The Hassle of Complexity

“Be still, and know that I am God!” (Psalm 46:10a, NRSV)

We live in a house that is over 100 years old. About 30 years ago, a master gardener lived in our house. About 15 years ago, that master gardener moved out and, unfortunately, another master gardener didn’t move in. When we purchased the house in 2015, you could see that someone had spent a significant investment of planning and planting the landscaping around our house. The problem was that everything was overgrown. The careful pruning and shaping of the master gardener’s hand were replaced by the laissez-faire attitude of homeowners or the “mow and blow” lawn maintenance professionals they hired. I guess I fall somewhere in the middle between the master gardener and the un-invested maintenance crew. I love a manicured lawn with tasteful, but minimal shrubbery and landscaping.

For the past two years, I have been cutting back the out-of-control limbs and shrubs in hopes of bringing back some beauty and manageability to our yard. Some of the trees had to go because they were creating problems with their roots erupting sidewalks, choking out sewer lines, or damaging the foundation of the house. Other shrubs have been cut back (a.k.a. “butchering”) in hopes of regaining control and a natural symmetry instead of the weird growth patterns created by competing for sunlight. In the 90-degree humid heat last weekend, I realized I was working hard to create a stunning, yet low-maintenance yard. Turning complexity into simplicity is hard work.

My life can resemble my yard if I’m not carefully attending to what’s most important to me. I can keep adding layer after layer of complexity that requires more and more of my time to maintain. After a while, I get busy with other things, and the resulting neglect creates areas that have become unmanageable and overgrown. No matter how hard I try to regain control, my efforts never seem to be enough. I have to make a decision to simplify—to decide what is most important to me—and to prune and trim—and sometimes even totally remove the unnecessary distractions. To do that requires more effort, so the temptation is to keep carrying the load for another day…and then another day…and then another.

The antidote to complexity is simplicity. The Psalmist, speaking for God, says, “Be still and know that I am God.” The unstated fact is that we are NOT God and through stillness, we can connect with the One who created us. Allowing the God who created me to guide my life is one of the keys to simplifying my life.

Maybe you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by the complexity of life. You are not alone. I’m willing to meet with you and talk about ways that you can connect with God that will give you a better foundation for a more manageable life. If you take me up on it, I promise not to ask you to help me with my yard!

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Rev. Dale Cohen

Senior Pastor of Canterbury United Methodist Church


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