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Why My House Does Not Engender the Serenity of Simplicity

November 17, 2015 by  
Filed under Book Club, Dan Burke, Finding God Meditation, Vicki Burbach

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Finding God Through Meditation (Week 7 of 7)

Thou findest here no snares to entangle thee into worldly vanities, no flatterers to applaud thee when thou dost offend, or anything else to withdraw thy affection from the Cross of Christ.  – Finding God through Meditation p. 120

Why My House Does Not Engender the Serenity of Simplicity

Years ago, I was blessed to attend a mothers’ retreat held at a local convent. At the time, I had five children under the age of ten, so my favorite part of the entire weekend was having a room all to myself for two whole days and nights. No offense to the coordinators or the speakers themselves, but what I remember about that retreat, more than anything else, is my room.

From the moment I walked in, I was struck by its simplicity. The view from the doorway was austere and left little to be desired. It was plain. Unremarkable. Pretty much unmemorable in every way.

But when I close my eyes, I can still feel the serenity that emanated from that tiny little space.

There was a single twin bed with a worn chenille bedspread that hung all the way to the floor, it’s shabby fringe trim brushing the linoleum. A small desk complete with a desk lamp and a simple cane back chair served as a nightstand. And the only ornament adorning any of the walls was a small crucifix, which hung simply but profoundly above the bed, clearly the intended focal point of the room.

There were no patterns, no accessories, no artwork, no color. I remember thinking – what a wonderful room to clean! No obstacles to dust, no pillows to fluff. How easy to live in a place like this, compared to my own home with its abundance of surfaces, each covered with stuff – candles, pictures, statues and other paraphernalia.

That weekend I wondered why so much of my life had been “wasted” trying to achieve the perfect home, and then trying to maintain the products of our efforts. I couldn’t blame my husband. This hadn’t been his passion. Sure, he loves the challenge involved in completing a project – loves the satisfaction of a job well done.

But the perfectionism? All me.

At that period in our lives, we were in the middle of our second house renovation. We’d purchased a home with strong bones and great potential dressed in the guise of shag green carpet and brown wall-to-wall wallpaper. I was on a mission to create in that home the vision that I held in my mind’s eye. A vision perpetuated by every home magazine and decorating show I’d ever seen.

But as I stared at the crucifix in that little retreat room, I realized that, just as  there was only one object worthy of my attention on those plain walls, the same could be said about my own home. There too, there was only one object worthy of my attention. But my home was so crammed with “beautiful” distractions that my crucifix had become merely one piece of artwork among many.

On that retreat – for once – I wasn’t concerned about the window treatments, paint colors or furniture. I was consumed only by God. I spent every moment in my room meditating, reading Sacred Scripture or journaling my reflections. For the first time in a long time, I was completely at peace. I felt I was doing what I was born to do. Communing with my Maker sans all distractions.

When I left the convent, I made a conscious decision to simplify my home improvement plans. To tone down my quest for perfection. Unfortunately, anyone who knows me would tell you that my resolve didn’t last long. Shortly after returning to the “real” world (I seriously question that term), I left simplicity behind and found myself once again caught up in trying to make our house the “perfect” pied-à-terre.

It’s been a long time since I’ve thought about that little room. Life has pretty much been on fast forward since then. As soon as we “finished” our last house, we moved out of state and into yet another fixer-upper.

But that room, in all its simplicity and serenity, flooded my thoughts again this past Friday evening.

Let me explain.

A couple of weeks ago, we decided to conquer a DIY* kitchen renovation before Christmas. After frantically running around town to select countertops, tile, a sink and a couple of appliances, yesterday we reached the point of no return when we began actually tearing the kitchen apart.**

As we tore out an entire built-in, removed our sink and began to cut away at our base cabinet to re-fit it for an apron style, terrorists had begun their horrific attack on Paris. Just as on 9/11, we kept the news on a constant feed, hoping to learn something – anything – new.

But with all the chaos unfolding on television, a thought occurred to me. Here we were readily seeking upheaval in our lives – again – for the sake of a more aesthetically pleasing environment. Filling our floors with contents of cabinets, wood shavings, insulation and remnants, as we listened to story after story of people who’s lives had ended or been seriously impacted by the evils of terrorism.

I can’t help but ask myself – Is all this self-inflicted chaos over a kitchen really necessary?

I think not.

And yet, here we are.

And based on the crowds of people in the furniture superstore this weekend, we are not alone.

Personally, I’m convinced that there is some connection between the rise in divorce in the 70s & 80s and the decorating obsession we’ve experienced in our culture over the past several years.

Over 50% of my generation grew up in broken homes. I was one of those affected. As a result, I didn’t take a stable family for granted, but rather grew up determined that my children were going to grow up in a happy, faith-filled, stable home. Unfortunately, I had no idea what a stable home looked like. All I knew was that all the families I saw featured in Better Homes and Gardens, surrounded by perfectly fluffed pillows and beautiful knick knacks, looked extremely happy. Like the little girl in Miracle on 34th Street, I spent an inordinate amount of time imagining the details of my own “someday” family home. And I’m ashamed to admit that my desire for a perfect environment has not gone away, despite having a wonderfully happy family and a joy-filled home.

Perhaps on some subconscious level many of us from broken homes have buttressed our desire for a perfect home life with the desire for the perfect home.

I say all this knowing that perfect surfaces do not a joy-filled home make. Always worrying about how things look takes a great toll on how things are. And even worse, it can serve as a great distraction from the only perfect home – our true home – which is heaven.

Perhaps that is why St. Peter of Alcántara was such a holy inspiration. He clearly understood the serenity of simplicity at a very early age. His life was a testament to devotion rather than distraction. To heavenly pursuits rather than material diversions. May we all learn from his example to appreciate and to live the serenity of simplicity. Not for a moment, but for a lifetime.

*DIY – do it yourself

**For those of you who worry about waste, we are still using the same cabinets and floor plan – just giving them a major overhaul with molding and paint – and our current countertops will find a new home in the basement.

NOTE: We’ve reached the end of yet another powerful spiritual guide – congratulations to you! I hope you’ll take the recommendations of St. Peter of Alcántara to heart and make use of them in your own prayer life. As far as the next book? In light of the busy nature of the holiday season, we have a tradition of winding up just before Thanksgiving and returning to begin our next book the first week in January. We’ll begin the new year on Tuesday, January 5, 2016. For those of you who like to plan ahead, we’ll be reading The Church of Mercy by Pope Francis beginning on that date. But don’t give up your spiritual reading over the break – rather, check out our recent post full of Advent recommendations!

Reading Assignment:

NO ASSIGNMENT – Next book begins after the holidays!!! Join us January 5 when we begin our next book and announce our list for the new year!!!

In the meantime, Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, & Happy New Year!

OH – and Happy Reading!

Discussion Questions:

1. What did you think of the book? Have you implemented any of St. Peter of Alcántara’s recommendations? If so, how has your life been affected thus far?

2. Feel free to comment on anything from our assignment this past week!

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About Vicki Burbach

Vicki Burbach is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children ages four to sixteen years who relishes the calm inspiration of spiritual reading amidst the roller coaster of life. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki is an avid reader who started the book club so she could embark with like-minded bibliophiles on a spiritual journey through some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. You can also find her at

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  • Michelle

    I have not been reading along so I hope that you don’t mind me commenting. Such freedom in simplicity! When I received the call of my father’s death, my attention immediately went to the counter top where my two children were having a snack. I started to fret and complain of the crumbs while frantically cleaning it up. I was ashamed of my behavior and wondered where it came from. It was the beginning of the realization that when my life feels out of control, I am bothered by the condition of the house. I also came from divorce and I could not control that event as much as I would have liked to. Aware of this, I have begun to heal slowly. God bless your renovation because we do have to live “in the real world” so it’s good to be functional and decorative. May God also bless your husband’s hands.

    • Vicki

      Michelle, Thank you so much for your comments! I’m so sorry for your loss and will offer prayers for your father today. God bless you and I hope you’ll join us January 5th for the beginning of our next book – The Church of Mercy by Pope Francis!

  • marybernadette

    ‘It really is a matter of ‘balance’ isn’t it? Life is all about the day to day ‘struggle’ of choosing to put the ‘Lord’ first in everything. I recently heard a teaching where the ‘Priest’ talked about worrying if he should have a ‘cell phone’ or not, when he joined the ‘Priesthood.’ He took it to prayer and after awhile received an answer from the Lord, that He (the Lord) required ‘obedience’ more than ‘sacrifice.’ Of course, not that ‘sacrifice’ is not important but with the Lord’s help, we can come to know what he wants of us. For example, the Lord may ask a person to live more ‘frugally’ or bless another with ‘wealth or success in business’ as long as the person is trying to do ‘God’s will.’ By the way Vicki, I find your straightforwardness refreshing, thank you and God Bless you and your family.’

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