What does the word “simplicity” mean to you? Today two women from our UFC family are helping answer this question and others as we wrap up our January simplicity study. It’s a joy to welcome Courtney Hogue and Sydney Dodd to the blog.
Courtney Hogue moved to Eugene one and an half years ago from the Kingdom of Cambodia, which had been her home for 21 years. She is a wife, mother of three, aunt, and daughter of the King. She is seeking the Lord for the next phase of life as she continues to raise her children, homeschool one child, and be available to her family as they adjust to life in Eugene. She is looking forward to another summer as a nurse at Camp Harlow and is always eager to share her faith with those she meets.
I immediately think of what the word simplicity does not mean! It does not mean simple minded or babyish. It’s not decor that is toddler friendly consisting of only primary colors and basic block shapes. The dictionary, thesaurus, and Google can give me all kinds of answers and meanings, but I find these answers lack depth and don’t touch my heart of understanding. My understanding of simplicity comes from God’s Word and is rooted in a truth that can give understanding to — kind of like a proverb.
I think of simplicity as being unhindered or not weighed down in time. It is time with the Lord for prayer, reading His Word, doing His will. It’s the instruction of Hebrews 12:1 — “let us lay aside every weight (or encumbrance) and the sin which so early entangles us and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…” As a word picture, it is a messy, tangled bramble of vines that has been cleared away, so I can clearly see the path before me!
What are some ways God has challenged or prompted you to live more simply over the years?
I have been prompted to live more simply when I notice I don’t have time to listen to others. When I don’t have three minutes to stop and talk or listen to someone in the grocery store or in the hallway at church or while walking the dog in the neighborhood. I’m not talking about when I am truly running late for carpool pick-up or getting to a doctor’s appointment on time. I am talking about a habit. Habitually am I too busy for the Lord or others?
How does simplicity look different in Cambodia than it does in the U.S.? How does it look the same?
Simplicity looks the same for me wherever I may live. However, both places have different entanglements. Life in Cambodia is slow paced, so it’s easy to think I have all the time in the world for the Lord and others. The U.S.A.’s mindset of instantaneous results is not so much a part of Cambodian life. But time isn’t necessarily the key to simplicity. In the States, not being able to attend all the woman’s functions at church does not mean I’m too busy or I’m not living a life of simplicity. I still need to set routines and times with the Lord and actively seek out others. However, in the U.S.A., I feel like time is limited. There is so much activity and good things to do and eat and go and see that the fast pace of life makes me feel flustered on the inside, entangled. And once I feel entangled, then I feel weighted down and not able to run the race set before me.
What is one example of when you were obedient to God’s call of simplicity on your life? What is one example of when you found it difficult to live in simplicity, or you failed to? What did God teach you from that experience?
When I first got married I found it hard to live in simplicity. I wanted to spend all my time with my new husband. Every day off work and school we wanted to spend together. This is totally normal! But after awhile, I was grateful for a sensitivity from the Spirit to open my eyes to the race set before me/us. Learning how to live “simply” together allowed me to be filled with the Spirit to serve those around me. Living a life of simplicity was finally a lifestyle in our marriage.
I am grateful that we were married for 11 years before we were able to have children! Once the kids came, it was an adjustment, but living in Cambodia allowed me some freedom that I find hard here in the U.S.A. We had no TV, no advertisements, no team sports or children’s activities. It was easy to point the children in the way of simplicity. Since living in the U.S.A., we have struggled. And I’m not just talking about TV and “stuff.” Kids are plugged into school and activities, my husband’s work schedule has long hours, and owning a house has many tasks that need to be done.
Having a full life doesn’t mean I can’t live simply. It is a huge adjustment from how our life was in Cambodia. Now that a year and an half have passed, I sense anew the need to figure out what simplicity means/looks like in our lives, in my life, just like when I got married or when the kids arrived. Both of these events didn’t make my life less demanding but rather required an adjustment in how my time is spent. I need a better accounting or noticing if I am taking time with the Lord, being available to chat for a few minutes with a neighbor, or praying with a sister who is struggling. That accounting is how I sense the Lord drawing me back to Him and choosing a life of simplicity for His glory.
In reflection over my life, I have noticed a deep sense of peace and contentment when I have chosen simplicity, simplicity in the the craziness of motherhood, toddlerhood, teenage years and even in singleness or newly married. Simplicity has been one of the factors in my life that allowed me to “eat the food that you do not know about” as Jesus said in John 4:36. The contentment and deep soul satisfying purpose of life in the midst of craziness is like the fruit of simplicity.
Sydney Dodd, formerly Evans, has been attending UFC with her family for the past 7 years or so. In June 2022, she married Brandon Dodd after they both graduated from the University of Oregon. Sydney loves spending her free time finding new TV series to watch with Brandon, devouring good books, and baking sourdough bread.
To me simplicity means breaking something down to its essential parts. Simplicity is functional, it often feels calm or like a breath of fresh air, and it allows you to focus on one important thing.
What are some ways God has challenged or prompted you to live more simply over the years?
I think that meeting my husband is one of the biggest ways God has challenged me to live simply. My life before Brandon was, and if we’re being honest, often still is about finding ways to feel comfortable. Comfort for me is often the opposite of simplicity. Struggling to find simplicity has looked like tackling feelings of discomfort, whether they be stress, hunger, anxiety, or boredom, by filling myself up with other things to push away those feelings. I’ll mindlessly scroll social media, get a snack (or two), or feign productivity by finding every other possible task I can do before the one I need to do.
These were coping mechanisms that I didn’t analyze much before meeting Brandon, the guy who does everything intentionally. To me he is a textbook example of simplicity. In his ideal world, he would eat the same affordable meal every day (stir fried chicken and veggies with rice), wear the same four outfits in rotation, never use social media, and have an efficient daily routine to maximize his time after work, pursuing his passions. He doesn’t strive for this because it is easy. In fact, those choices can be hard for him, but he does it because it forces him to pare down to what is actually important to him and his time.
With this example, our relationship has really made me examine all of my choices. I see now that I often turn to “fillers” to clutter up my mind in an effort to not deal with uncomfortable things. Simplicity for me has been learning how to sort out that clutter and perhaps keep some of the comforts but to be continually striving to toss out the ones that push me away from recognizing my need for God.
Your wedding was very simple and scaled back. What led you to desire that? And how did you feel afterward about your choice to keep things simple?
Our main desires for a simple wedding were motivated by finances and being able to focus on what we felt was the most important part of the day. We could have afforded a bigger wedding, but we wanted to prioritize our savings going toward what we felt was more important, being able to set up our life together after marriage.
I think the even bigger part for us was being able to focus on the commitment we were making and our immediate family supporting us in that decision. Instead of being distracted by managing a thousand other details and what can feel like a thousand other people, we had a 20-person wedding in my in-law’s backyard, and it was the most perfect day.
Looking back on the wedding I feel no regrets about how small it was. I even sometimes find myself wondering if I would have been just as happy with even less on the day! But overall I think the simplicity of the day was what let us really see the beauty of our wedding and the commitment we were making, not to an exciting, one-day party but to a life of partnership.
You have mentioned previously to me that sometimes you and your husband don’t perfectly align with your ideas of what simplicity should look like in your home and the practical decisions you make together. How do you two come to a joint decision? What is that process like?
The process looks like lots and lots of discussion. I think we can both get pretty emotional about our different stances and that emotion definitely comes out at first, but once we both calm down enough to hear each other out we usually follow a similar process of trying out doing it each person’s way. This typically starts with trying Brandon’s way (often the more “simple” way), which allows me to step outside my comfort zone and actually see that his way may not be as difficult or negative as I imagined it to be. Then, if it does turn out to be a bad experience for me, we’ll try it my way or land somewhere in the middle.
This makes the process sound fairly simple, but in reality it is really hard for us because it involves not dismissing the other’s ways just because they are different. I have to give his ideas a fair chance and vice versa. It’s never easy, and it’s a pretty fluid process of often changing around how we do things to find the best way for us. In the end we both end up having to cave to each other’s desires at different times, but we’ve found success by working to find that balance of both people being willing to put the other person’s desires first.
What is one example of when you found it difficult to live in simplicity, or you failed to?
I think that one of the ways I feel challenged to live in simplicity is when I take it too far and start living simply for simplicity’s sake and not living in biblical simplicity. One example of this for me can be budgeting. I think that being careful with my money is a good thing, but what isn’t so good is when I choose to live simply by not making a purchase or purchases and I start to feel self righteous about it. My brain very easily slips into being proud of myself for how simple my expenses are or comparing myself to others and how I feel like I’m doing such a better job of living simply below my means than a friend is.
What did God teach you from that experience?
God has been teaching me through my self righteous approach to simplicity that what is important about a simple life is not how clean and efficient it is (or whatever metric you consider simplicity by), but instead it’s about freeing up that space to hear and focus on God and what He wants from me. I need to approach each choice I make toward a simple life with the correct intention and work harder on pointing my life to God and not to my own desires.