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How Can Christians Apply the Concept of Essentialism?

How Can Christians Apply the Concept of Essentialism?

Have you ever been in the middle of a task and wondered why am I even doing this? Or looked at your week's schedule and felt a sinking sensation of dread due to all the important appointments you feel you have to keep? Have you ever wished you had more time to enjoy your loved ones?

Moments like these highlight the fact that our culture is pushing us into living busy lives we were not designed for. People cannot maintain peaceful minds, marriages, relationships, or families when they are moving at a pace that keeps them distracted from the things that actually do matter most. We need to press pause and truly evaluate if we are using the time and resources we have been given wisely.

Essentialism is an idea that invites us to focus our lives on what matters most. Christianity offers the same invitation to commit to a purpose-filled existence. Let’s explore what Essentialism is and how we can apply it to our Christian faith

What Is Essentialism? 

The simplest way to define Essentialism is as the practice of focusing on what is important and removing everything else. The idea may seem simple, but in our culture where materialism, social media, and the pressure to always be “doing more” is constantly pulling us in different directions—this truly can be hard to achieve!

Essentialism helps you gain the ability to discern between external pressure pushing you towards things that may not matter so much and your internal voice guiding you towards what you really care about. From a Christian worldview, this also could be described as learning how to tune out the noise of the world and tune into the still small voice of God’s Spirit in your life.

Essentialism is characterized as a mindset that you can apply to every area of your life. It is meant to be a way of life. Minimalism, another similar and popular concept, is a great way to apply the mindset of Essentialism to your material possessions. Minimalism is generally applied to your material items and space. When you practice Minimalism you resolve to declutter and focus on what is truly “essential” of your possessions.

Essentialism says you can be open to new opportunities, but rather than jumping into the next thing quickly you make decisions by only saying yes to things that pass a strict set of criteria. It is the recognition that there is always a tradeoff when we are “trying to do it all.” The hope is to only add things to your routine that also brings value to your life.

As people of faith, the criteria we should follow for how we define things that add value to our lives is the Word of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Christians can embrace this concept of “pause and reflect before saying yes” as a way to help us follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit for our lives.

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Popular Books on the Idea of Essentialism 

In Greg McKeown's book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Lesshe unpacks the idea of essentialism and helps us understand how we can apply the concept to our lives. McKeown asks several questions to guide us in our understanding essentialism. He asks the following questions:

  • Have you ever felt stretched too thin?
  • Do you ever feel overworked but underutilized?
  • Are you often too busy but not productive?
  • Do you feel like your time is constantly being hijacked by other people’s agendas?

These questions help us to evaluate our efforts to see if there is waste or distraction that is keeping us from feeling as though we are living our best lives.

Greg’s book explores the core mindset of an Essentialist. He walks through how we can decide what is necessary and what is unnecessary in our life, then he talks through ways to cut out the trivial, and live this new lifestyle with ease. This gives us a methodology we can use to practically apply this helpful concept to our lives. His book is missing an explicitly Christian point-of-view so if you do take the time to read his book, interpreting his ideas with the added lens of scripture is necessary.

Some Christian books that explore the concept of simplifying our lives include Making Room by Billie Jauss. Her book encourages those who are feeling burned out to take a step back rather than adding another study, task, or commitment in order to reconnect with their faith. Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist encourages you to take a step back and do less so you can better be present in your life through anecdotes. 

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5 Tenets of Essentialism As a Way of Simplifying Life

Essentialism lays out a roadmap on how to simplify your approach to life. Here are some of the tenets, and ways you can apply them:

1. Celebrate JOMO (the joy of missing out) instead of FOMO (the fear of missing out).

Essentialism replaces our culture's FOMO (fear of missing out) with JOMO (the joy of missing out). It’s a recognition that our culture's pressure to do more, be more, and produce more is in fact a destructive force. Sometimes just recognizing your need for rest, quiet evenings at home with your family—or just realizing that participating in another event will not actually bring you joy—is a way that you can apply essentialism to your calendar.

2. Reject the idea that more things equal more joy.

Essentialism rejects the idea that owning more equates to a higher level of joy for our lives. In reality, the more you own the more complicated managing your life can become. Taking care of your “stuff” or adding to your unending collection of things can take up precious time and become a distraction from what is most important in your life.

3. Stop underestimating how much effort and time your commitments require.

Essentialism recognizes that to do things well you need to be willing to invest real time and effort into them. We all want to believe that we can multi-task our way through our lives and still do it all well. Essentialism rejects this idea and embraces the thought that our lives should be about quality, not quantity.

4. Prioritize the relationships and projects that matter most.

Saying yes to everyone is really saying no to the ones that need you most. If you are a parent, you probably have learned this lesson the hard way! Our closest relationships and most important projects demand the majority of our time and attention. We have to protect the people and projects we are most passionate about, by being willing to say no to ones that are less essential to our lives.

5. Embrace that less is more.

We are tempted to treat every relationship, opportunity, responsibility, or item we own with equal value. It is the “tyranny of the urgent.” We give our attention to whatever is in front of our faces most. When we pause and truly evaluate our surroundings, it becomes clear that not all our interactions have equal value. Essentialism invites us to use discernment so that we can enjoy a greater level of satisfaction, productivity, intentionality, and joy in our lives! 

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Is Essentialism Christian or Worldly?

Essentialism is an idea we can apply to our lives that can align with a biblical worldview but is not explicitly from the Bible. Much of the instructions of the Bible point us toward living a less hurried and more intentional life. Psalm 90:17 says, “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” The Bible reminds us that life is short and we need to make sure we use our time wisely.

Colossians 3:2 says, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” This verse points to a need for focused Christian living. We have to be wary of worldly distractions and focus on following Jesus’ way. Essentialism can be a tool we use to refocus our lives and drown out some of the noise that wants to distract us from investing in the things that truly matter.

We must approach the literature around this concept with caution, making sure we don’t let strictly following essentialism override our adherence to our faith. God has unique plans and stories for us all to tell. This philosophy could help some, but not align with what God is saying to others. Ultimately, it is the Bible and the Holy Spirit that should lead us. Here are three ways to embrace essentialism as Christ-followers:

1. Essentialism can be a tool to help refocus your life and faith.

Essentialism and the literature around it can offer some practical steps on how to take stock of your life and effectively evaluate if you are investing in things that have value. Thinking through ways you can set better boundaries around your time and efforts is always helpful in making sure you're living a life that's Christ-focused.

Going through the tenets with a prayerful attitude asking God to show you the ways you are performing, investing, or working out of fear or misplaced values can be a powerful practice.

2. Essentialism asks us to evaluate the kind of life we’re living.

Believers are called to take a more reflective approach to life. Romans 8:7 says, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot.” Christ-followers believe our thoughts and actions have eternal implications. Essentialism prompts people to ask the question: “What is most important in my life and am I investing in that or something else?” Christians should be asking ourselves if we are investing in the right things!

Another way to ask this would be to question: what are we living for? Are we living for success? Is money driving us? Perfectionism? Are we motivated by the desire not to let anyone down? Are we afraid if we don’t say “yes” that we will miss out?

Christians are called to live for Christ alone and to live out this mission we must carefully consider how we are using our time and resources.

3. Essentialism can help us keep it simple.

Sometimes we have a tendency to want to over-complicate our lives when what we really need is one big dose of simplicity. 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 encourages believers to work hard and live quiet and peaceful lives so that your daily life can win the respect of nonbelievers.

Our culture tells us that we can do anything we put our minds to, but the truth is while a determined mind is a strong force even the most productive of us have limits on what we can do well all at once. Simple, focused, well-done, and intentional is the way that we craft a life that is a testimony of God and our devotion to Him. Essentialism is a reminder that more is not more. This is a biblical principle that essentialism can help us live out.

Essentialism may prompt you to step back from some of the things that seemed like “good ideas” but really just added more clutter to your life. As you investigate the question of what matters most, allow the Holy Spirit to guide you and give you discernment on how to properly set the right boundaries that your life needs.

Many of us would truly benefit from taking a moment to say "enough is enough" and to end the frenzy of haphazard activity that makes up our lives.

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Amanda Idleman is a writer whose passion is to encourage others to live joyfully. She writes devotions for My Daily Bible Verse Devotional and Podcast, Crosswalk Couples Devotional, the Daily Devotional App, she has work published with Her View from Home, on the MOPS Blog, and is a regular contributor for Crosswalk.com. She has most recently published a devotional, Comfort: A 30 Day Devotional Exploring God's Heart of Love for Mommas. You can find out more about Amanda on her Facebook Page or follow her on Instagram.