Selfish or Simple?

I have a nagging (and I think slightly offensive) question that I can’t seem to get out of my head. This weekend hubs and I visited his aunt’s beautiful garden and property in rural northern PA. Their land is crazy beautiful, and her garden is so well-loved and tended. I learned new flower names (Delphinium and Bee Balm and Sweet William, to name a few). And I discovered that honeysuckle comes in coral red–I only grew up seeing the white and yellow varieties!

The land itself is beautiful, right up against a mountain. They have plans to put in an orchard, too. I’m so thankful they shared their time and passion and homemade ice cream with us. My mama-in-law and sis-in-law were there too, it was a wonderfully peaceful visit.

On the ride back home we talked about whether we would enjoy a secluded and quiet lifestyle like that, if we could choose it. I write this listening to traffic speed past our house–and really, if you have to put up with this much traffic and noise why can’t we at least have the benefit of living in an actual city?. Grumble grumble. But anyway, this idea of being able to choose a lifestyle of seclusion and quiet, focusing on things like gardening, canning, growing food, raising children–it sounds so attractive. But it’s also been bothering me, and I think this is why:

When there is so much need in the world and so many ways we can use our abilities to serve others, is choosing that sort of lifestyle a selfish choice?

Here’s where I feel slightly offensive, so to clarify: a) I’m not living a particularly unselfish life,  b) I am most definitely not trying to make a judgement call on how others choose to live, and c) I know it’s a privilege to even think of “choosing” a different sort of lifestyle. But something about having that sort of focus in life, at least right now, feels like it would be self-centered. It doesn’t feel like a faithful response, for me, in light of the needs I see in the world and all the resources I have that I could (should!) share.

I so often feel a tension between the lifestyle I want and the lifestyle I think I should want, so maybe that is where the discomfort is coming from. I feel like I should want life to be more than that, for whatever reason; but at the same time, it sounds appealing. Comfortable. Simple. Lovely.

It’s a common theme in Christian history too, different understandings of how to live a life of service and what living faithfully looks like in this world. The monastic movement began with church mothers and fathers pulling away from society and seeking seclusion. Groups like the Mennonites and Amish formed their own tight-knit communities of faith with standards for lifestyle and service.

Those faithful people made incredible sacrifices and have commitment that is far beyond mine. But something that irritates me about that model is that if we solely serve and love others who are our families or are part of our faith, when does that love get translated to others who aren’t like me? Where’s the witness in that? Like in the gospel of Matthew, Jesus asks what good it is if you only love those who love you or acknowledge those who acknowledge you. I know one pushback to that is that the love and service these communities showed to each other is a witness to God’s love in their lives.

There are seasons to life, and maybe at another time in my life and marriage I won’t feel like that would be a selfish choice for us. But that is where I’m at right now.

Writing all this down also makes me feel like I need to get up off my tush and find a place to volunteer, if I’m going to talk about service and such.

And wow, if you read this far into my long-winded post–let me know, I’ll bake you cookies or something. You deserve it. Peace, friends.

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2 thoughts on “Selfish or Simple?

  1. Leslie Masland

    Thanks for your post, Ash. And yes, I read the whole thing. I found your comments very interesting. Visiting Sarah’s garden sure got you thinking! I admit that I would be very happy living the simple life like my sister. When Dave and I first got married, we talked about taking in foster children and helping them have a better life. We tried that once and had a bad experience. It left me feeling very content with just my little family…gone were the big dreams of helping kids. We talk now about being “Nomads” after retirement. Living in an RV and traveling the US looking for mission opportunities. But the anti-social, introverted hermit in me would be happier and less stressed if Dave and I just sailed off on a sailboat. You’ve made me think! Am I being selfish in my want for a quiet life? Hmmm….makes me think about how alive I was on our mission trip to Jamaica because our purpose of being there was simply to help people…and not just my people.

    1. Thanks for commenting on it! I’ve never been on a real mission trip, it sounds like something that would make you feel alive. Your nomad idea sounds like a great adventure. Thanks for sharing Mama Leslie. (: I’m so glad I got to see Sarah’s garden.

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