Simplicity as a spiritual survival strategy

When autumn turned into winter, I found in common prayer a prayer for life transitions: a liturgy for ordinary radicals. We were thinking about moving in the middle of a pandemic. It all felt very complicated. And the opening line of the prayer agreed with me: “Lord, help me now to organize my life and organize myself towards simplicity.”

If I ever write a book about parenting, it’s about how the secret of parenting lies in lower expectations. I learned that from survival. So many things that I pile on my plate and on my shoulders are just avoidance and distraction from the things that matter most to me. Then I use efficiency and time management strategies to do more things better and to have a false sense of satisfaction about my ability to chaos.

For three years before the pandemic hit (almost a year ago), grief plunged us into survival. Our world was clear to us through the confusing power of loss. I was unable to concentrate, just existed from one moment to the next. When COVID broke up the world we had rebuilt, survival was a familiar way of life. We are more experienced than most.

So we sank back into the simplicity of things. Friendliness to one another is more important than being right. Extra calm is more important than accomplishing things. Feeling nourished and connected is more than just minimal screen time. Survival seasons have more than their share of struggles so I don’t need to add more by expecting to reach somewhere on par with 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 hoods. Plug in the car and warm it up when we need to go out. Survival depends on being reduced to the essentials.

Spiritual survival brings with it all kinds of difficult emotions: doubt and fear, fear and sadness, anger and despair. It takes so much energy to feel it, to let it wash over me without carrying me away. It is enough to pay attention to God here. Simplicity makes it possible to survive.

So many times I get impatient with a God who doesn’t solve things quickly, removes my suffering, and fixes the things I think are wrong. But the Creator of all that is seems to care so much less about efficiency than I do. The divine instructions are so simple. Love. Rest. Share. To hope. Consequences.

In a future season, bursts of energy will return. There will be days for high aim pushing hard and rocking. Today is not that day. Today we’re going to cuddle with all the stuffed animals in the ceiling fortress. We will use our words and try again if we forget. Crackers and cheese and raspberries make a perfect dinner.

As we prepare to move into this survival season, I also live in simplicity here. Doubts are as numerous as the boxes and I can only pack one at a time. The list of things I don’t know is longer than the things I do, and God takes care of that list. Laughing eases worry and the children give me lots of reasons to laugh.

I woke up to the howling wind one day this week. It hurt from the -45 degree weather that was waiting for me on the dark drive to the hospital to work. Simplicity means tucking my feet in moccasins, enjoying the heat of my straightener when warm hair falls on my face, and enjoying my toddler’s arms wrapped around my neck at the daycare door.

Lower expectations as a spiritual survival strategy don’t give up; they give up. If I can no longer, I will reduce myself and my world to the essentials and let God do the rest. And that means that God has the greatest strength in my weakness. In this way, simplicity and survival create space for what will be.

“Lord, help me now to have my life tidy,
organize myself towards simplicity. “

Amen.

(Perrault works in the Catholic Health Service in Saskatchewan, writing and speaking about faith. Their website is leahperrault.com)