“We don’t take a vow of poverty,” he told us. “We take a vow of simplicity.”

The person speaking was a Trappist monk who was leading the retreat I attended at my church last weekend. At the start of the retreat, he shared some of his background, answered some questions, and corrected some mistakes and misconceptions about what his day-to-day life is like, adding that the beliefs many people have about monks and monasteries come more from Hollywood than they do from reality.

I enjoyed everything I learned during the retreat, but it was the comment about simplicity versus poverty that stayed with me the most. It also got me thinking about what a life of simplicity would mean to me. And to most Americans.

In some ways, I am already living a more simple life than I did before, now that my husband has retired and we’ve moved to rural Georgia. Downsizing forced us to simplify our lives by getting rid of many of our belongings. Moving 1,200 miles from where we used to live meant we had to say goodbye to organizations and activities we were involved in back in Minnesota. And living on a lake, surrounded by pine trees and sparkling water, allows us to enjoy what can certainly be called the simple pleasures of life – waking up to the sunrise in the morning, or sitting out on the deck in the evening, listening to the sounds of nature and watching the sky fill up with stars.

That’s still a far cry from the kind of simplicity practiced by monks, other religious groups, and the kind of people who sell all their belongings and travel around the world with everything they own stuffed into a backpack. Or those who move their family of six into a house not much bigger than a walk-in closet.

I don’t think I could do any of that. Nor can I imagine ever wanting to. Yet I understand how much more fulfilling life can be with fewer possessions and distractions competing for our time and attention. I agree that the less we have, the more likely we are to enjoy and appreciate it. And I know that simplicity is not the same as poverty. In fact, it can enrich us in ways we may never have imagined.

October 27, 2017
©Betty Liedtke, 2017

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