I recently gave my mom the perfect set up for an “I told you so.” (She was gracious and didn’t take it, by the way.)
It started when the sink in my bathroom was suddenly clogged, and each time I washed my hands or brushed my teeth, the water would back up. Gross.
I am no plumbing professional, but after taking care of a few drain clogs in the bathtub over the last couple of years, I thought I knew how to handle it. My mom suggested it was probably just a hair ball in the trap that could be remedied with a small plunger, but that seemed WAY too obvious. My mind was traveling to far more exotic solutions.
First, I tried the plumbing snake I had recently purchased.
When that failed, I decided to resort to a relatively “safe” drain cleaner I found during my last bathtub clog incident. But when I could no longer find it at the hardware, I opted for another safe (READ “ineffective”) enzyme product.
One round of the enzymes had no effect on the situation. So I decided to try again the next day. When I got home, turned on the water, and still found no improvement, I was just about to give in and buy the really powerful cleaner that came with its own protective gear.
But in the back of my mind, I heard my mom suggesting the plunger again. I only have one size of plunger, and it’s on the large side. But I was feeling desperate. So, I covered the ventilation hole, plunged twice, and immediately the drain released. My joy lasted only a minute until I realized I could have saved myself time and money by just trying the obvious solution first.
The philosophical community would likely recognize a classic Occam’s Razor in my clog dilemma: when multiple explanations are available for a phenomenon, the simplest version is preferred. (Likewise, the simplest remedy would be in order). In the medical community, this is acknowledged through the axiom, “When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.”
For some reason, keeping life simple seems really hard in these early years of the 21st century. For one, my schedule becomes so complicated as I layer activities on top of activities and rush from one event to the next. Also, social media and communication technology makes relationships more, not less, complicated as I can be interacting with multiple people at the same time. And then there’s all the information and entertainment and products and ideas and services all just waiting for me 24 hours a day if I just lay down a little time and money.
But it’s not just the 21st century that creates complexity. It’s my heart, always wanting more, more, more. More stuff, more friends, more information, more recognition, more tools, more projects, just more. And never being satisfied with the simple.
Simplicity comes in and out of vogue. Leonardo da Vinci apparently saw simplicity as the ultimate sophisication. And the past couple of years, especially during this recession, seem to be an especially GOOD time for simplicity; there’s even a magazine called Real Simple (which is ironically full of adverts for all kinds of things none of us really need!).
But real simplicity, the biblical kind that encompasses contentment and gratitude and generosity, isn’t just a passing fad. In fact, it’s a hard discipline that Christians have been “practicing” at for years. It’s about looking at our lives, our relationships, our stuff and coming up with the simplest version possible. Not making assumptions or creating too many possibilities, though not taking short cuts or doing it the easy way, either.
Mostly, keeping it simple means taking each breath, doing the next thing, and loving my neighbor one at a time with the strength God gives me.
And it never hurts to have a plunger on hand, either.