I don’t think I ever met anyone who longed for a more complicated life. Between the continual battle with “stuff” piled up in attics, closets, and basements, and the clutter in our minds and on our calendars, the longing for a simpler life runs deep and wide. No wonder Francis of Assisi remains one of our most popular saints. His bold decision to strip away the extraneous parts of his life resonates among those feeling mired in details, overload, and cultural messages urging us to have and do more. This isn’t to say the life of Saint Francis was a bed of roses. Quite the contrary. Nevertheless, his model of simplicity, one passed along through the practice of Franciscan spirituality, has much to offer our over-saturated society.
While not nearly as radical, my husband, Ron, and I did our own purge a few years ago in preparation for a year-long road trip. It took three months to sort through everything we owned and jettison anything we hadn’t looked at, valued, or figured into our future. Over that period we probably got rid of a third of our belongings. We put most of it in storage and then packed our car for the trip. At first it seemed like we were traveling with the bare minimum. After a couple of months, however, I began to wonder why we were carting around so much stuff.
The Reverend Billy Graham once said he never saw a hearse pulling a U-Haul. What a delightful reminder of the futility of grasping at things. Saints like Francis got a jump on end-of-life simplicity by choosing to travel lightly. This, of course, isn’t just about material things; those are easy enough to relinquish in the end. It’s the emotional burdens – the grudges, resentment, regrets, opinions, and all manner of dissatisfaction which will only weigh us down as we age. Once again Francis serves as both model and guide. His lovely “Hymn to Creation” is an example of taking simple pleasure in the moment and giving praise to God for all that is rather than what was or what ought to be. When caught up in gratitude, all reasons to moan and groan melt away. It’s the grateful person who is often able to understand the true meaning of simplicity. Whether living in a mansion or a monastery, these are the ones who are able to take everything as gift, to embrace the now, and to let nothing but God’s breath carry them forward.