You guys, I’ve been re-reading the Little House on the Prairie books lately. I loved these books and the TV show when I was growing up. I wished I could live on the prairie and wear long skirts and ride around the country in a covered wagon. I once made my family spend the evening entirely by candlelight because that’s how the Ingalls family spent their nights in the Big Woods. For Christmas one year I received a dress, pinafore and bonnet, and I wore them nonstop. Luckily I was homeschooled, so there was no one to make fun of me. Also, I’m thinking the homeschooling may have contributed to this sad, little pioneer obsession.
As I’ve been re-reading these books as an adult, I’ve been struck by the simplicity of their lives. This family — a mom, dad and three girls — spent a lot of time together. For much of their lives, they didn’t have many neighbors. They could go days and weeks without seeing anyone outside of their small family. They did not have many possessions either; when the family decided to move, which they did often, they could pack everything they owned into the back of a covered wagon. They didn’t have much because their homes were small. I visited a replica of their cabin in the woods of Wisconsin once, and the entire house was a little bit bigger than my living room.
Laura and her sisters looked forward to Christmas each year, and their gifts usually included a few pieces of candy, a homemade pair of mittens and maybe a rag doll. One year each girl received a new tin cup and one whole penny — it was almost too much to take in! Can you imagine if kids today — if adults today — got such simple gifts for Christmas? People would storm the North Pole with torches and pitchforks. It would be anarchy.
However, there is something about the simple life that the Ingalls family lived that is appealing to me. Their lives were unencumbered by things, by choices, by options. Some days I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to decide what to wear or eat or watch on television. I recently ordered a new pair of shoes — shoes that took me forever to decide on because I couldn’t pick a color. It’s ridiculous, but there are so many options that sometimes making a decision feels like too much of a burden.
Choice, options and possibilities — the American dream — have become crucial to our culture, but sometimes I think it’s a very negative thing. All of our options can end up paralyzing us; I know so many people who have had a hard time settling down with a career because we can be anything we want to be, and there are so many things to be. I think it’s affected the way we view dating and marriage as well. It seems scary to decide on a marriage partner because no one we meet is perfect, but with a whole world of possibilities, that perfect person just might be out there, right?
Not only does having so many options make our lives more stressful and unhappy, but I believe it can hinder us from focusing on and sharing the true Gospel. We who have so many things, spend a lot of time focusing on getting more things. I like to shop, so I spend time doing it and making money so that I can do more of it. This, of course, is money that could be used to feed the poor or support missions organizations. I know there are things in my life that I think of as necessary, but in reality they are quite optional. But my worldview has been skewed — I am in imminent danger of making idols out of a car or clothes or a nice house in a safe suburb. Because of the choices I have, I often spend time worrying or weighing options or fretting instead of focusing on loving God and loving others.
Choices aren’t bad, but I believe they can be distracting. This is why a small house on a windy prairie with few possessions sometimes sounds appearling to me. It would limit the things I have to worry about or decide upon, and help me focus on what’s truly important.
What are some ways you’ve seen choice paralyze you? Have you made an effort to simplify your life in areas?
Copyright 2012 Denise Morris Snyder. All Rights Reserved.