For years, I have struggled to simplify my life. The desire is always there, but the results never quite measure up to the goal. It can get pretty discouraging, but I’ve become inspired by a bit of wisdom I learned from one of the desert fathers. This Abba told a discouraged brother a story about a man whose land was overgrown with brambles and weeds. The man sent his son to clear the land, but the son was discouraged and instead of working, he lay down and slept. This happened day after day. When the father asked the son how the work was progressing, the son replied that he was so discouraged about the size of the task that he could not make himself begin. The father told him that if he would only clear the place where he slept each day, he would eventually get the entire field cleared.
This story can apply to so many things in our lives. The brother who first heard the story was discouraged because his prayer life was not where he wanted it to be. But for me, it’s the clutter of my life—both physical and mental—that discourages me. So I am beginning to clear a small patch each day, and instead of looking at what remains undone, I am focusing on the small daily improvements I observe.
This process is forcing me to be patient with myself, not something that comes easily to me. But as I work at being patient with myself, I am discovering that I am becoming more patient with others. We all have our own “fields” to clear and field-clearing takes much time. Thankfully, God is patient with us all. The Old Testament is largely one big story of God’s patience with the people of Israel, who often spent more time sleeping in their “field”, or even sowing more weeds in it, than they did in clearing it! Their inability to get it right and God’s great patience with them encourages me.
There is still a lot of clutter in my life, but I am clearing a small amount of it daily. And I am grateful for the encouragement I get from the Abba’s story and from God, who inspires me with these words: Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin. (Zechariah 4:10)