University Congregational Church
June 5, 2016
“Seeking True Simplicity”
Jeremiah 29:4-7, 10-14
Last year I purchased a bracelet with words on it. I am drawn to this bracelet and wear it often. It just seems to call from my jewelry closet and beg my attention. It says:
The words all point to one thing: a deep, perhaps subconscious wish to fill my life with less rush and hurry and much more attentiveness, comfort, and simplicity. Sacred simplicity.
I am increasingly and painfully aware that we are moving at a breakneck speed through life. All these technological devices that were promised to give us more time have made us more productive but have also made us productive in what might have been quiet or reflective time. Between emails, faxes and mobile phones, we never quite disconnect. We have cluttered homes, lives, offices, and minds. We are too busy.
I am told that the two characters in Chinese that form the word busy are the characters for the words heart and killing. We are killing our hearts with our well-intended busyness.
Our pace damages our souls, as well. Imagine for a moment a caricature of your soul – perhaps it’s like many – a little malnourished, perhaps even emaciated, or a little disconnected from the rest of you. Can you picture your poor, skinny soul, running behind you, trying to get a word in beyond the chaos, crying, “Hey, wait for me!”?
According to studies, a focus on achievement, wealth or acquiring possessions can lead to serious misery. People who have a sense of self-worth and wellbeing have:
• stronger immune systems,
• are more creative,
• earn more money,
• cope better with life’s challenges, and
• are more altruistic.
At the beginning of summer, let’s all take a moment away from the harried pace of our work to let our souls catch up. If ever there was a group of people who felt separated from their souls, it was the Israelites in the time of the prophet Jeremiah. They were on a downhill slide with four corrupt and godless kings in a row and their own leaders being deported to Babylon. The people were on a long road of despair, immorality, and hopelessness. The prophet Jeremiah had the glorious job of reminding the people how to re-direct their lives in order to recreate their spiritual balance.
Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. Jeremiah 29: 4-7, 10-14.
These ancient words give us guidance on how to create a balanced life and a sense of sacred simplicity.
1. Realize you are loved by God. “I know the plans I have for you, plans for your wellbeing… reserving for you a future full of hope.” In the context of this text, these words are a rebuke of false prophets who think they understand God’s thoughts. But they do not; only God does. Some translations even say it, “I alone know…” Here’s what the passage says to me: “I alone know the desires I have for you; the prophets do not know my plans, and neither do you. Nor do you need to, because I have told you my desire is for your wellbeing.”
In this light, the following verses (12-14) become especially beautiful: “Then when you pray to me I will hear you; when you feel your desire for me you will find me; when you want me with all your heart, I will let you find me.” These words say to me that it’s not understanding God’s will that counts, but simply realizing that we are loved by God.
2. Be outgoing (or act outgoing). Studies show that people who are outgoing and friendly are more likely to find a partner, land good jobs and make new friends. Extroverts tend to lead more satisfying lives than introverts, and their approach to life pays off in other ways. But don’t worry if you’re a proverbial wall flower. According to the research, just acting like an extrovert can boost happiness. In a series of three studies, students were directed to act alternately outgoing and reserved during group discussion sessions. The students reported feeling happier and more positive when they were acting like extroverts; when they aimed for introversion their moods plummeted.
God’s instructions to the Hebrew people were to “build houses, plant
gardens, find life partners, have children, and work for the success of the city.” In other words, when the going is tough and you feel exiled, get involved in life! The next tip is related:
3. Connect with others. “The more we get out and give to others, the more positive our experience and the greater happiness we will experience,” says John Tassey, Professor of Psychiatry at Oklahoma University. 26% of people reporting that they have fewer than five friends considered themselves very happy, but that number jumped to 38% when they had more than five friends.
Ironically, our human tendency is to withdraw when we are feeling down. For example, quite often those who stay away from church are those who need it the most. That is why it is critically important to check in on those who change their attendance patterns. When we connect with others, our spirits are lifted.
4. Own your choices. Research shows that when a person feels that their activities are self-chosen or at least agreed to, the person is happier. When nursing home patients are allowed to make choices about their environment or have a say in their facilities’ policies, they are more alert, active and happy. You don’t have to be the corporate chief or top decision maker to be happy – you simply have to participate in and feel ownership in your life choices. Even if someone else makes the decision, we need to internalize and feel included in the decision to increase our happiness.
When the Israelites were exiled in Babylon, it would have been easy to become an inferior, subservient people. Instead, God instructed them: “Work for the success of the city I have sent you to. If it succeeds, you too will enjoy success.” Own your choices. Participate in the decisions that involve you and you will find a sense of peace.
5. Think positively to increase your health and well-being. Optimistic people are less bothered by minor illnesses, and more likely to recover from major setbacks like surgery and cancer. Optimists are quicker to recover from infection and have less chronic pain. And here’s the best news – optimism isn’t something you’re born with or without – you can choose your attitude.
Researchers in the Netherlands recently found that those who see the glass as half full have a lower risk of heart disease or death from any cause than those who see the glass half empty. If you want to create a balanced and healthy life, choose to reframe your perspective and be a positive person!
There is a story of two dogs. Both at separate times walked into the same room. One came out of the room wagging his tail while the other came out growling. A person watching this went into the room to see what could possibly have made one dog so happy and the other so mad. The room was filled with mirrors. The happy dog found a thousand happy dogs looking back at him while the angry dog saw only angry dogs growling back at him. What we see in the world around us is a reflection of who we are.
6. Pay attention. When we slow down and pay attention to life, even the simplest acts become rich in spiritual meaning. Author and philosopher Sam Keen calls it “kneading the vision of the sacred into the dough of everyday life.”
* Ponder a sunset or two.
* Notice the colors of the sun filtering through the tree leaves.
* Cook and savor the test of fresh, real food.
* Hold a child on your lap and smell her hair.
* Take a long bath or a slow walk.
* Look deeply into the eyes of a person you love.
In a book entitled “Spiritual Literacy”, Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat write: “The spiritual life is, at root, a matter of seeing. It is all of life seen from a certain perspective. It is waking, sleeping, dreaming, eating, drinking, working, loving, relaxing, recreating, walking, sitting, standing, and breathing… spirit suffuses everything; and so the spiritual life is simply life, wherever and whatever, seen from the vantage point of spirit.”
What will you do to re-birth your spirit?
Gregory, Elizabeth. “Seeking True Simplicity; It’s More than Giving Up Stuff”. Disciples World Magazine. April, 2005.
May, Gerald. “God Only Knows”. Shalem News. Winter-Spring, 2002.
Ryan, Cindy Guthrie. “Living Faith”. Disciples World Magazine. April, 2005.