Over ten years ago, I was on retreat at a flourishing Benedictine monastery about an hour east of Tulsa, Oklahoma. One of the senior monks there was giving me spiritual direction and said something that has stuck with me: “There should be a little bit of monk in each of us.” Why? A monk knows what he is about, and he has cultivated an environment that doesn’t pull him away from being what he is about.
The rhythm of the monastery’s daily life fosters what I would call the richness of simplicity. By striving to be simple as Jesus is simple, I obviously do not mean being deprived, simplistic, or a simpleton. Jesus’ simplicity, on the contrary, is marked by integrity, unity, and a singleness of purpose by which he knew what he was about. For many, however, the experience of life is just the opposite: disintegrated, divided, and too complicated. The lack of a unifying and universal vision, due to modern society’s rejection of a sovereign God, has led many to live conflicted lives with competing interests and loyalties.
Moreover, we live in a time when we are constantly bombarded with data, invitations to events, appeals, entertainment and media. As pleasurable as these things can be, they can pull us away from what we desire to be about! The obvious danger with all of these distractions, offers, and commitments is spreading ourselves too thin. Consequently, we risk never making the impact we want to make in those areas that we value most and are most pertinent to our vocation and mission in life.
Falling victim to this danger, for instance, may mean never getting enough quality time that we want to spend with our spouse, children, or aging parents. This can also mean spending too much of our time on media or other entertainment at the cost of deepening my relationship with God through prayer. With Lent coming upon us in less than two weeks, it would be good to think about this question: “What are those things in my life that keep me from fulfilling my God-given calling and most profound desires?”
Go through “Purgatory!”
Jesus told Martha, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken from her” (Lk 10:41-42). In those times we feel like Martha, overwhelmed by the flood of activity and our obligations, we need to choose the better part: Jesus and the specific vocation he has given us. That means going through a time of “purgatory.” By purgatory in this case, I mean a time when we simplify and purge away anything that is not of God and his calling in our lives so that the one thing necessary doesn’t get obscured.
In other words, create the environment that doesn’t pull you away from being what you are about! This process doesn’t necessarily mean getting rid of our healthy hobbies and the pastimes that we cherish; those in moderation are part of an integrated and wholesome life. For example, I’m not giving up golf! But it does mean “having a little bit of monk in you” and clearing out even the good clutter that keeps us from experiencing the richness of simplicity.
Yours in Christ,