family, God, My Story

Living Simply: The Spiritual Discipline of Simplicity

What is it?…

So, I’ve been thinking about the Spiritual Discipline of Simplicity lately. Our church is doing a series on some Nurturing a Secret Place with God through Spiritual Disciplines right now and I’ve been asked to join a ‘Facebook Live Q&A’ about them, specifically for the simplicity portion. When I was asked, I literally thought to myself, ‘Simplicity is a Spiritual Discipline? What is it and why would I be the one asked?’ Haha. So, I’ve been spending time researching simplicity, assessing how it shows outwardly in my life and how it actually is inwardly. I’ve also reached out to my mom and sister to discuss simplicity in my family of origin and I’ve got to say… I’ve learned a lot.

As I’ve come to understand it, Simplicity is about having a single purpose and living from that purpose so that everything else is secondary to that purpose.  Mainly this would be something like serving God, obeying God, or seeking after God and God alone. Often this inward purpose ends up pushing the need to have status or possessions aside in order to follow after God as the first priority. 

So, simplicity might look like seeing a person who makes a purchase only after making careful consideration of how useful that item actually would be in their life. You might see someone giving things away because those practicing simplicity learn to hold material possessions very loosely. You might even notice that a person would prefer to borrow and rent things instead of buying them (think of all those library patrons) or enjoy public parks and other public places rather than going to a private, admission-only place. Also, people practicing simplicity learn to spend only the money that they have in order to live without debt. This allows the person to be easily moved whenever God leads them. They are not held back by debt, but can give generously and even physically move at the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Some of our favorite public places: Champaign Public Library, Museum of the Grand Prairie, and Local Garage/Fundraising Sales

Outward and Inward Simplicity…

These are just a few of the things I learned as I delved into my research on the Spiritual Discipline of Simplicity. Reading these things, I had to agree that yes, I could see why I might be asked to share on this subject. If I’m feeling especially critical of myself, I’d see the negatives and say it’s because I don’t keep up with the latest trends or fashions, my house and yard are yet to be fully decorated and landscaped, and I have a hard time spending money on extravagances. This right there would cause someone to outwardly think I’m living pretty simply.

But what about the spiritual side of it? What was happening inwardly? I mean, what I mentioned above was a negative outward view of myself and of simplicity. What is the inward reality of a person choosing to practice simplicity? As I looked around on various blogs and in books, I came to discover that simplicity seems to be largely geared towards living from a single purpose, and in the Christian’s sense, to be so focused on God and His purpose through you so much that nothing else really matters. I gotta admit, that didn’t seem like me. That seemed like my sister, or my husband, or anyone else, except me. Yes, I love God. Yes, I obey Him and live my life in a way that I hope pleases Him. But, I don’t feel very ‘focused’ on a single purpose, when I think about the scattered mess of a brain I’ve been known to have.

Looking Back…

So, dig a bit more, I did! Again, I wasn’t feeling very much like I had a lot to say on this subject, but I wasn’t going to throw in the towel just yet. I looked back into my past, my childhood, but this time with a more positive view. Yes, it’s true that I didn’t have a lot of things growing up. Our life was very simple. We often went to garage sales and second-hand shops for our clothes, shopped for generic brand food instead of name brand, and used up everything we owned, making sure it was well spent. 

I always assumed this was because we didn’t have the money for the ‘latest and greatest’ things that other families had. It is true that when my parents separated we were on food stamps for a while and my mother received Welfare to care for us. This didn’t last forever, but it was a very memorable time in my child-life. Then, when my mom did get a job, we didn’t qualify for government assistance anymore and so I learned what it was like to live on the income of a single mother (+ child support). It wasn’t easy to go without so many things that I saw my friends have, but I will concede that I had my family and a few good friends to more than make up for what I didn’t own.

Missionary Family…

With this in my memory, I called Mom to confirm these things. Yes, all this was true, but then she revealed something I didn’t know. Something that I only experienced for the first eight years of my childhood and half of that was pre-memory age! She told me that after her and Dad had been missionaries overseas for a decade and had seen how so much of the world lives, they made a conscious decision to live simply in the USA. She said, “Both [your dad] and I determined after being around the world [that] we could only live simply because of the ethics of how most people have to live. We chose to give a lot of money to humanitarian [efforts] and missions. Something we could not have done if we lived like other Americans.” She went on to share that some of the church families with kids didn’t want to be friends with us because “we did not buy all the extra trappings of American lifestyle. It hurt me deeply but we were committed to simple living.” 

Wait, what?!? Did Mom just say that my parents had a goal to live simply and that it wasn’t due to a lack of money, but because of a single purpose – to give to missionaries and humanitarian efforts? Did she really just say that I was raised in an atmosphere where the Spiritual Discipline of Simplicity was practiced on a large scale, the scale of our family’s life? Wow! I didn’t know that! It was AMAZING to find out. How wonderfully uplifting and what a big change in perspective of my childhood! 

All of a sudden, so many things made sense to me! That’s why I got the hand-me-down clothes that had been through all the girls in another family before they came to me. That’s why we didn’t buy packaged food, but ‘had to eat lentils and other healthy foods!’ Yuck!  (although, my sister loves lentils). That’s why we always had a car that regularly got ‘fixed up’ by Dad – a mechanic, instead of having a shiny new one! I didn’t know it was a choice for simplicity, I thought it was a result of not having money.

The house where my parents lived while missionaries. They decorated with donated items and lived with simplicity. Bonus – I got to visit the house location last year!

My Heritage…

With this new understanding in mind, I reached out to my sister. She lived more years of the ‘simple life’ with our intact family than I did and I wanted to get her opinion. She 100% agreed with Mom. She said, “I think we were raised that way [with simplicity]. It probably had a lot to do with being a missionary family… Also, I would say that Grandpa and Grandma Johnson [Mom’s parents] definitely lived that way out of necessity because of choosing to serve the Lord [as pastors] their whole lives in small country churches. I think it’s part of our heritage.” 

My mind was reeling! Yes! This is it! It is a heritage! My grandparents lived focused on serving God in small country churches and they implemented simplicity. Then my parents focused on serving God and those around the world by giving away what they had and thereby  implemented simplicity. When it finally came my turn to be grown-up and raise a family, what did I do? I brought the values of simplicity into my family life. And beyond that, when faced with the option to have my husband continue in our plan with a higher paying job or follow God’s plan to serve Him in lower-paying ministry, we chose to sacrifice our well laid out plans for God’s plan, which meant we’d need to implement simplicity too.

Material Possessions…

Maybe there’s more to this ‘simplicity’ being in my life than I realized. So, I moved on to assessing how I’ve viewed possessions from the past to the present. I moved around A LOT when I was growing up. It often felt like the only constant thing in my life was my family and my stuff. This showed when I packed boxes of material memories move after move. It wasn’t until my husband asked me about all these things ‘I just had to have’ that I started looking deeper. I came to realize that my material possessions represented constancy to me at a time when I didn’t have that. They also helped me access memories that I was afraid I would forget if I got rid of them. Many of my possessions were linked to insecurity and fear.

As I’ve come to a place of constancy in my life, I realize that I no longer need these ‘things’ to ground me anymore. I no longer need them to ‘go with me’ through my life. I am grounded in God and His constancy and that will never change. God also helped me to see that I could keep memories even without keeping the items. So, items that were boxed away for years, were finally purged. I learned that I could either take a photo of the object to aid my memory or even  more reassuring was the lesson that I really would remember the things that were so important to me. I also realized that many of these items had bad memories associated with them along with the good. As I let go of the items, I released a lot of the bad memories that went with them, but many of the good memories stayed! 

A Choice…

Now when I look at my current life, I can see the positives of simplicity in my life. I’ve chosen to be content with being a bit behind the curve of the latest trends or fashions because I’m comfortable in who God made me, I’ve chosen to have my house and yard improve slowly because I have certain goals that are a higher priority, and I’ve learned that it’s okay to be extravagant here and there because otherwise, the rule of no-extravagance will breed legalism in me and squeeze out grace towards others.

Well, I guess I have some experience with simplicity after all. It hasn’t just been something that my circumstances have thrown at me. I’m not a victim to simplicity. No, I’ve made a choice! I’ve made the choice to live in a way that is counter-cultural. I’ve made a choice to steward all that God has given me. I’ve made the choice to lay down my plans (ie. physicist husband) and follow the lead of God each step of the way. 

In the end, I’m going to continue to practice the Spiritual Discipline of Simplicity in my life. But this time, I’m consciously making the choice for myself and for the generations who come after me. I now understand the inward thinking that drives the outward actions I take. I think I’ll be able to be even more purposeful in my attitudes and actions towards simplicity. No longer will I wonder why I do what I do, but now I’ll know why I do these things. I’ll have a driving focus that helps me make my decisions and reason them out. I won’t be tossed like a leaf blown in the wind, instead I’ll have a rudder to guide my metaphorical boat. I’m excited to see how this new understanding will work out in the coming years and on into the next generation.


SIMPLICITY AND FREEDOM: Ten Principles for Practicing Simplicity

The Discipline of Simplicity by Richard Foster

The Spiritual Disciplines: Simplicity

5 thoughts on “Living Simply: The Spiritual Discipline of Simplicity”

  1. Love your perspective here. Thanks for giving me a new look at what simplicity means. I also love learning more about your growing up years and the choices your mom and dad made. So grateful for how God is leading your forward in this discipline.


    1. Mom, I learned a lot about my parents choices too! I didn’t realize that we had money, but that they chose to give generously. I think I was too young at the time when this was happening to understand that. You and Dad made a choice to live simply too. It’s not easy to move across the world for an unspecified amount of time. And, you always valued living within your means. I have a hunch you were very generous too. I guess putting Putty and I together meant that we didn’t have a chance to live in another way! Haha.


  2. Brittany,
    This post is amazing! I started reading thinking the same way you did about simplicity, inwardly and outwardly. I definitely know people who I feel are much more focused on their single goal of living for God, but as I read, I realized that I really am living focused on Him. That’s how I was raised, that is the legacy of my family for many, many generations. I’d just never thought about that broad picture this way, I always scrutinize myself in the day to day failings…the lack of discipline in my time with Him, or missing an opportunity Holy Spirit gives me, the list goes on and on. And outwardly, I am definitely not up with any current fashions, I’m just fine in my jeans , t-shirts and hoodies 🙃 When I reflect on my childhood, I see where I get it. We lived simply…more researching will be done to find more about the roots of that. But I know I’ve never needed to have the latest and greatest, we’ve always driven used cars until they don’t drive anymore, we spend our money on memories and giving more than on material possessions. I’ve been learning more and more about that though…not needing so much stuff! I’ve always “needed” to hang on to sentimental things. And I’m learning that none of it is really THAT important. We are purging and donating and trying to get our house as simple as possible. Simplicity opens our hearts, minds and homes to peace and joy. With less to look after, we have more time to do the things that really matter. Thank you for always being so open and vulnerable, I love reading your blog posts, they always leave me feeling uplifted and encouraged! Love you, girl! 🥰


    1. Ah, thank you Sarah! I love hearing about your reflections as you read through this! That’s so neat. If you find out anything interesting as you research your ‘roots’ I’d love to hear about it! I hope this Spring will be a great time to complete that purging and donating season! Although, like all seasons, I’m sure it’ll come around again and again. It’s not really something we practice just once, but rather its an ongoing practice. Thanks for reading and commenting on the post! – Brittany


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