Simplicity: Ingalls Style

The other day, my daughter was wearing the only ankle-length skirt she owns.  I love that skirt. Whenever she wears it, I call her Laura Ingalls.  You know–the Laura Ingalls from the 1970s TV show, “The Little House on the Prairie”?

The last time I called her Laura Ingalls, it hit me: She has no clue who Laura Ingalls is.  In fact, my daughter has not watched a single episode of that fantastic program.  She’s never met Pa and Ma Ingalls, never reviled Nellie Oleson, never imagined tumbling down a field of grass with little Mary.  What a tragedy.

On the contrary, I probably watched too much “Little House” when I was growing up.  My mother was practically addicted to it.  Her dream was to buy a cottage just like the one the Ingalls called home.   She longed to live where the family could tell stories and enjoy a hot pot of stew fresh from the pot-bellied stove.

(Ironically, my mom got her wish when my parents moved into an old, circa 1920s cabin in the Poconos several years ago.  My mother found out that country living is not all fun and games; especially last week, when the pipes froze and broke.)

I’m quite convinced that the appeal of “Little House” for all of us, including Mother, was not necessarily the home or the characters (though that helped), but was what the show portrayed in the first place: the simple life at its finest.

Walnut Grove had no frills (just the occasional drama) and few big-city choices.  Everyone had a good job and faithful neighbors.  Around high noon, the town stopped for lunch; boys and girls took naps under huge oak trees with some book of poetry or Shakespeare slung over their eyes.

Even I have been bemused by the type of simplicity “Little House” boasted: I can’t tell you how many times I suggested to my wife that we should use candles instead of lights at night during Lent.

Simplicity does get lost in translation for many Christians in this fast-paced, consumer-saturated world.  It is an important spiritual discipline in which we scale back on the technology, drama, and materialism that entangle us like a web.

The basis for simplicity goes back to Jesus, of course, when he told the rich young ruler to go and sell all that the ruler had.  Jesus’ ministry was one that required few resources, for he was always on the move ready to go wherever His father led him.

When he dispatched his disciples, Jesus told them to pack light.  In the earliest church, many believers gave away most of what they owned to those in need.  If you had two coats in the closet, you gave one to a friend.

Even the Old Testament speaks of the benefits of simplicity: “Thus says the Lord: By waiting and calm, you shall be saved.  In quiet and trust lies your strength” (Isaiah 30:15).

Several years after Jesus ministered on earth, several Christians took this command seriously and headed out to the wilderness to live simple lives.  These aristocrats-turned-priests worked, prayed, and worshiped with very little funding.

They became known as the Desert Fathers and Mothers, and they lived by the Latin phrase, “Fuge, tace, et quiesce,” which means, “live in solitude, silence, and inner peace.”

Simplicity helped them see God through the fog of prestige and wealth.  It improved their prayer life, and it challenged their very faith in God.

Perhaps our spiritual practice of simplicity won’t look anything like that of Walnut Grove or the Desert Ancestors, but it might behoove us to at least get in the spirit of what it means to live humbly, crave simplicity, and pursue fellowship with friends and family around a pot of stew more often.

Published by Joe LaGuardia

I am a pastor and author in Vero Beach, Florida, and write on issues related to spirituality, faith, politics, and culture.

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