Waking up glazed in sweat, with a fan cranking above my head, in a somewhat ‘wealthy’ house for the capital, I could make out the street noise below passing through the grilled shutter windows. It was horribly humid. Day two of eighty-two in the Solomon Islands and it seemed rather unbearable. “Surely my body will begin to adjust,” I told myself. Traveling with a friend who was well adjusted to the Solomons made things easier and allowed me to feel welcome and connect with his local friends. Taking part in a mission trip to continue the build of a remote church on the Weather Coast with just us two Kiwi blokes and the people of Makaruka village, I was in for a treat. However, what struck me most during the first few days of the adventure was the simple hospitality and warmth of the locals in this busy unorganized culture.
It amazes me that we often look at people in more underdeveloped countries and wonder, “how can they be so joyful? Why are they so happy?” I witnessed this joy in the Solomons and I saw it especially in the village of Makaruka. The villagers’ way of life struck me in its simplicity. This came across not only in the reception I received (not cellular reception, which was definitely lacking), but also in their day-to-day living. From fishing the ocean to purchasing rice and Solbrew beer from the local ‘dairy’ or ‘convenience store’, these average tasks demonstrated simplicity in its barest form. So what does it mean to live the virtue of simplicity? Google quotes that, “simplicity is the mean between excess and deficiency.” Straightforward enough. Okay, so what is our measure, and how are we to gauge simplicity? Fundamentally, I think our gauge is how detached we are from what we possess.
Looking at Pope Francis, we see that he is exemplifying a life of simplicity. In his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium ( Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis states, “The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience.” These strong words bring forth the basics to unpack a solid understanding of why we should strive to live the virtue of simplicity. No one wants to be a desolate, anguished individual seeking worthless things with a poor, stagnant conscience. Nevertheless, it is an easy, wide and well-trodden path on which we unconsciously walk in the western world. How can we simply diverge and rise up from this? By being more detached from our possessions, we decentralize ourselves, opening ourselves up to the other. Simplicity opens our hearts to the cry of the poor. And so often the poor are right in front of us; our neighbors, friends and even our own family!
Connected to simplicity is joyfulness. Through our appreciation of the small things and being grateful for the opportunities which life affords us, we are open to encounter joy. By decentralizing ourselves, we can then be open to the other, to give and inadvertently receive. This attitude opens us up more in our friendships, both old and new. This is the Christian life we are called to witness. The joy emanating from this life written within us spills out through the depth of our own personal encounter with Christ, our eternal fount of joy. His invitation to you is not prescription for accreditation, but an unlimited personal encounter with Him. Pope Francis again writes, “No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.” Francis expands on this to emphasize that Christ never disappoints us, but continually calls us to return to him. What a meek humility this requires of us! Our true joy is found in our true relationship with our true friend – Christ. He in turn opens us to live this virtue of simplicity. Through service and renouncing our feverish pursuits, we can bring joy to others and discover it ourselves.
After eighty-two days I can truly say that it was hard to leave the beautiful country of the Solomon Islands. Encountering the simplicity of the people opened me up to friendships that were hard to leave behind. I was looking forward to the warm shower and the universal cell phone reception, yet in many ways I realized I could joyfully live without it.
Even now three years later, I continue to ask myself, “Am I detached? Am I open to serve those around me? Or is the ground under my feet showing signs of a well-trodden path?”
About the Author: Isaac was born and bred on a dairy farm in Hamilton, New Zealand with his six brothers. After completing his undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering at Waikato University, Isaac entered the NZ national seminary in 2015. Fueled by a love for his Savior, he longs to draw others to the well-spring of truth in the Church and expose the beauty of a good life.