Following the Relaxed Rabbi: simplifying the heart

Bill Gaultiere, founder of Soul Shepherding, Inc. and mentee of Dallas Willard, shared a story on his website of an interaction that he had with Dallas. In Dallas’ office at USC, Dallas asked him the question, “If you had one word to describe Jesus, what would it be?” There of course are so many words that come to mind to describe Jesus, and after a good length of silence in which Bill was able to contemplate, he asked Dallas what his one word would be. Dallas’ answer: “relaxed.”

Relaxed.

It has been a powerful paradigm shift for me as I’ve been grasping the picture of Jesus as the most relaxed person you’ll ever meet. Time and time again throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus interacting with the disciples, those who follow him, and even the Pharisees, in a way that reflects an un-anxious heart. There is a magnificent intimacy between Jesus and the Father in what He would say and what He would do (John 5:18-47), and there is such freedom that flows from that. Multiple times we see that in times of social norms being challenged (non-Jewish and ‘unclean’ people coming to be healed), he does not wince, but rather accepts those people, and in some instances even praises their faith. There is a sense that He just didn’t stress out about things that were causes of anxiety in the thinking of His day.

Two things have been highlighted for me as I’ve been mulling this over, and they have been hinged on the simplicity that we see in Jesus. Richard Foster wrote in his book Freedom of Simplicity,

Simplicity is an inward reality that can be seen in an outward lifestyle.

Why was Jesus so relaxed? I believe that it may be because of his inward simplicity:

Jesus modeled a simple spirituality.

One of the revolutionary ideas of Jesus is that He brought simplicity to the complex religious institution of the day. He summarized the law and the prophets into: “Love the Lord your God…and love your neighbor as yourself.” It was revolutionary and bondage-breaking in a time that the rules and structure of religion had become such a weight around people’s necks. Jesus turned the Law on its head by emphasizing that it’s not about what you do, but the condition of your heart. It’s not about rules, it’s about love. When you are operating out of love it looks different than when you operate out of adherence to rules. Practically, as we look at Jesus, we see that He lived life with rhythms of rest and work, solitude and ministering to crowds, prayer and teaching about the Kingdom. There is a noticeably healthy way that He lived His life.

Jesus modeled a simple, single-mindedness in His mission.

The thesis behind this blog is the simplicity of being about the “call” or the mission that God has you on, and letting that be the lens through which you view the rest of life. We can see this clearly in Jesus’ life and ministry. Jesus didn’t do everything. He was specific and strategic, even if that was lost (at the time) on those who followed Him. I believe that knowing your purpose helps to eliminate hurry from your life. As Alan Fadling (author of “An Unhurried Life”) puts it,

Busy is a matter of calendar, but hurry is a matter of soul. Our culture’s fast pace can make it difficult to be present to God, yourself, and others.

Though Christ was busy, on mission, He exemplified for His followers, and us, a life connected to the Father. He was continually calling others into a non-anxious, non-striving life, focused on relationship with Himself and the Father.

As I’ve been cultivating simplicity in mission, the questions that I’ve been asking are:

  • What if we let go of the ‘extra’ stuff of our lives and focused on our mission?
  • What things have we filled our lives with that have nothing to do with our mission?
  • How much of what we do and commit to is imposed from our culture?

Praxis

Simplicity in Spirituality.

Create a simple rhythm that you can do every day to connect your heart to the Father. We often have a tendency to think that we have to make large, sweeping changes, but I believe that it is little changes that make a big difference. Here are a few examples:

  • Do your commute to work with the radio off, and talk to God as if He’s sitting in the seat next to you. (Since most people drive ‘hands free’ on their phones, you shouldn’t get too many stares. 😉 )
  • Set the alarm on your phone, and when it goes off, wherever you are, say a one sentence prayer to the Lord. I’ve found that prayers of thankfulness are great to pray in those situations. For instance, if it goes off while I’m working, I may pray, “Lord, thank you for this job and the way You provide for my family.”
  • Practice “The Sacrament of Now” prayer.
  • Meet with a spiritual director, who is someone who is trained to accompany you on your journey of faith and ask questions that help to give focus to how God might be speaking to you in your season of life.

Simplicity in Mission.

Just like we clean and ‘purge’ our homes of unnecessary items, I believe we need to do the same of our calendar. I agree with Fadling that “Busy is a matter of calendar…” and if that is the case, then busy is a choice. After the matter of paying the bills and feeding the family, what we do with our time is a decision that we need to make. Busy does not mean healthy or even productive. Busy can mean fractured schedules, overcommitment, and lack of focus on what the Lord has invited you to do. So, I believe that it is important to be intentional with our calendar.

Some things that I’ve been doing lately to bring simplicity to my mission are:

  • Take inventory of the calendar, and begin to think about what things are about what you’re called to and passionate about, and which things are merely things that add to the busyness. You could separate them into categories, if that helps:
    • Things done to live into calling and what we feel passionate about.
    • Anything on the calendar that is considered restful (i.e. day off, special outings, dates with spouse, recreational activities with kids, etc.). Yes, put rest on your calendar, and ruthlessly pursue it. Rest looks different for different people, but make sure that every week you are resting in some sort of extended way.
    • Things that just have to get done (i.e. work schedules, school schedules, etc.)
    • Things we feel more or less obligated to. Things we’ve agreed to that are extensions of work or school.
    • The idea is to mindfully make commitments based on the first two things, and consider motivations of why we may choose the last. Before committing to something asking, “does this fan into flame the things I’m passionate about and feel called to, or is it another thing that I am sacrificing rest and calling for?” It’s a tough thing to learn to say “no,” but a healthy, necessary thing.
  • Process ‘calling’ and ‘mission’ (in other words, how “Kingdom Come” reality is being lived out in your life) as a family, with your spouse and kids. If you’re not married and/or a parent, process with someone close to you and is a part of your journey of faith, like a trusted friend or a spiritual director or mentor.

May the Lord bless you with grace to simplify, and live from that place – inside, out.