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Reflections On Simplicity Inspired by Thomas R. Kelly

by on May 19, 2014

About every 12-18 months I re-examine my personal mission statement and governing values. I have done so this past month. I have 9 personal values, which have been largely unchanged for nearly 14 years. When I live according to my values, which is more sporadic than I intend, my life is much more enjoyable. I am starting a new venture on this blog, more personal than public. But I am making it public because I believe it may be helpful to others.

The new venture is to share thoughts and reflections related to my personal values (and I will do the same thing with my professional values, of which I have 7) as they are inspired and informed by things I read. I suspect this will help me be disciplined about reading and applying around the values I say should govern my life and my work.

My fifth value is simplicity: “my life is focused and organized so I can be prepared and responsive.” Following are some responses to Thomas R. Kelly’s writing on “The Simplification of Life” from A Testament of Devotion.

“Much of our acceptance of multitudes of obligations is due to our inability to say No. We calculated that the task had to be done, and we saw no one ready to undertake it.”

This is certainly true in my life as a leader in the church. I suspect it is similar for leaders in other non-profit organizations and small business. And I suspect it is exacerbated for those organizations, like the church, that rely so heavily upon volunteers. This includes the family.

As a leader in the church and the family, it is natural that I see things that need to be done, and that I see them earlier than most others. The challenge is how to channel those insights into action in such a way that I am not the one doing everything. The options are doing it myself, neglecting it, or delegating it. And I have many challenges to overcome with delegation. Will I have to convince others it needs to be done? Will they do the job with diligence? Will it be done as well as I want it done? Will I have to become an expert in order to train others? The balance quickly tips to my trying to do it myself.

“The decision [to do it ourselves] was a heady decision, not made within the sanctuary of the soul. When we say Yes or No to calls for service on the basis of heady decisions, we have to give reasons, to ourselves and others. But when we say Yes or No . . . from the Center of our life . . . we have no reason to give, except one–the will of God as we discern it.”

This is goal of my fifth value of simplicity, namely to live out of that center and to experience my first value, which is shalom: “I abide in the Spirit’s presence throughout my life.” I have begun to monitor how often I say Yes or No accompanied by the compulsion or necessity to explain it. If Kelly is right, this explanation is suggestive of my not living out of the Center. I believe the Center is at once in the moment, but also in the preparation. I believe I can identify the Center and when the moment arises respond to the Center. Having my personal and professional values is part of the former; abiding in the Spirit’s presence pertains to the latter.

Kelly concludes: “I find God never guides us into an intolerable scramble of panting feverishness. The Cosmic Patience becomes, in part, our patience, for after all God is at work in the world. It is not we alone who are at work in the world, frantically finishing a work to be offered to God.”

Remembering this will be fundamental to my success in living according to my values. Another pastor recently posted in FB that he was humbled to return to the church he served for several years (and not that long ago), and discovered people who were there during that time but nonetheless did not remember him. It is a harsh reminder that we are largely expendable and unnecessary.

I believe God has chosen us to collaborate with him in the redemption of this world, but God is not so dependent upon us that we sacrifice the peace and Sabbath rest that is ours through Christ’s priesthood. He suffered their absence so that we do not have to. We will make sacrifices, and in extraordinary instances they may include our very lives. But ordinarily our sacrifice is merely saying No to the distractions and Yes to the presence of God.

Being a pastor and parent is ultimately God’s work. That’s one of the lessons of baptism: the sheep belong to God and our children belong to God. I have a small role to play, and according to Kelly, if I simply stick to my small role, I not only will do it well, I will do it peacefully.

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