Monastic Wisdom for Everyday Living

Today we are overwhelmed and inundated with too much of everything: too many possessions, too much food, too much stimulation, too many activities, too much work, too much information, too many choices. Br. David Vryhof invites you to discover the freedom of simplicity.

Click on the tabs below to explore the topic of simplicity through David's reflection, suggested spiritual practices to try today, reflection questions, and further resources. To view a print-friendly version of this offering, click here.

Br. David lives at the Monastery in Cambridge where he serves as Communication Brother. He loves that his day is grounded in the Daily Office (while his actual office is grounded in plenty of post-it notes and to-do lists!). He is the community's sole sports fan.

Read about David's vocation journey to the Monastery.

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On Simplicity


To Will One Thing


One of the virtues most sought after by the early Desert Fathers and Mothers (and by generations of monastics, saints and mystics who came after them) was the virtue of “purity of heart.”  “Blessed are the pure in heart,” Jesus said, “for they will see God” (Matt. 5:8).  To obtain this promise, these holy men and women of God rid themselves of all that was superfluous in their lives – money and possessions, luxurious clothing and rich foods, the desire for popularity, success and social status – and devoted themselves wholeheartedly to prayer, study, and good works.  They examined their hearts continually to weed out envy, hatred, greed and lust, and focused all their prayer and effort on obeying Jesus’ command to “strive first for the Kingdom of God and his righteousness”(Matt. 6:33).  They trusted that if they did this, God would provide them with all that was needed to sustain their lives.

Søren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher and theologian, captured the essence of “purity of heart” and of Christian simplicity in the title of his book, Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing.  This “one thing,” he said, is God and God’s Kingdom.  We are to seek and love God “with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind, and with all our strength” (Mark 5:30).

This call – to “purity of heart,” simplicity of life, and single-minded focus on God and God’s Kingdom – is much needed today. We are overwhelmed and inundated with too much of everything: too many possessions, too much food, too much stimulation, too many activities, too much work, too much information, too many choices.  As a consequence, most of us live scattered, hectic lives, racing from one task to another, juggling too many commitments, always living on the surface and never really knowing ourselves, or others.  Nor have we the time and space to truly know God.

The simplicity we need has both an inward dimension and an outward expression.  Inwardly it seeks an integration of the self that is rooted in our identity as beloved children of God.  When we know ourselves to be children of God above all else, we find the freedom to let go of the need to compete for status, success and popularity.  We can let go of jealousy, envy and pride.  Our hearts are fixed on one thing – knowing and loving and serving God.  Everything else then assumes its rightful place and order in our lives.  As our hearts become pure, others will notice changes in the way we speak, the way we dress, the way we work, the way we conduct ourselves.  We will grow in appreciation for ordinary things, and will be content with less.  Our hearts will fill with gratitude for the beauty and wonder of creation, for the gift of life, and for the loving kindness of God.  We will grow in concern for the world and its peoples, and for our environment.  We will be increasingly skeptical of our consumerist culture, and will grow in compassion for the poor.  Our lives will become simpler, more generous, more authentic.

Why not begin (again) today?  Rid yourself of whatever is getting in the way.  Identify what is essential and let go of what is “too much.”  Resolve to seek God and God’s Kingdom above all else, and examine every commitment, every relationship, every possession, every task, in the light of this one focus.  Discover the gift and freedom of simplicity.

“It is better to have fewer wants than to have larger resources.” – St Augustine, 354-430

“In everything, love simplicity.” – St Francis de Sales, 1567-1622

“If you are wise, you will dread a prosperity which only loads you with more.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803-1882

“Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?” – Jesus (Matt. 6:26)

"Simple Gifts" was written by Elder Joseph Brackett, Jr. while he was at the Shaker community in Alfred, Maine. These are the lyrics to his one-verse song:

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come 'round right.

Spiritual Practices
Reflection Questions
Further Resources


Knowing myself to be a child of God above all else, I pray for the freedom to let go of the need to compete for status, success, and popularity. Lord, help me fix my heart on one thing – knowing and loving and serving you.


  1. Elizabeth Hardy on January 1, 2020 at 10:31

    I thought this morning that my resolution for 2020 would be to be grateful for all that I had and to stop yearning after other things that I think will make my life perfect. Then I read your message. God works in mischievous ways! Elizabeth Hardy+

  2. Rick Porter on January 1, 2020 at 08:15

    This was the first thing I read this morning, January 1, 2020. I have been “working” on this process of cleaning my life for several years and have let go of some things and commitments that, while enjoyable and fulfilling, kept me busy, occupied, distracted. But not focused on the Lord. And it was hard to let go of activities that were good, that helped people in need. But you have taught me that I also have the highest need of living a righteous life in close relationship with the Lord.

    For 2020, I hope to come back to this lesson many times as I struggle, against my nature, to simplify my life and keep my focus on God. I know that the Holy Spirit will direct these efforts as long as I set aside the time to seek Him. God bless you all in 2020.

  3. (Arla) Jeanne Stout on January 2, 2018 at 17:48

    Earlier this afternoon I was listening to one of favorite recordings Appalachian Spring with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic. As usual, when the deliciously heavenly sound of “Simple Gifts” came through the speakers my eyes “began to leak”. And now the God Incidence of just now finding this SSJE site and reading your words that speak to my heart in a way similar to “Simple Gifts” with the same effect. Thank you, Br. David. I have received the daily emails for quite some time and my deepest thanks go to all of the Brothers for sharing their gifts with us and thanks to God for each of your answer to God’s call.
    Peace, Joy, and Hope for 2018,
    (Arla) Jeanne Stout

  4. Marjorie Fawcett on January 1, 2018 at 23:33

    Oh, how I needed this! It is beautiful, it is “the way”, and it is a positive beginning for this new year, 2018! Thank you.

  5. E.Linda Cushner on October 9, 2017 at 09:00

    Good morning brother. I have gone through a period in my life where I have had to let go of many earthly things. I have even had to let go of some relationships who criticize my beliefs and way of life. This has been difficult but also freeing. I find myself more at peace and am learning to cultivate joy.

  6. E.Linda Cushner on October 9, 2017 at 08:56

    Brother David, You are correct in saying that it is difficult to put God first in this world. Simplicity is not encouraged. I have come to a time in my life where I have had to let go of many possessions and yes even loved ones who criticize my beliefs and way of life. This has been sad but also freeing. I have put all this into God’s hands and am finally able to trust God for everything. He alone knows my desires. My life now is more peaceful and yes, joyful.
    E. Linda Cushner

    • Jeanne DeFazio on January 1, 2020 at 08:40

      Wonderful message! It’s been a challenging year but God is using your wonderful devotionals to show me what is important! I appreciate being able to stay at SSJE this year and to be able to read and share each message.

      TMI is a reality in our culture. We are bombarded by political information, reports of frequent shootings nationwide, and too much negativity. Your devotionals give us an opportunity to seek peace, tranquility and godliness. They have been a wonderful source of joy and reflection. Thanks Brother David and to all of you!

  7. Stephanie Denson on October 1, 2017 at 09:16

    Thank you! I love this new monthly offering — yet another way to reach us all over the world. I can’t wait to return to Cambridge next spring.

  8. Andrew Durbidge on September 29, 2017 at 17:22

    Thank you Brother David for this timely call to find simplicity in my life. After a busy day I sat down to pray evening prayer and decided to read your thoughts before it started. I found your words really centered me. They also reminded me that God needs space in us to thrive and so we must continually work to offload the things that weigh us down. Knowing and loving and serving God is enhanced when we have space and simplicity of life.


  9. CHRISTINA MCKERROW on September 29, 2017 at 13:22

    Thank you, too. I begin my days with the morning Word. Over the years they have had such an influence upon me. //This week, we mourn the passing of my daughter’s beloved dog. Perhaps, if we could emulate her love, comfort, companionship, loyalty in our lives, our world could be a more peaceful, loving place. Forgiveness was a word unknown in Sophie’s existence – she was too busy living the qualities lived above.
    Blessings. Christina

  10. Helene O'Cain on September 29, 2017 at 12:01

    Brother David,

    What a blessing to have met you during my visit to SSJE in July. I will never forget your wisdom and kindness. I would like to visit again in the future. I hope you all had a wonderful time in England, going back to your roots. I would like to do the same one day. I want you to know that I left the Episcopal Church and am now a member of the Anglican Church. If we love the Lord, we go where the Spirit leads us, and that’s what I did.
    Please tell the chef that I can’t remember the last time that I had food of that caliber, and having been dreaming about it ever since. I also will never forget Brother Nicholas as he opened the front door of the monastery that first evening and welcomed me in.
    I pray that God will bless you all abundantly as you go about your ministries.

    Sincerely, Helene, Long Beach, CA

    P.S. – I love this website! Thank you!!

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