The agent at the counter seemed amazed at the baggage weight – 49.5 lbs. The second, third and fourth bags all weighed 49.5 lbs. or 50 lbs. as well. Years of packing and repacking suitcases have made me an expert at putting as many items as possible in a single bag without going over the weight limit. However, years of living overseas have also taught me the value of simplicity.
After spending time serving as a short-term worker and then raising support for career “service”, I couldn’t wait to arrive in South Africa. My bags were packed; the Rubbermaid containers were shipped. All was well. Finally I would have all of my things in the same country and in my own apartment. The stress of purchasing appliances and furniture was real, but the joy of choosing what I wanted and decorating in my own style felt wonderful.
Two weeks after moving into my apartment the joy was gone when a home invasion turned my life upside down, forcing me to leave most of my things behind and return to the States. Furniture I had chosen ended up being put into storage, and my belongings returned to their places in Rubbermaid containers. After I made the decision not to return to South Africa, some items were sold, while others were shipped back to the States. I grieved the loss of what was supposed to be – an apartment full of all of my own things, new furniture and fun décor. However, I learned that bright, shiny new things aren’t as important as my life and my emotional and mental well-being.
When I headed back overseas a little over a year later, I prepared myself for life in a furnished apartment. I carefully packed my bags, leaving room for plenty of personal touches from home. I was returning to Portugal, a country where I had lived before, so personal décor and kitchen items took precedence over clothing. (I already knew how to get the shopping mall!) As I adjusted back to life and ministry in Portugal, I began to make the apartment I shared with two other co-workers feel more like home. A few items from Ikea, a bit of scrapbook paper, some fresh flowers – all made the apartment feel more like our own space. Those two years in Portugal taught me that small, inexpensive touches help a temporary place feel more like a permanent home.
Over a year ago I moved to Ireland. Another furnished apartment, a few more Ikea purchases, décor items from home, and a different perspective. The furniture in my apartment is similar to something I would have chosen, the dishes in the cupboard are as well, and the items I brought fit perfectly with the style of the apartment. While I’m not a tremendous fan of the red carpet and striped curtains, I’ve adjusted to them. And this time around I’ve focused on purchasing only the absolute necessities, on making do with fewer of my own things and more borrowed things.
It took me months to finally purchase a fruit bowl because I wasn’t sure if it was a wise use of money. But after years of living like this, it seems normal. The dreams of my own place with all of my own things have faded. Living with half of my belongings in one country and the other half in another doesn’t bother me so much. I’ve learned that living simply is freeing.
While my full suitcases have taught me several lessons about stuff and simplicity, I have a much harder time translating simplicity into how I view my ministry. The fear of not doing enough or not being enough often overtakes me. I feel as though I’m not doing a good job because I’m not busy enough or haven’t built enough relationships with people. I’m still learning that less can be more when it comes to ministry too. While I might not think there are enough opportunities for me at the moment, the role I am playing is important. The administrative tasks I complete and the women I meet for coffee are just as important as having a long list of contacts and a ministry commitment every night of the week.
A simpler schedule enables me to spend more time in prayer, to grab coffee with someone at the last-minute, to encourage friends who live far away, to open my home to teammates and friends. I’m learning to enjoy the simplicity of ministry right now, to appreciate the unrushed time with the Lord, to look for and take advantage of the opportunities God brings.
Have you struggled with adjusting to simplicity in your ministry? How has God used the quieter times of ministry to prepare you for the busier times?