Over the past several years when the new year dawns, it seems people sometimes choose a particular word to focus on for the coming 365 days. This is something I’ve done as well, and I usually start thinking about the “word” in November.
The year 2013 was a bumpy ride, putting it mildly, and life came with a lot of curve balls. I think my brain was tired and only looking forward to the calendar flipping over to 2014. So, no word for me. And I was okay with that.
And then, with a click, during the last week of 2013, it came to me.
Okay, that isn’t a hard concept to understand. In math, when we learn fractions, we’re taught to simplify our answer. One of the dictionary definitions of simplify is to “reduce to fundamental parts.”
Simplify. Back to basics. Fundamentals.
The word came to me when I was making a decision about whether or not to apply to serve on a committee in my city. When I heard the word simplify, I didn’t even fill out the application.
The Amish have grasped this concept and embraced it. Why go with all the bells and whistles when a basic model will do? Why fill up every moment with something else that keeps us going, going, going?
Often, we who aren’t Amish may think of something basic as un-fancy, plain—not bedazzled and pretty. However, the more I’ve turned over the idea of simplifying an aspect of my life, I’ve realized that simplifying isn’t so much that something is plain, but simplifying is weeding out, trimming back, pruning.
So I sat myself down to simplify my life, starting with my time. What are the fundamentals, the basics that are most important? What is my life, in its simplest terms?
In no particular order: My husband. My family. My writing, both fiction and news. My personal quiet, prayer time, and devotions. My health. My home. Everything else is just, extra, really. Yes, I could tack a lot of things under each of those fundamental piece of my life.
But there’s this young four year old inside me, who is absolutely fascinated at times with the idea of more, better, flashy. She wants to be entertained, stimulated, and busy-fied. She doesn’t want to go to bed at a proper time because she just knows she’s going to miss out on something.
My four year old wants to do it all. Is there a program at church coming up? Well, she must jump right in the middle of it. Is there a festival in town on the weekend? She needs to carve out an hour or three to be there and volunteer. And oh, that committee I mentioned before? She was rarin’ to go make a difference in her city!
My inner four year old wants to please everybody. She doesn’t want to disappoint anyone by telling them “no.” If someone asks her for assistance, she must say yes. Every. Single. Time. Because that’s what good four year olds do. We teach them to be helpers, don’t we?
We also teach four year olds to share. She feels as though she ought to share her time and resources and energy.
Then, it happens. The calendar is jam-packed, and normal, everyday things like chores and taking walks fall to the side. The four year old is upset, tired, cranky, and in general difficult to live with.
Saying yes to one thing often means we must say no to something else. Four year olds don’t quite grasp that time management yet.
So, this year, I’m going to practice saying “no” to some things and to some people. I’ll enjoy the fewer things I do have on my schedule, because I won’t be thinking about what’s going to happen next and keep on track. I’m not mean if I don’t help everyone, and I’m not missing out if I don’t participate in every going-on that appeals to me.
Here’s to a simplified 2014.
— Photo from Miami University Libraries, Digital Collection