life transitions in Common Prayer, A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. We were considering a move, in the middle of a pandemic. It all felt very complicated. And the opening line of the prayer resonated with me: “Lord, help me now to unclutter my life, to organize myself in the direction of simplicity.”
If I ever write a book about parenting, it will be all about how the secret to parenting is lower expectations. I learned this from surviving. So many of the things I pile onto my plate and shoulders are just avoidance of and distraction from the things that matter most to me. Then, I use efficiency and time management strategies to do more things better and feel a false sense of satisfaction at my capacity for chaos.
For three years before the pandemic arrived (nearly a year ago already), grief plunged us into survival living. Our world was uncluttered for us by the disorienting force of loss. I wasn’t capable of focus, just existing from one moment to the next. So when COVID undid the world we had started to rebuild, surviving was a familiar way to live. We have more experience than most at this.
So we sank back into the simplicity of things. Being kind to each other matters more than being right. Extra rest is more important than accomplishing things. Feeling nourished and connected matters more than minimal screen time. Survival seasons have more than their share of struggles, so I do not need to add more by expecting myself to achieve at anywhere close to the same level as other seasons.
This week, the prairies fell into a deep cold. Ice crystals floated in the air, and the wind whipped them into every crevice. Simplicity finds us here. Blankets and warm drinks, mittens and toques. Plug in the car and warm it up when we must go out. Survival depends on reduction to just the most essential things.
Spiritual survival brings with it all kinds of difficult emotions: doubt and fear, anxiety and grief, anger and despair. It takes so much energy to feel these, to let them wash over me without carrying me away. It is enough to watch for God here. Simplicity makes it possible to survive.
So often, I get impatient with a God who does not resolve things quickly, remove my suffering, fix the things I think are wrong. But the Creator of all that is seems to be so much less concerned about efficiency than I am. The divine instructions are so simple. Love. Rest. Share. Hope. Follow.
In some future season, bursts of energy will return. There will be days for lofty goals, pushing hard, and rocking it. Today is not that day. Today we will cuddle in the blanket fort with all the stuffed animals. We will use our words and try again when we forget. Crackers and cheese and raspberries are a perfectly great supper.
As we prepare to move in this survival season, I am living into simplicity here too. Doubts are as numerous as the boxes, and I can only pack one at a time. The list of things I do not know is longer than the things I do, and God is handling that list. Laughter lifts the worry and the kids give me lots of reasons to laugh.
I woke up one day this week to the howling wind. It ached with the -45 degree weather waiting for me on the dark drive to the hospital for work. Simplicity means slipping my feet into moccasins, relishing the heat of my straightener as warm hair falls against my face, delighting in the arms of my toddler wrapped around my neck at the daycare door.
Lowered expectations as a spiritual survival strategy are not giving up; they are giving over. When I cannot do any more, I will reduce myself and my world to the most essential parts and let God do the rest. And this is what it means that God has the most power in my weakness. This is how simplicity and survival create space for what will be.
“Lord, help me now to unclutter my life, to organize myself in the direction of simplicity.” Amen.