I have loved being a parent of a 19-month-old this summer. Namely, through my son, I have been able to experience many of the joys of summer again. Playing on the playground, picking the heads off dandelions, coloring with sidewalk chalk, throwing a ball, using trucks to “dig” sand and playing in the water have all been a part of our summer routines.
We have taken some day trips and gone to church camp together, too. In all of these things, I have found my mother’s words to be helpful. “With a toddler, you will find you need to keep it simple.” So, we do. We play with the same toys and games, enjoy nature and take naps when we need to. We keep it simple.
Parenting a toddler has helped me remember to “keep it simple.” My personality is such that I am often looking for the next adventure, experience or opportunity. Indeed, I think God places new realities in our path sometimes to help us grow and share God’s love in new ways.
Sometimes, we as individuals and we as a church shy away from what God is calling us to do because “we have never done it that way before." At the same time, though, it can be easy to keep chasing after bigger and better things and forget to enjoy the blessings that are abundantly present around us.
Right now, for those of us who follow the lectionary, we are in “Ordinary times.” That is, for the next few months, the church does not have any major celebrations. We are not focusing on the faith practices associated with Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent or Easter. For many pastors, I believe this time can both be a breath of fresh air and also be a challenge. On one hand, there are no major church holidays in the life of the church to scramble and get ready for. On the other hand, the weeks can feel repetitious.
As I have settled into the middle of the “Ordinary times,” I have found myself thinking about the value of “keeping it simple.” Through parenting, I have rediscovered the joys of finding treasures in nature and re-reading the same books. In this church season, I am refocusing on the simple joys of our faith that we can experience anew in these ordinary times. Singing a familiar hymn. Sharing Communion. Praying for the complex and mundane trials in life. Listening to someone share about their journey of faith.
Right now, I think the value of “keeping it simple” can ground our churches and lives in important ways. Many of us are transitioning out of pandemic modes and into “ordinary times” in a different sense of the words. We are going back to a lot of our “ordinary” traditions, programs and habits. Thanks be to God for that great gift in our lives!
However, it seems like that transition should be easy, but I am guessing that many of us have found it requires more discernment than we would have thought. In his book, “The Post-Quarantine Church,” Thom S. Rainer notes, “As you reflect on the pause we all experienced in the middle of a reset, please hear me well. One of the most harmful things you can do in the post-quarantine era is to allow your church to become too busy again. There will be a temptation — and maybe some overt pressure from certain members — to return to the complex church of the past. You may be tempted not only to return to earlier activities, but to add a layer of digital innovations on top.
"Just say no. ... Healthy churches in the post-quarantine era will be focused churches. They will be congregations that do a few things well, both digitally and in person. There is no time like the present to replace complexity with simplicity.”
May this period of “ordinary times” be a gift to us. May we use it to celebrate the simple joys of our personal lives and our faith communities. May we use it to reflect on how we can “keep it simple,” so that we return to routines that are life-giving and reflect the goodness of God’s blessings for us.
Jeanette McCormick is pastor at Worthington's First Lutheran Church.