What does it mean to live in simplicity? Should we live in simplicity?
When we approach this topic of simplicity, many people will have different ideas of what it means. Some think simplicity is about decreasing one’s possessions and physical needs. Some think it’s about getting back to meditative practices. Others might think it’s about only focusing on the core things and not letting themselves get bogged down by unnecessary duties.
Each of these are key components of simplicity. I want to take a look at The Lord of the Rings in relation to each of these views of simplicity and examine how they play out in the story and also what the Bible says about them.
Simplicity and Owning Less
Acts 2:42-47 tells us, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.”
A popular view of simplicity is exemplified in the practice of minimalism. Many Christians who subscribe to this view or one like it will cite Acts 2 as an example of what could be called ‘Christian Minimalism.’
In The Lord of the Rings, the elvish culture, especially in Lothlórien, could be viewed as a minimalistic culture. These elves live in the forests and don’t have many of the modern elements that other cities have in the story, such as castles, traditional buildings, and other structures that one would expect in a village. They have a closer connection to nature seen in many of the book’s descriptions as well as the choices made in the 2001 film, like the brooches the fellowship receive as gifts shaped in the image of a green leaf.
There can be an upside to getting rid of excess possessions. With more things come more chances to get distracted from God, family, and other important things. In The Lord of the Rings, the elves could be said to have a stronger spiritual connection to the world because they don’t allow themselves to get caught up in all the wars and troubles around them. However, there is also a downside to a life of minimalism. As in the story, the elves don’t get as involved in the war of the ring as the kingdoms of Gondor and Rohan do (especially in the books). Minimalism can leave you susceptible to pride in yourself and your own ability to get rid of things and live with less.
Simplicity and Relaxation
Meditation. Ask any internet forum how to combat anxiety and stress and you’ll find someone talking about the benefits of meditation. In Christian circles, prayer and meditation often go side by side. There are many examples throughout the gospels of Jesus taking time to get away from the hustle and the noise to be alone with his Heavenly Father. Christ’s example shows us that we all need to take time to rest, be still, and spend time with God. We’re not intended to work constantly and relaxing in the form of seeking God in prayer can rejuvenate both our body and soul.
The Lord of the Rings has a great example of an entire culture built around the idea of relaxation and taking it easy; hobbits. In the prologue to The Fellowship of the Ring Tolkien writes that hobbits “love peace and quiet and good tilled earth.” The whole community loves parties or just sitting on a porch smoking their pipe, like we find Bilbo doing at the beginning of The Hobbit.
Prayer and meditation is a great way to refocus on Christ and His words. But as Jesus also displayed, there comes a time when we need to go out and engage the world. The hobbits go about their lives, oblivious to the threats and dangers of the outside world. It’s only when their peaceful land of the Shire is invaded by the darkness of the One Ring do a small few set out on their quest.
We too can get caught up in distracting ourselves with spiritual practices of contemplation and end up ignoring God’s call for us to not only to pray to him, but to engage the world. In the words of Christ’s commission, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19).
Simplicity and The Main Things
“Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
I continually find myself alternating between what I focus on as the main thing in my life; prayer, Bible reading, exercise, relationships, work, etc. But the Bible simplifies our goal, by presenting a clear message that we are to love God and love our fellow man as the main two commandments. Simplifying what we’re to do down to these two things is brilliant because rather than worrying about whether we’re spending enough time reading the Bible, or witnessing, or praying, or worshiping, we are told to love God. By focusing on loving God first and foremost, all the other things tend to fall into place as we pursue a greater love for Him.
The Lord of the Rings is a story about many things; the friendship between unlikely people, a returned king, the overthrowing of a tyrant, redemption, corruption, sacrifice, but at the core of the story is a quest. This quest forms the structure in which all these other themes and stories are built around: the quest to destroy a ring.
Some of the characters lose sight of their main objective to disastrous results during their journey, and sometimes there is great pain and suffering for those who stay true to the main quest.
Jesus promises us much of the same saying that in this life we will suffer and have troubles, but we are to “Take heart; (for he has) overcome the world” (John 16:33). While trouble and trials will come, focusing on our main things (loving God and loving others) gives us focus and direction in the midst of the struggle.
The Importance of Balance
So what are we supposed to do with all this? There is more that could be said on the concept of simplicity, but the one takeaway I’d leave you with is a single word: balance.
In Ecclesiastes 3, the Bible says “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).
Balance must be a part of a healthy view on this topic. You must have a balanced view to avoid minimalism making you proud, letting yourself relax to the point of complacency, and keeping your goals and desires in their place as you focus on loving God and loving people.
Some great ways to begin practicing these aspects of simplicity could include:
- When you buy something new–clothes, toys, games, etc.–get rid of one you already have (or give one thing away to someone else to grow in generosity at the same time). This helps from becoming someone who only accumulates stuff.
- In prayer and meditation, ask God how he wants you to engage with the world. This can help keep you focused on the Great Commission and how God wants us to be a light to the world and not just sit around and pray all day.
- To remember the main things (love God, love people) find creative ways to remind yourself of this truth. Maybe it’s taping this verse on the bathroom mirror, maybe it’s praying through verses like that during your prayer time, maybe it’s volunteering at a local ministry or at your church, or maybe it’s finding some friends to do a study on loving God.
What ways do you practice simplicity? I’d love to hear your story! Please leave a comment with a practice that you’ve found to be helpful.