In Search of Simplicity

mother-teresaMother Teresa's bedroom/office/everythingThe Missionaries of Charity building doesn’t look like a tourist attraction, but plenty of people visit to see Mother Teresa’s tomb and meet the sisters who still live and work there to serve the poor of Calcutta.

I enjoyed reading about the ministry and history as the sisters’ singing carried through the courtyard. But a scene at the top of a stairwell had an unexpected impact on me. It was Mother Teresa’s room—a simple, bare space no bigger than 8 x 12 feet. The plaque said she spent much of her time praying and contemplating the crown of thorns on her office

I thought about my office—almost twice the size (which still isn’t large) and filled with books and stacks and canvases and stuff, including a TV. I don’t have a crown of thorns on my wall, although a framed Egyptian papyrus of the Last Supper provides a little sense of piety. The one word I’d use to describe my space is cluttered. And Mother Teresa’s? Not.

There’s something profoundly appealing about the simplicity of her room, or of a simple lifestyle in general. We live in a complicated world with chaos swirling around us at any given moment. Sometimes our inner environment takes on the character of our outer environment (which explains why many of us feel the urge to clean up whenever life spirals out of control). Regardless of how turbulent our circumstances are, something within us longs for simplicity.

Experts in success and goal-setting emphasize how important it is to streamline—to choose a few goals and go after them, setting peripherals and distractions aside. Even Curly from City Slickers got that right when he told Billy Crystal’s character that the key to life was “one thing.”

Come to think of it, so did Jesus. If anyone could claim to live in complex environment with chaos swirling around him, he could. Yet he set his face on his mission and never diverged from it. Mayhem around him, simplicity within him—a singular focus that was never shaken.

I want that. I’m not promising to get rid of my books—perish the thought—but I’m reminded that they can only do so much for me. And I’m certainly not attached to the stacks of paper, or the long to-do list, or the knickknacks I don’t know what to do with.

But this really isn’t about my office space nearly as much as it’s about my heart. I’d much rather have an inward environment that looks like Mother Teresa’s room than one that stretches me in every direction and always needs untangling. I’m pretty sure everyone would. I think that’s how we were made.

Perhaps that’s why books on simplicity, focus, and getting back to the basics are in high demand today. (Sadly, I can easily imagine buying a bunch of them, putting them on my cluttered shelves, and lamenting the irony.) A scattered world stretches us in ways we were never meant to be stretched. And perhaps Teresa and Curly were right. “One thing” really is the way to go. 

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©2013-present by chris tiegreen