malcolm marler

on a mission to embody grace and compassion in all relationships

Month: February 2010 (page 1 of 2)

Radical Generosity — Day 10

In my journey to live more simply is a desire to be radically generous to the poor or to those in need.

I do not believe we can live a simplified life of faith without this foundation.  But man do I struggle with this.

So how do we exercise radical generosity with our resources, money, and everything we own materially?

One barrier that gets in the way for me is I think when I make a little more money, or when I get this month’s bills paid off, then I can be more generous to the poor.

Living with radical generosity seems difficult or impossible because we think of giving out of our abundance.  But this abundance never seems to be there.

Since I was a little boy, my father and mother taught me to tithe, that is, to give ten percent of everything I made away to others in need. This is a practice found in the Hebrew scriptures of the Bible.  I have tried to do this almost all of my life.  Usually, this has been a check written to support whatever church I attended.

I’m starting to doubt the value of “tithe thinking.” Mainly because it doesn’t go far enough. And besides, the tithe was never embraced by Jesus much to the surprise of many Christians.

Richard Foster points out that Jesus and all the writers of the New Testament radically criticized wealth because everything we have is a gift from God, and “everything we have is available to others when it is right and good.  This reality frames the heart of Christian simplicity,” says Foster (Freedom of Simplicity, page 58).

One example of this was when Jesus watched the voluntary offerings by the people as they entered the temple.  He was moved the most by the sacrificial gift of the widow.  He said, “For they all contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put everything she had, her whole living,” (Mark 12:44).

This radical generosity is based on trust that God will take care of our basic needs. This, of course, is foolishness to us and to almost everyone we know.  We will be the laughing stock of our friends.

But it is worth thinking about, meditating on, and taking steps towards this radical trust in God.

Oh my goodness, I have a long way to go in this area.  God help me to be more generous with all of the gifts you have given me.

How do you live in a radically generous way? Tell me your story below.

Who do you know who has has been radically generous to you? To others?  What have they done?  Please share in the comments section.

How can you and I be radically generous today? It begins with trust.  We cannot afford to wait.

Telling the Truth — Day 9

We have been taught all of our lives to tell the truth.

Sounds simple enough, right?  Well, not always, sometimes it is the hardest thing to do.

Have you ever been in a situation where you were aware of specific information about someone, and that same  person you were talking to did not know that you knew?  And how did that make you feel?

One time a patient died unexpectedly at the hospital and I was asked as the chaplain to come and be with the family.  But when I got there, I learned they had gone home earlier in the evening, and were called to come back to the hospital because their loved one “had taken a turn for the worse.”

So I waited for them outside the unit, introduced myself, ushered them into the family conference room, and alerted the nurse to page the physician to come to deliver the bad news.  And we waited.

They began to ask reasonable questions, “What is going on?”  “How was their loved one doing?”  “Has anything bad happened?”  “Why couldn’t they go into the room?”

And I found myself dancing around their questions as I stalled for time.  Was I lying by not telling the truth?  I knew what had happened.  I knew the answer to their questions.  But someone else was supposed to deliver the news.

We find ourselves in the “truth dilemma” every day don’t we?

We shade the black-and-white truth with a little gray here and there.  And before we know it, we’ve changed the entire color of the conversation.  We go from living simply to living with complexity.

French philosopher Blaise Paschal said, “We know the truth, not only by the reason, but by the heart.”

If we want to live more simply, we are drawn to the truth, however difficult that may be.

Telling the truth to others, and listening to the truth about ourselves.  Both are steps in the journey to living more simply.


Further Study — What is Truth?  See Wikipedia on Truth.

Who Is My Neighbor? — Day 8

We are busy people rushing through life. And yet recently, a few people chose a simpler, different pace.

There was a woman in her thirties who was walking early one cold, wintry morning.  You could see her breath in the air as she stopped at the corner a couple of blocks from her work waiting for the light to change.  Cars rushed by in the busy downtown city.

She waited until the light was red and the crosswalk signal was white, and then something happened. No one was sure if she stepped awkwardly off  the curb, or if she became dizzy and just fell.

Regardless, the result was hard to watch. She hit the pavement face first and lay motionless for a moment.  Cars hit their brakes.  A nurse was walking out of a nearby parking deck and saw the woman fall and came running to her aid.  “Are you ok, ma’am, are you ok?” she yelled.

The injured woman was disoriented, dazed, and struggled to get up. The nurse encouraged her to remain still while she leaned over her.  Another woman came running to the scene with her cell phone in hand and called 911.  The injured woman’s face and mouth were bleeding badly.  Paper napkins from a nearby restaurant were brought by another stranger to help stop the bleeding.  Several cars stopped asking if they could help.

One driver saw the women helping the lady in need and pulled his car across the lane so that she would not be hit by other cars, risking his own safety with his emergency blinkers flashing. Another man came up and took off his long, heavy coat and placed it over the woman to keep her warm.  He cradled her head and reassured her in a calming voice.

Paramedics arrived within a few minutes, evaluated the patient, and gently loaded her into the ambulance, and took her to the hospital a short distance away.

As the siren blared, the strangers who had stopped to help turned to one another and looked into each others’ eyes with concern on their faces. For a moment, they were bonded with one another.  It did not matter that they had different color skin, were different ages, or spoke with various accents.

One of them spoke up and said he would go to the emergency room and make sure she was ok.  And they all walked away into the cold morning air.

About an hour later the man was relieved to see her sitting up when he entered her room at the hospital as the nursing staff tended to her wounds.

He introduced himself and she thanked him for his assistance at the scene.  “We just wanted to make sure you were ok,” he added with a smile.

“Yes, yes, thank you so much for coming to see me,” she said more than once.  He left his card and asked her to call if he could help further as he slipped out of the room.

Love your neighbor as yourself.  And who is my neighbor?

Live simply and slow enough so that you can see your neighbor in need, because he or she will be in front of you today.

Dying More Simply — Day 7

This series is about living more simply.  But how can we make it easier for our loved ones when our days are numbered?

How can we die more simply?

It is not something we want to talk about with our children.  It is not something we want to hear from our father or mother, spouse or partner.

“Now, now, now,” we say in a dismissive way.  “We’re not going to talk about that, you are not going to die anytime soon.”  We are afraid if we talk about it, somehow it will happen sooner rather than later.

But if you had witnessed what I did recently, all of us would talk and listen more.

I was inspired, amazed, and graced to witness such a conversation.

A daughter listened intently to the physician’s words that her mother would die soon because she could no longer breathe on her own without a respirator. It was a difficult and hard time.

The adult daughter sat up straight in her chair, leaned forward and gazed into the moist eyes of the female physician who had delivered the news, and then said with a clear voice, “My mother and I have talked about this day several times over the last few years.  If you are telling me that my mother cannot get better because of her disease and medical condition, I am here to say that she does not want to live an extended amount of time on a respirator.  She is at peace.  She has said that she is tired, and that she is ready to go and be with God.  I want to honor her wishes.”

This daughter had been granted “power of attorney” by her mother before they got to this point.  The mother had a living will that stated her wishes in writing.  And the daughter’s sisters were all in the room and nodded affirmatively for they knew the truth.

Because a mother talked to the family she loved ahead of time, it was was a sacred time.

Because a daughter listened, her mother’s life would end with dignity.  Her mother would have the kind of care that would not allow her to be in pain or discomfort, and she would be surrounded by those she loved at her bedside.  It would be a “good death.”

I invite you to talk with those you love about your wishes, now and often.  Especially when you are well and healthy.  Share your wishes with all the members of your family, and put it in writing.

I encourage you to talk.  I encourage you to listen.

So that we can live, and die, more simply.

Forgiving Others — Day Six

To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover the prisoner was you.” (Lewis Smedes).

When we withhold forgiveness from another, we are the ones who are gravely injured.  When we live in such a self-imposed jail, we shackle our feet and bind our hands, and give ourselves what is equal to life without parole.

What kind of prison are you living in? Resentment, regrets, or getting even.

In order to live more simply, we can choose to forgive.

Sometimes it is best we tell another that s/he is forgiven. At other times it is best to demonstrate the forgiveness, and no words are needed.  Or we can simply write a letter, and then tear it up as a sign we are moving on.

We don’t have to wait for anyone else to say or do anything in order for us to forgive them.  We are free to forgive.

Go ahead forgive.

Forgiving another will simplify your life and will set you free.

Forgiving Yourself — Day 5

I find it ironic that I am writing about simplifying my life in order to live more meaningfully during these 40 days of Lent.

In the last week I have committed to “spending more time with God daily,” “focusing on quality time with my wife,” and writing every day on my blog for forty days.

Some of you also know that I accepted a new job in the last five months that has me busier than I have been since I was in my 20’s.  And if that’s not enough, I accepted more duties within this same timetable in a “moonlighting second job” that I have had been doing for several years.  This doesn’t sound like simplifying my life!

I am over-committed, over-promised, and overwhelmed.  Have you been there?  Do you know what this feels like?

When I asked Mary if I have been like this during our whole marriage, she answered truthfully, “No, you’ve had pretty good boundaries between work and home until you started your new job, and it’s been different since then.”  And she was right.

I am learning that living more simply is not about committing to do more, trying harder, or making more promises to “do better.”  Too many promises makes life complicated, not simpler.

Sometimes to live more simply means to forgive yourself, and to let go of promises that are impossible to keep.

And so I will get out my calendar tomorrow, take a hard look at my commitments in coming weeks, and start saying I’m sorry but I won’t be able to do this or that commitment.

Deep breath.  Maybe it’s time to offer grace to myself.  How about you?

Peace to you along the journey.

Choosing Priorities — Day 4

For those of us who are of the Christian faith, Matthew 6:19-43 is one of the clearest passages about Christian simplicity in the Bible.  Take a moment and read it through by clicking on it above.

The words of Jesus are radical as he instructs us to vow, “I trust that God will take care of my basic needs and I do not need to be anxious about anything.”  For me, it is an invitation to live radically different than I do.

I am trying to live more simply, and discovering it’s not about simple answers as much as it is about defining my priorities of what is most important.  I want to live more simply so that I can live my life with more purpose.

My problem is I don’t really stop long enough to know what my priorities are for living today.  Do you?  How do you do it?  What is your secret?  What are your priorities? How do you get on track to know if this action, or this purchase, or this way of thinking or living is in alignment with what is most important to you? Please share with me below.

I think it was my Dad who told me one time that you can tell a lot about a person’s priorities by looking at his or her bank statement.  No matter what we say our priorities are, it’s about how we live our lives that is the naked truth.

And this naked truth is, quite frankly, embarrassing to my faith. I have more of almost everything that I need.  I probably have more than 90% of the human families on this earth.  And maybe you do too.

So is living simply about feeling guilty, because I have walked that path before?  If I embrace guilt too tightly, it will surely lead to discouragement and giving this whole idea of simplifying up.  I don’t think the guilt alone is the answer.  We are called to act.  So where do we start?

In order to live more simply, I am going to set two priorities as a first step.

1.  I will spend time daily with God. This will mean sitting in silence and not asking God for things I want, or the way I want things to be, but rather asking how I can give away what I have to offer.  This will be priority number one or I will truly be lost on this journey.

2.  I will spend time with people I love. Relationships are important and foundational to a meaningful life.  I will say yes to time with my loved ones and no to that which takes me away.  I think this means not only saying no to other commitments requested by other people when it conflicts, but even saying no to this computer at times.

I don’t have all the answers for how to live simply today. I do know I want to take a look at my priorities and how I spend my time and resources based on what I say is important to me.  What about you?

This is a journey towards simplicity, one priority at a time.  I haven’t arrived yet, but I’ll keep moving, and I will also sit still.

What are your priorities for living a more simple life?  Can you name one, two, or three?

I hope you will teach me something along the way. I need you.

My wife is sitting down on the dock right now by the lake reading by herself. It is the most beautiful 63 degree sunny day we have had in Alabama since October.  And here I am writing at my computer.  I have to go.  I want to go sit in silence next to my wife near the water, and let the bright light of the sunshine and the gentle breeze melt my anxieties away.

Until Monday, peace (not anxiety) be with you,



Today’s Simple Invitation: Do something today that feeds your soul and doesn’t cost a dime.

Freedom from a fast-paced life: (from Richard Foster)
Change to a less stressful job
Work fewer hours
Slow down at yellow lights and drive the speed limit
Pray or talk to others in line rather than trying to get in the shortest line at the store
Say “no” to activities that take me from my current and central commitments
Eat more slowly – savor tastes
Take time for meals or coffee breaks (not on the go)
Stop to smell the roses or watch birds
Spend a leisurely evening with family or friends not worrying about the time
Take a restful vacation time rather than harried sight seeing

Keeping it Simple:

John the Baptist said, “He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none; and he who has food, let him (or her) do likewise.”  Luke 3:11

Be radically generous.  Give away a coat or anything else you have is a start.  Generosity is a step towards simplicity.

Living to Impress Others – Day 3

As I sat in the meeting with a group of fellow co-workers (not my chaplain team), I was caught off guard by the comments of one of the group members.  He critiqued a workshop that I had recently led in front of the group, and he told me how disappointed he was that I didn’t talk enough about some things he thought would have been more helpful to the audience.

I felt my face grow warm with embarrassment and I was aware of the tightness in my throat and the defensiveness in my voice.  Finally, I just sat back and listened, though I could feel the sadness in my heart and the pit in my stomach that he (and maybe others) was not impressed.  He did not approve. I was not all that he wanted me to be, I had failed to impress or to be held in high esteem by this individual.  My stress level was on high alert.

Can you remember a time when you were criticized by a co-worker, a family member, or your spouse or partner?  Can you identify with the feeling of wanting to either flee and run away, or stand your ground and verbally justify yourself or actions?  Do you remember the pit in your stomach, the hairs on the back of your neck standing up, or the crushed feeling?  Some of us flee, some of us fight, some of us just retreat.

When we buy into the idea that our worth in this world is based on whether or not someone else believes us to be worthy, or tells us how wonderful we are, we have moved away from the simplifying life and closer to the complex one.

We cannot control what others think of us, good or bad, even though our thoughts and actions are constantly planning to do just that.  The things we buy, the things we say, the way we try to live so that others will think of us well, guarantees us that simplicity in our life will be lost. Trying to control others is an energy inefficient way to live to say the least.

Finally, I am learning that my deepest lessons are learned when I look at what someone has said or done to me that was hurtful and ask the question, “How have I done this to others in my thoughts or actions?”

Now we are getting to the heart of it if we can be so brave to examine it closely.  To meditate on it.  To pray about it.  “When or where have I done this to others in my thoughts or actions?”

Richard Foster says, “Simplicity is not merely a matter of having less stress and more leisure. It is rather an essential spiritual discipline that we must practice for the health of the soul.”

Maybe it is time to gently let go of always needing to win, to be right, or to impress others so that we can be reassured of our worth.  Richard Rohr recently said in one of his daily meditations, “What if we gave up needing to be right for Lent?”  Wow, now THAT would be a sacrifice!

Know this truth, you are enough, you are blessed, and you are loved.  The Creator, the Sacred One, Yahweh, Allah, God have said so.

And that my brothers and sisters makes all the difference.  Thanks be to God.


Today’s simple invitation: Ask the question over and over again in a 5 minute prayer, “When have I looked to others for approval?”  And then thank God for the blessing of being enough.

Choose One Action Item for Freedom from Mental Clutter: (from Richard Foster)

  • Get myself off e-mail distribution lists
  • Fast from e-mail one day a week
  • Practice centering prayer/meditation
  • Turn off the TV
  • Subscribe to fewer magazines
  • Take a break from my to do list for a day
Keeping it Simple: Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed by thy Name.  Thy kingdom come.  Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread.  And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil.  For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever.  Amen

Starting with Sabbath – Day 2

A few months ago I wrote the following words to Mary in an email:

“When we move from the lake, my hope and prayer will be that whatever and wherever it is, it will be a step toward radical simplicity.  A step towards making time for relationships, yours and mine, as well as with others, and a lifestyle that is enriched by doing what we love, and not what we feel like we have to do.  I don’t know what all of that means, but I like to dream of it.”

And so my simplicity journey began. It was a step, a beginning, a stirring, a calling to walk a new pace.

In Richard Foster’s book, Freedom of Simplicity, he states that simplicity is rooted in the spiritual.  Simplicity is not about becoming an ascetic and hating material possessions.  It is about understanding that happiness through owning stuff is limited, and our peace, joy, and inherent value comes from God.

Last evening I worked the night shift in the hospital from 4pm-8am. The night shift has its own pace and intensity.  When I’m the only chaplain in the hospital, my beeper is a constant invitation for me to be present with persons who are going through incredible, life changing events.  As I walked the steps from room to room, person to person, I tried to listen to that still, small voice that whispers deep inside all of us.

Today is a rest day after a sixteen hour shift, a Sabbath, a reminder to get all the sleep I need, and to be quiet. I went down to our dock on the lake and read some of Foster’s book in the warm sunshine that hinted that Spring is coming. Thank God.  It is the first time I have done so in months.  I was reminded of the beauty surrounding me.  I went for a walk down our quiet country road with Daisy, our yellow lab.

I need an internal beeper to invite me home more often.

The truth is, all of us do have an internal beeper that calls us to be present where we are. It’s the beep, beep, beep of our heartbeat.  It’s the beep, beep, beep of our breath moving in and out of our lungs.  It is the beep, beep, beep of our mind dreaming dreams.  It calls us home and reminds us that life is good, and that we need to be still and quiet.

Maybe it is time for us to listen to our internal beeper more closely? Maybe it is time for us to be quiet long enough so that we will  remember that we are alive?  Maybe it is time for us to know that life is a gift from God?

Taking time to be still and quiet is a step on the journey toward simplicity.

Can you hear it?  Beep, beep, beep.


Today’s simple invitation: Spend 5 minutes (or more) being quiet.  Listen to each breath you take.  End with the words, “Thank you God.”

Choose One Action Item for Freedom from Physical Clutter: (from Richard Foster)

  • Give away what I don’t use or value
  • Stick to a shopping list avoiding impulse buying
  • Give time or handmade gifts for Christmas and birthdays
  • Give away something that I love as a gift to someone
  • Have a joint garage sale with friends and donate proceeds to a nonprofit

Keeping it Simple: Matthew 22:36-40

36“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

The Simplicity Journey — Day 1

I want to invite you on a journey, a Simplicity Journey, for the next 40 days. I am going to write every day except Sundays.

I plan to focus on living more simply in my life and would love to hear your thoughts, ideas, and encouragement along the way of what this means to you.

I have felt a yearning, an urging if you will, deep within myself for some time now about wanting to “live more simply.” To be honest, I don’t really know what this means for me yet.  It is time for me to go more deeply.

This isn’t just about saving money, though that certainly couldn’t hurt anything.  Instead, this is a spiritual journey that I want to apply in practical ways in my life.  My goal is to be intentional about “de-cluttering” my life so that I can live a more meaningful life, to be connected to the Sacred, to the Creator, to God.

I am reading Richard Foster’s book, Freedom of Simplicity: Finding Harmony in a Complex World.”  A friend of mine, Drew Toler, reminded me about this book recently.  You do not have to read it along with me, but I just wanted you to know about it.  You can read more about Richard Foster here.

Finally, I plan to share other resources along the way. If you know of others, please share them with me in the Comments section below.  If you would like to receive a daily email reminder about this journey, you can sign up in the upper right hand corner of this page.

Here, take my hand, will you walk with me as best you can?  I’d love the company on the Simplicity Journey.


Book — Freedom of Simplicity by Richard Foster

Web Article — Inward Simplicity:  The Divine Center, Part I by Richard Foster

Web List — Guidelines for Living Simply in the City by Richard Foster

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