Two months ago, I attended a church meeting that has had me pondering its messages ever since. A couple times a year, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints meet together for something called Stake Conference, where all the local congregations of the Church meet in two general sessions over a weekend (one on Saturday night, one on Sunday morning) to hear counsel from the leaders who have been called over our area in general. I always find these meetings so inspiring, especially as they are tailored to fit our local community’s needs very specifically.
In this last Stake Conference, we had the privilege of hearing from one of the Seventy (a leadership position that’s basically partly over the whole worldwide church, not necessarily just our area) and his wife. From both of them (and from other speakers), I had one message struck into my head over over and over again:
“Are my daily actions TRULY representing my values and what I say are my priorities?”
The question gave me pause.
My knee-jerk reaction was to just say to myself, “Of course they are. I live my convictions; I am honest in my dealings; I try to be patient and loving with my family.”
This is all true.
But as anyone trying to walk a higher spiritual path can tell you, there is ALWAYS something you could be doing better, something that you could sacrifice in order to reach a higher plane of being.
So, as I kept hearing that question drumming into my head over and over again, I stopped and looked at my daily life again, this time a little more closely.
I SAID that my #1 priority was my family…but was I always acting present and engaged when they were around, especially when it was just me at home with my daughter? Was I consciously taking advantage of moments where I could teach her both the practical and spiritual things that she would need to know?
I SAID that I prioritized my daily spiritual practices, but was I actually making the time every day to KNEEL in prayer every morning and night? Was I making a concerted effort to STUDY the scriptures every day?
I SAID that one of my great joys in life was doing genealogy and going to the temple. Would you know that if you happened to glance over a typical week in my life?
I SAID that I prized time to meditate on spiritual matters and to think of things higher than the here and now. Was I regularly taking advantage of those pockets of quiet time that came up, or was I being so quick to fill them up with the meaningless chatter of social media and hopping online to check out “what I was missing”?
I knew that in many ways, I was doing pretty well, especially if you just looked at the visible stuff—I was going to all three hours of church on Sunday, participating in my meetings, fulfilling my calling, getting to know my neighbors. But that’s always been a temptation for me–to just count the easily observable behaviors, rather than to work on the inner-level stuff that no one can see but myself and God.
For a long time, I’ve known I’m somewhat addicted to productivity, and especially to being able to tick items off a to-do list, or to be able to measure growth and progress by concrete and visible proof.
When I first got into the idea of simplifying my life (because I recognized this desire in myself to be busy all the time and to often overload my schedule), I channeled that same enthusiasm for getting stuff done into getting this whole “Simple Living” thing done—
I purged my closet (as that’s often the first place we’re told to begin), then I created a capsule wardrobe. (Because surely if my wardrobe was streamlined, then everything else would fall into place automatically!)
I undertook a massive organizational/decluttering project that took me an entire year, where I easily probably got rid of roughly half of my belongings. I reveled in the fact that yes, when I had less stuff, I really did seem to have more time! (And–bonus–it really was easier to stay tidy, which had been a constant thorn in my side!)
I started saying no to obligations that would take me away from my priorities and that wouldn’t add any more richness to my life. (And if some of those nights were spent just sitting home and watching t.v., it was okay! I was practicing “self-care”!)
Seriously, though, these were important steps I needed to take in my own journey to a better me, even if I joke about some of it now. I DID need to simplify my closet and my home and my schedule.
But that’s not all I needed to do.
A year ago, I came upon a realization that went right along with all this—I realized that if you cut out everything, sometimes you were just left with…nothing much (that was beautiful or fulfilling or productive) to fill up all those empty hours. I titled that post “The Problem With Being Content,” and that marked the time in which we started looking to buy a house (which we hadn’t planned on doing at that time before), I started running again, and it also was what eventually led me to create an “Assigned Reading” list for myself over this school year.
Basically, last year, I realized that I didn’t want my “simple life” to become an excuse for me to become complacent.
This year, I’ve added newfound realizations that build upon that—
I’ve realized that my addiction to things that can be measured can be a great stumbling block. I’ve realized that I LIKE getting praise and recognition from “the world” for “getting stuff done,” which (ironically) INCLUDES praise for ticking those items off of the “simple living” checklist I’d created for myself.
Lately though, I’ve come to realize that those areas that need the MOST improvement in myself are the areas in which NO ONE will probably be able to see if progress has been made. They are the areas that are almost IMPOSSIBLE to measure by any yardstick.
And they are the areas that, to me, mean the very, very most—virtues like faith, charity, knowledge, temperance, and the quiet daily acts of service and gratitude that happen without fanfare.
The world will likely never know the times when I’m doing nothing but rocking with my daughter, my objective nothing more than to comfort her and be with her. The world will likely never know the effort to keep my heart open and to be willing to look around while I’m out in public and engage with a stranger, even if it means that I’m “interrupted” while I’m out “getting stuff done.” The world will likely never know the times I consciously break free from any sort of distracting technology to have a heartfelt chat with my husband, or to appreciate the feeling of the mountain breeze on my face, or to notice someone new that I’ve never seen before and work up the nerve to say hello.
These are the kinds of actions that I know are important for me to do, but they are also often the hardest to do, simply because they are not measurable, they are usually unacknowledged, and they are the quietest whisper in a world that shouts.
I think sometimes of what might be said at my funeral. I dream sometimes of accomplishments that I’d LIKE to have by the end of my life (like publishing a book or becoming a more established photographer). But much more than any of that, I want people to be able to say that they felt I was genuine and authentic and PRESENT and engaged and loving and happy and true to the faith, no matter what.
So while I will probably never stop making “to-do” lists, I AM trying much more actively lately to concentrate on all the stuff I’m working on for my “to-be” list.
And that’s REALLY the ideal “simple life” that I’m looking for.