Midlife Complexity to Late Life Simplicity by Bob Ritzema

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By Bob Ritzema

For those of us who have slowed down, complexity has diminished and we find life is becoming simpler. Those who haven’t decelerated yet may decide on their own to simplify, or something may happen–a heart attack, a financial setback, a job loss–that abruptly initiates the process. One way or another, simplification is coming.

Twentieth-century theologian Lewis Joseph Sherrill, who convinced me that simplification is the main task of older adulthood, thought that late-life simplification benefits us because it forces us to put aside what is less important in our lives so that we will focus on what is more important. He believes there are several areas in which elders move toward greater simplicity. Here are the areas he lists, with a brief description of what happens in each as we discard those things that complicate life:

  • Simplification of status–we chose to take or are relegated to less prominent positions at work, in the family, and in the community.
  • Physical simplification–our bodies fatigue more easily, can do less than before, and eventually suffer illnesses.
  • Material simplification–we dispose of some of the possessions we’ve accumulated and downsize our living arrangements.
  • Simplification of character–we drop pretenses and present ourselves more honestly; the core elements of our character become more prominent.
  • Spiritual simplification–we focus less on peripheral spiritual practices and beliefs, but more on practices and beliefs which nourish our souls.

Over the next several weeks I’ll focus on each of these in turn, exploring what it means to simplify in each realm. I’ll be thinking of where I have simplified and where I still need to simplify. I invite you to do the same.

By Bob Ritzema

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