Learning the unforced rhythms of grace


Simplicity and Joy


"Joy is in the overflow. Our world, our lives stay relatively happy and affluent by making its container bigger when it is just about to overflow, so the joy of overflowing is taken away. But if we make our vessel smaller and smaller, by reducing our needs, our wants, our expectations, then the overflowing joy will come sooner and sooner. " - Adapted from Sister Stan, Gardening the Soul

Suffering, illness, pain and loss are the ways that our container, as the quote refers to, becomes smaller.  As a chronic pain person, I love that joy doesn't have to disappear . . . but that it comes in different forms. 

One of the biggest concerns that I hear from people who suffer is that they experience loss. They used to be able to do things and now they can't. They used to have many choices and now they only have a few. They used to have plans and dreams and now, they feel stuck by their circumstances and feel like they've lost time and opportunity. These are real losses . . . and need to be acknowledged and grieved. They are real. I too have had these losses and still face them today.

But there is also such great hope! And that's what I love about this quote. The more simple we make our lives, the more opportunity we have to be surprised by joy.  The less we have, the more we notice. 


I remember when my Grandma moved into a seniors residence. She loved the small things. She loved being able to see the sunset. She loved the tea and cookie times down the hall where she could visit with others.

One day when I was visiting her, she asked me if she could go shopping with me and pick up a few things. She really wanted a broom so she could sweep her kitchen. We went to Superstore and got everything on her small list. It was fun and she was SO grateful to be able to pick up a few things for her new place that helped it feel more like home. It was smaller than where she lived before and she was without her husband now, but she found a way to make it cozy and make it her own. What a beautiful example of living well with less. 

Simplicity is not necessarily about living with less stuff (although that helps!), but its about less options, less choices, less decision making. I read an article recently about 'decision fatigue' and how unless you choose to limit your choices, you'll burn out just trying to make a decision. 

Pain and illness have a natural way of limiting options. Sometimes, I think that I am fortunate that way. When pain increases, I simplify my schedule. I cancel plans because I have to. When pain lifts, I can do more and I'm very grateful. I think of it as muscle building. Each time I cancel plans because of pain, I build muscles. Each time, I'm able to reengage with my schedule and pour energy into something, I build muscles. And each time I hope to be able to do something, and can't and have to let it go . . . I build muscles.  They are 'letting-go' muscles and they get stronger each time! 

Consider simplifying your life, letting go of something in order for joy to increase. Do you have big plans, hopes, expectations for the upcoming summer? Plans to renovate your backyard, plant a garden, take a trip or a big family vacation? They're all good ideas - nothing wrong with them. But take a moment to consider if you could be content with something less, something more simple, something smaller. If you can, then perhaps your container would be smaller and joy would overflow . . . sooner. It's worth considering. If the thought of less makes you cringe, then perhaps its a good opportunity to build those muscles! 

Paul, had these muscles! Check out his words,

"Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am." Philippians 4:13

Heather HayashiComment