Rich in Simplicity
by Shilah Hartman
This article appears in Homespun, the Summer 2018 edition of Daughters of Promise. Order your copy here.
My parents gave me the gift of an authentic, homespun heritage. I treasure it, but I didn't always feel this way. As a child, I often felt we were dull and unrefined, perhaps even a bit too "backwoods."
On our rural farm in the Midwest, we had milk and eggs straight from their sources. My mom made fresh bread every week and, occasionally, butter from leftover cream, or jam from an overabundant crop of berries.
We did things naturally and organically before it was trendy to do so. Our half-acre garden gave us enough vegetables to take us through the winter and into the next season. We gathered berries from nearby ditches and marshes, and caught fresh fish from our small creek.
In summer, we baled hay for our cattle and picked rocks off fields to be planted into more crops for feed. This was backbreaking work which left our legs and arms scratched and bleeding, and our faces freckled and sunburned. When we got a whim, we walked the half mile to the river to swim or fish, or both, depending on the needs of the day.
I remember feeling shame for not having real clothes or food because they weren't store-bought. I felt embarrassed to the sandwich from my Holly Hobble lunch box, because the slices were too thick and uneven and crumbly. All the other kids had new Tupperware lunch boxes and sandwiches made from pre-sliced Hostess loaves, or so I thought. Our clothes were often homemade - down to the cotton slips and tricot underwear. On Sundays I felt proud: "At least my socks and shoes are 'boughten'." We didn't own seasonal clothing such as swimwear or snow pants. Often our mittens were hand-knitted or sewn.
As I grew, my perspective began to change. Computers began to replace simple, slow methods of communication with e-mail. As much as I enjoyed e-mails and digital advancements, I felt saddened that we were letting go of the art of pen and paper, of simple, heartfelt words that landed on the page through thought, sometimes beside a couple of wrong words scratched out so that you wondered what they were going to say originally. Those kinds of letters took time and effort. You could feel the love intended because of the thought put into them. Even the smell of paper and ink invoked a certain nostalgia.
Living a homespun life might look differently for everyone. To me, "homespun" has the feel of simple and uncomplicated, of genuine and unpretentious living. It makes me think of fresh bread taken from the oven, the loaves shaped with love and not precision. When sliced, the pieces are thicker and crumblier than the store-bought kind, but the taste is much more fulfilling. So it is with living simply. You accept when your offerings of love turn out rather badly from a visual perspective. You have a sense of fulfillment, knowing that even if it was not perfect, you were able to taste the texture and flavor of living because it was done with simplicity and from the heart.
Simplicity involves the practice of letting go of nonessential things. This takes conscious, thoughtful effort. I suggest taking time to do a thorough, personal examination of your own heart. Ask God to show you what He values. What are the kinds of things He would impress on your heart to be pretentious or added clutter? What are God's thoughts on the things that are essential to living?
Expect that your list will not be like any of your friends' lists, because you are not aiming to be like them. Your goal is to find what God intends for you. Your list will be personal, and probably no one else will understand. I want to share with you the kinds of things God has laid on my heart over the years.
When my first baby was born, I stopped my subscription to a favorite magazine because I found myself angry at my wee babe every month when a new installment arrived. There was simply never a good time to peruse it; whenever I tried, the baby would cry. Later I was able to continue the subscription.
I have chosen not to join Facebook because I know the limitations of my mind. Nothing makes me feel less settled then seeing social clutter. I become consumed with fear of man and with what people would think if they saw my life blatantly exposed. I am too easily overwhelmed knowing what Bertha's aunt's first cousin's baby weighs. Also, because I am a quick responder, often with a flippant answer, I am afraid of the power of my tongue in an unguarded moment. David's prayer: "Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer," has been my guide for this choice. (Psalm 19:14)
I teach school during the day, so I have made the choice not to go to every baby shower, Pampered Chef party, or ladies' night at our church. I know this would revive some personalities, but for me it only compounds the problems of laundry, cleaning, and food requirements at home for my family. For now I stay home and focus on my priorities. Do I miss things? Yes, often I am behind on the latest news of people I really care about, but most people are gracious to me about these choices.
Observing simplicity in living doesn't mean avoiding the things that are hard or complicated as a way of making life easier. It means I prioritize the things God reveals to me as important. It is a process and decision to consciously bathe each moment at the foot of the cross, asking for wisdom from the One who has given us everything we need for life and godliness. (2 Peter 1:3)
I still love beautiful things. I just find them in more places than I did as a girl. I find the truest kind of beauty in a slightly mussed corner of the kitchen where the lighting isn't right for an Instagram post, but where love has been sprinkled around liberally in the form of flour and sugar. Quiet, simple moments that can't be put into words - that is homespun living to me.
The word "homespun" carried the connotation of "not good enough" to my younger self. To the person I am now, it means something wholesome and simple. A homespun lifestyle may not be visibly perfect, but it is an elaborate feast to the soul, because it is substantial and free of pretension. What gives it this substance? The presence of Jesus. The practice of daily seeking His face and asking Him what is distracting me from my precious relationship with Him is at the core of my contentment with a homespun lifestyle. I have learned that Jesus is the One who loves us even when we strive for a glossy, perfect lifestyle. He sees through every bit of vain glory and urges us just to be His - naturally and a little bit misshapen.
Shilah Hartman writes from the Pacific Northwest where she teaches school and writes articles in her spare time. She blogs at www.shilahs.blogspot.com. Her heart's desire is to be a Titus 2 woman of God who is not afraid to reach out to the younger struggling women who find that marriage and children are harder than they expected. Shilah thrives on facing her challenges and being honest about them in the hope of inspiring her reader to grow closer to Jesus our Saviour.