Thursday, March 29, 2012

Healthy Mind, Body and Soul 3-29-12

While watching a documentary about the Shakers, I was fascinated by the fundamental beliefs of this religious group. Their belief in simplicity, perfection and worship seems to me a way of life that all of us, whether Christian or not, could learn a great deal from.

Our addiction to things, in particular, cheap shoddily made junk, we  fill our lives with busyness. We overload our schedules, book too many appointments and just simply try to stretch ourselves too thin. We find ourselves tired, irritable and anxious at the end of every day, often feeling guilty that we didn't do enough and for what purpose? So that we can measure up? To keep our minds off of our problems? A bit of both, I think, with a smidgen (or more) of guilt thrown in. We don't want people to think we are shirkers, after all.

The Shakers were (are) not concerned with keeping up with society, or for being busy for busyness sake. Everything they did and owned had a practical purpose. Most everyone is familiar with Shaker style furnishings and architecture. The reason the style has endured is because of its quality and simplicity. The people who made the furniture and buildings did so with this in mind. They felt that anything worth doing was worth doing right. They would spend as much time as necessary to make a chair, a box or a building just right. In making these quality pieces, they felt that it was better to make the design simple, therefore there was less margin for error in the construction process, thus the end result - beautiful, practical, lasting pieces.

They not only made it a priority to be simple and excellent in their workmanship, but also in their lives. The strove to keep their lives simple so that what they accomplished could be something of which they could be proud. Everything they did had meaning and purpose. They didn't flit from one thing to the next in a frenzy of activity, but in an orderly fashion that created a calmness and serenity to their lives. They went to bed at night knowing that what they had done that day was not only useful, but also a spiritual act of worship, which is what they believed they were called by God to do.

These Shaker principles are weighing heavily on my mind today as I am on this wellness journey.  I want to make decisions based on simplicity and what will add to the quality of my life, and that of my family. I have a tendency toward doing things for others that they could easily do for themselves. I tell myself I do it out of love; I don't want to overburden others; it's my job; I can't afford to disappoint; I feel that I will be looked upon in  a bad light if I don't do my duties like a Psalm 31 wife should, by golly. All these reasons are steeped in guilt, anxiety and a need to please other people.  Making decisions based on those factors is neither desirable, nor healthy.  It's most definitely not contributing to the quality/simplicity of life in my home. Not only that, but my family isn't learning important life skills they will need in the future... you know... to make their lives simpler.

Ecclesiastes 9, starting in verse 11, we are told the race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong.  None of us know the years, days, hours we have left on this earth and it's not a race to see who can accomplish the most "stuff" in their lifetime. Nor is about who can endure the most anxiety, keep the busiest with shear strength of will.  Not at all.  Its' about finding a few simple things we are gifted at, and doing them as best we can.  I think the Shakers had a good handle on this concept.  They simply did what was simplest, what made sense, and pressed on with their lives. 

They were confident in what God wanted from them and they were unapologetic about it. They were also very accepting that what God was asking of them was not the same as what God was asking of others. They chose their course and let others choose their own, as their conscience dictated. I admire this dedication, and with it tolerance. It is indeed a way of life from which we can learn much.

Psalm 37:4-7 (New International Version)
  4 Delight yourself in the LORD
       and he will give you the desires of your heart.
 5 Commit your way to the LORD;
       trust in him and he will do this:
 6 He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn,
       the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.
 7 Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him;