|Spiritual Simplicity: Doing Less, Loving More|
By: Chip Ingram
All You Need Is Love
When I launched this series at our church, I knew I would be hitting some sensitive, raw nerves. The guilt and shame associated with pushing hard, passing your spouse like a ship in the night, and not giving your family the attention you know they need is a tough thing to face. I knew that “lecturing” these highly educated, professional people would not produce positive results. They may have the same basic needs as the rest of us, but the perceived pressure and demands of the high-tech world is like watching busyness on steroids.
So as people filed into the worship center, the worship team played the classic Beatles song “All You Need Is Love.” No words, no singing, just an instrumental version that had everyone’s toes tapping and boomers mouthing the words. The service would start in a few minutes, but I wanted to plant the idea in people’s minds even before we started that “all you need is love.”
There are four steps to this dance that accelerate in rhythm and beat with every measure: bigger, better, faster, more.
You see, much of being driven, overextended, and always on an insane schedule is rooted in just the opposite of that song title. In fact, there’s a dance that goes by many names all over the world that explains our spiritual and physical exhaustion and emotional fatigue. I call it the Silicon Valley Shuffle because that’s where I live, but this dance is done in various forms from Omaha to Hong Kong. Regardless of the name you choose, there are four steps to this dance that accelerate in rhythm and beat with every measure. See if you can recognize these steps: bigger, better, faster, more.
Four Words that Define Our Mind-Set
These four words drive our lives, our schedules, our relationships, and even our souls. They define the American mind-set. Our competitive businesses want to do things bigger, better, faster, and in greater quantity than their rivals. Our competitive job market prompts us to put in a few more hours and then a few more on top of that, because if we don’t . . . well, anyone can be replaced. And our consumer wants and needs drive us in the same direction. We’re never quite content with the status quo, so we’re constantly looking to acquire whatever is bigger, better, faster, and more. That’s how marketers appeal to us as consumers, and that’s how we survive in this competitive culture as innovators, entrepreneurs, and difference makers. We’re cutting-edge people in a world of opportunity.
Unfortunately, this mind-set spills over into our families too. If our kids are going to be really good at whatever we think they should be good at, then we’ve got to start them early. So we have three-year-olds playing in soccer leagues and sixth graders working with tutors to prepare for the SATs so they can get into the right college. The opportunities in our society are great, but the pressure and demand to take advantage of these opportunities—as many as possible—are overwhelming. We’re constantly feeling pushed to be everything, do everything, and have everything; and as a result we live in a continual state of fatigue.
Are We Dancing Ourselves to Death?
Our attempts to “be it all,” “do it all,” and “have it all” have created a complex world that:
1. moves too fast
2. delivers too little
3. demands too much
We create a world that moves too fast, delivers too little, and demands too much.
We don’t actually say we have to be it all, do it all, and have it all, of course. We may not even be conscious that we’re chasing after these things. But our actions certainly reflect that pulsating drive. And when we do this dance—intentionally or not—we create a very complex world for ourselves. It’s a world that moves too fast, delivers too little, and demands too much. Think about that:
It moves too fast. Haven’t you ever wished the clock would just stop so you could catch up on your work—or maybe just catch your breath? Do your days and weeks fly by and leave you in the dust? Have you ever wanted to jump off the merry-go-round of demands and activities but can’t because it won’t stop spinning? Those are very real symptoms that your world is moving too fast.
It delivers too little. Have you ever felt like you’re pouring out more than you’re taking in? That you’re spinning your wheels? That the results of all your efforts are high activity but low relational connectivity? In quiet moments, does life feel disappointing and leaving you pretty unsatisfied? Those are symptoms that your world isn’t delivering on its promises.
It demands too much. How many of us have crossed off everything on our to-do list? Isn’t there unfinished business at the end of most days? Does your life seem like a cruel marathon—you see the finish line and keep running for it, but someone keeps moving it? Do you have trouble sleeping? Are you often anxious? Do you feel overwhelmed? These are symptoms of living in a world that demands too much—and that will suck the life out of you if you let it.
As I pastor in the Bay Area of California and minister across the United States, I see the impact of our highly driven, fast-paced, complex lifestyle. We end up with much fatigue, little margin, shallow relationships, fractured families, drifting marriages, painful loneliness, coping addictions, neglected kids, and generally hurting people.
If you think I’m exaggerating, let me share a not-so-atypical story of a young girl in a highly driven family. Her parents were convinced that education was the key to her success in life. So for four to five hours after school each day, she was required to do extra homework. Beginning in sixth grade, they hired a tutor to spend six hours with her every Saturday to prepare for her SAT and ACT exams. Their motives were to help their daughter, yet the competitive dance of bigger, better, faster, and more resulted in educational success and relational tragedy. She made perfect scores on both the SAT and the ACT and was awarded a full scholarship at an Ivy League school. Sounds like a great story, right? Wrong. Upon graduation, she changed her address and phone number three times to eliminate any contact with her parents. “Success” did a lot of relational damage. All of their “doing” didn’t translate into “loving”—at least not in her eyes. In small and big ways, our drive for bigger-better-faster-more has taken over our lives.
I mean a dis-ease—a lack of ease. A nagging discomfort. A constant, underlying stress.
As a result, our souls have a dis-ease. I don’t mean a disease, as in a physical illness. I mean a dis-ease—a lack of ease. A nagging discomfort. A constant, underlying stress. This race we’re running in order to get bigger, better, faster, and more is completely destroying our peace. We’re losing our grounding. We don’t know where we are or where we’re going, or even how to go at a reasonable pace. Pretty soon, we realize that our relationships are coming unglued. We work mountains of hours, often for the sake of people we love, but end up with superficial relationships with those very same people because we’ve spent so much time working that we haven’t invested in them. We’ve exchanged real, down-to-earth, quality relationships for money-bought privileges and perks. We’ve squeezed out the necessary time for friendships, marriage, children—even God. There’s little authenticity or depth left—just enough to maintain our relationships superficially.
“I’ll do that as soon as . . .” is the classic line of the overcommitted person. We’ll catch up on those relationships when this business deal is done or when we finish this project or when the kids get out of diapers and don’t demand so much attention or when . . . But “when” never happens. Pretty soon, the kids are teenagers or leaving for college, you’ve forgotten how to have an in-depth conversation with your spouse, and your friends have all found other people to share their interests. Our “someday” thinking never really works out. Someday doesn’t come unless we stop and decide to simplify our lives.
Glimmers of Hope
Once in a while, when people take a break, step back, and get alone with God, they get a glimpse of what’s really happening. I’ve had multiple men and women tell me, “I’ve got to slow down. I’ve got to get some margin in my life. I can see the things that really matter slipping away.” But it often takes a crisis to really do anything about it—a biopsy report or a car crash or a layoff—or sometimes God breaks in and encounters us on a rare vacation or a retreat. We suddenly see the speed of what’s happening, and it seems ludicrous that we wouldn’t have time for the God who made us, or for the person we vowed to grow with “until death do us part,” or the people who share our DNA and need our love. But the Silicon Valley Shuffle, by whatever name, is lethal; we get caught up so completely in the demands that we often miss what matters most.
Is It Possible to Break Free?
Is it possible to break free from this trap—from the high-speed, high-pressure, high-demand, guilt-producing dis-ease of our complex lives? That’s the question of this book—and the question we all need to ask ourselves if we’re tired of being overextended and unfulfilled. I believe the answer is yes, it is possible to run the race at an entirely different, more meaningful speed. Not only is it possible, it’s absolutely necessary.
Why We Do the Things We Do
Imagine this: You’ve been having an unexplained fever, along with some serious aches and pains. And even though you hate going to the doctor, you’re worried enough to schedule an appointment. Something might really be wrong. So you get to the doctor’s office, worried about all the possibilities. The doctor walks in and says hello, doesn’t even wait for you to finish explaining your symptoms, and immediately grabs some pills off the shelf and says, “Here, take some of these and see if they work.”
You say, “Wait a minute, doc! Are you sure that’s the right way to deal with my problem?”
“Hmm, maybe not,” he answers. “Just to be on the safe side, let’s go ahead and schedule surgery for six A.M. tomorrow.”
Suddenly you don’t have very much confidence in your doctor, do you? Where your physical health is concerned, one thing you want with your medical care is the right diagnosis. That’s the key to treatment; you can’t deal with the disease if you don’t know what it is. You want a doctor to figure out what’s wrong before handing you some medicine or cutting you open.
If we’re going to simplify our lives, we’ve got to make a proper diagnosis.
The same is true spiritually. If we’re going to simplify our lives, we’ve got to make a proper diagnosis. A good doctor will ask how long you’ve had your symptoms, if certain diseases are common to your family, what your diet is like and how often you exercise, and on and on. I’ve found that two diagnostic questions are very helpful in getting to the root of this spiritual disease.1
Two Diagnostic Questions
The first question reveals what’s behind the bigger, better, faster, more. If you keep running relentlessly toward an elusive goal, there’s got to be something that motivates you, something behind the pressures and demands driving you. You’ll go a long way toward finding out what it is by asking yourself this first question: What do you want to be known for?
Maybe you want to be known as a kind and loving person. Perhaps what you want to be known for has more to do with your role—being a great mom or dad or student. Or maybe your skills or abilities are the key; you want to be known as a problem solver or a wise person or for being great at your job. If you had to write down what you want to be known for, what would you write?
Most of us can come up with some pretty good goals. I don’t know anyone who would say, “I want to be known for being an overextended, hurried parent who doesn’t connect with my kids.” Or, “I want to be a successful businessperson who is on my third marriage and doesn’t have time for any deep friendships.” We know the right answers.
But most of us have a disconnect between what we consciously acknowledge and what our time and energy are devoted to. We say one thing, but our schedules and to-do lists don’t reflect our words. Intellectually we have one list of priorities while practically we demonstrate another.
The second question is a lot like the first, but it is more precise. If you could only be remembered for one thing, what would it be? If you had to describe your goal in just one word—not one sentence or phrase, but a single word—what would you say? I realize this isn’t easy, but if you could only be remembered for one thing, what would it be? If your spouse or kids or friends described you, what one word would you most want to hear that epitomizes who you are?
Maybe you can think of several possible answers. But there’s one word that should be at the top of the list. Every other attribute is at best a distant second. Your friends and family may think you’re a wonderful person, but if you don’t have this one characteristic, you’re missing what matters most. The number one characteristic we need to embody, the highest priority for our lives, is LOVE!
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a great spouse or parent, a good friend, an excellent artist, businessperson, counselor, athlete, or anything else. Being “creative” or “brilliant” or “successful” is not a bad goal. If we can fulfill all our desires for the roles we want to have and the things we want to accomplish, that’s great. But above all, if we don’t epitomize love, none of the rest matters.
That’s the key to simplifying life: making love your number one priority. Yet most of what we do, no matter how good our intentions are, undermines our ability to love well. We clutter our lives with complications and crowd out the one thing that would simplify them. We find ourselves doing more and loving less. We need a practical game plan to focus on what matters most.
To what degree are you doing the Silicon Valley Shuffle? What does that dance look like where you live and in your personal life?
What does your schedule indicate you want to be known for? Are you currently investing most of your time in the things you want to be remembered for? Why or why not?
What is the biggest barrier to your slowing down and simplifying your life?
Are there any relationships in your life that are being hindered by the things on your to-do list? Which ones?
How, specifically, can you begin to be more loving this week? With whom? Why?
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