Simply put: In life, only One Thing is necessary

Bishop Emeritus Robert M Solomon // July 9, 2018, 5:00 am


Photo by Keagan Henman on Unsplash

Simplicity is essential if you want to run the race. 

Those who have to move often know how easily we tend to collect clutter along the way. We simply collect and accumulate more than we need or can handle. A discarded exercise bicycle that is now used to hang clothes, the dusty trinkets bought impulsively during last year’s holiday, the books bought over the years that are yet to be read, are all reminders of this fact. 

We all need to learn how to live with simplicity. 

Simplicity has both external and internal aspects. Externally, it has to do with the things we own and use. It has to do with how we manage the marketplace’s influence in our lives. We are bombarded daily with the goodies that the marketplace offers. How do we resist buying and consuming more than we need?

We all need to learn how to live with simplicity.

External simplicity has to do with this important and necessary ability that growing affluence has dulled in many people.

Inner simplicity has to do with an inner attitude, as Soren Kierkegaard said, a “purity of the heart”. It has to do with the absence of duplicity or double-mindedness, a sincerity that “de-fragments” our fragmented and compartmentalised lives. We have competing loyalties, identities that grate against one another, and behaviour patterns that are conflicting.

Inner simplicity is overcoming this with a truthfulness and focused centre in our lives. It results from centring our lives on God and His love.

When consumerism poisons us

The modern marketplace does not promote simplicity. It poisons the soul with the spirit of consumerism that fills our hearts with greed, pride and an unreasonable pursuit of pleasure and the market’s numerous toys.

Many of the so-called goods of the marketplace may not be good for the soul after all. Many of our cities are being reduced to similar-looking malls that operate on stirring this spirit of consumerism within us. As a result, we not only collect too many things that impede our journey, we also squander away valuable time on insignificant consumer choices – insignificant when measured against the silent presence of eternity.

The problem with the spirit of consumerism that is consuming our souls is that it commodifies everything – everything is for sale. It dehumanises us by commodifying us. The consumerist-driven and unchecked pursuit of wealth and material goods will turn us into animal-like behaviour.

Simplify your life and you will have more time to pursue the most important things in life.

Practising external simplicity will lead us to simplify our lives. Why throw money away on your indulgences and luxuries? Share it with others.

Economist Robert Heilbroner has written numerous books on economics. He is also concerned about the needs of the poor and how we often fail to understand the gross disparities in the world. He suggests that we go through a little mental exercise that will help us count our blessings. Imagine doing the following, and you will see how daily life is for more than a billion people in the world.

  1. Take out all the furniture in your home except for one table and a couple of chairs. Use a blanket and pads for beds.
  2. Take away all of your clothing except for your oldest dress or suit, shirt or blouse. Leave only one pair of shoes.
  3. Empty the pantry and the refrigerator except for a small bag of flour, some sugar and salt, a few potatoes, some onions and a dish of dried beans.
  4. Dismantle the bathroom, shut off the running water and remove all the electrical wiring in your house.
  5. Take away the house itself and move the family into the tool shed.
  6. Place your “house” in a shantytown.
  7. Cancel all subscriptions to newspapers, magazines and book clubs. This is no great loss because now none of you can read anyway.
  8. Leave only one radio for the whole shantytown.
  9. Move the nearest hospital or clinic 10 miles away and put a midwife in charge instead of a doctor.
  10. Throw away your bankbooks, stock certificates, pension plans and insurance policies. Leave the family a cash hoard of $10.

In comparison to the really poor of this world, how rich we are. If we realise this, we must also exercise social responsibility. We should use what we have been blessed with wisely and not be wasteful. We should use our resources to help others and alleviate their suffering. Simplifying our lives and lifestyles will help us do this.

Also, if our lives are simplified, we will spend less time managing the unnecessary clutter and complications of our lives. Simplify your life and you will have more time to reflect, think, be with the important people in your life and pursue the most important things in life.

Learning to find the One Thing

Outward simplicity must be matched by inward simplicity. A simplicity within is characterised by a freedom to follow the one thing that matters.

To find the one thing and to be faithful to it in the midst of distracting clutter is to have inner simplicity.

In the film City Slickers, some city dwellers go to the wilderness to find meaning and solace from their harassed and restless urban lives. There they meet the character played by Jack Palance. At one point, he talks to one of the city slickers. The wise old man tells the younger man that he needs to find the one thing that matters. The young man asks him what that one thing is. This old man tells the young man: “That’s what you’ve got to figure out.”

To find the one thing and to be faithful to it in the midst of distracting clutter is to have inner simplicity. When Jesus visited the home of his friend Lazarus in Bethany, Lazarus’ two sisters are portrayed as taking different approaches to life (Luke 10:38-42).

Martha was “distracted by all the preparations that had to be made” for a welcome meal for Jesus. But her sister Mary sat at the feet of Jesus, “listening to what he said”. When Martha complained to Jesus about her sister not helping her, Jesus replied: “Martha, Martha, you are worried about many things, but only one thing is needed.”

To know that one thing and to organise your life around that one thing is to find inner simplicity. The “one thing” is in fact “one Person” – God Himself, the very ground of our being. This is expressed beautifully by the biblical psalmist (Psalm 27:4, MSG):

I’m asking God for one thing
only one thing
To live with Him in His house
my whole life long.
I’ll contemplate His beauty;
I’ll study at His feet. 

Such inner simplicity will enable us to live simply in the external circumstances of our lives. It will free us from our own self-addictions. It will help us remove all the clutter in our hearts and homes, in our thoughts and diaries. We can then travel light and make headway in our life’s true journey.

We can then run the race well. 

This article is an excerpt from the book, The Race: Finding the Real Journey in Life (Singapore, Armour Publishing, 2008) and is republished with permission. The book is available for purchase here.

About the author

Bishop Emeritus Robert M Solomon

Bishop Emeritus Robert M Solomon was Bishop of the Methodist Church in Singapore from 2000-2012. He served previously as a medical doctor, church pastor, principal of Trinity Theological College and president of the National Council of Churches of Singapore. Dr Solomon has degrees in medicine, theology, intercultural studies, and a PhD in pastoral theology from the University of Edinburgh. He has contributed many articles to books, theological dictionaries and journals, and has authored over 20 books.