Flourishing by simplifying

Uncomplicated: Simple Secrets for a Compelling Life by Brenda L. Yoder (Herald Press, 2024)

Above my kitchen sink is a window, as there was in each of my grandparents’ homes. When I’m washing dishes, among other times, I often think of my Plain Mennonite and Amish ancestors. Though I live in a major city and engage with a technologically interconnected world, the basics of my life are the same as theirs: I cooperate with my neighbors for the common good. I weave my life together with others in my faith community. I share in our household’s tasks of putting meals on the table, caring for our home and garden and enjoying times of rest and play.

Those basics are the same also in Brenda L. Yoder’s book Uncomplicated: Simple Secrets for a Compelling Life. She seeks to distill the wisdom of previous generations and current rural Mennonite and Amish communities for all of us who struggle with more diffuse and often harried lives.

For Anabaptist readers, the book can spark reflection on the shared values at the core of our tradition. Uncomplicated reminds us that our faith is countercultural, whether we are Plain-dressing or not. And it is a resource to meet the challenges of life today.

For example, we know that social media and advertising aim to make us dissatisfied with what we have and who we are. Yet we still need ­resources on resisting that. Uncomplicated has abundant practical advice for those who choose to engage with social media on countering the ­harmful effects. (And none of us is fully beyond the reach of advertising.)

Yoder advises readers on how to see through the false messages of consumerism and perfectionism. It is difficult to identify these notions and turn from them to the values that ground us. Living simply is challenging, as I saw from many facets during the 10 years that I wrote a column by that name for Mennonite World Review, a predecessor of Anabaptist World.

Uncomplicated is like a life coach in book form. Reflection questions in each chapter offer an opportunity for readers to see how we sometimes get in our own way as we try to live simply. With “scripture application” throughout the book, the exclusively male language for God can be an obstacle, but not an insurmountable one.

Yoder recognizes that living simply is much more than decluttering and minimalist decor. The chapter on interdependence was my favorite. Yoder draws on her training as a mental health counselor, distinguishing between healthy and unhealthy forms of relying on each other. 

In Anabaptist communities, the ethic of service orients us toward the needs of others while making it difficult at times to ask for help when we need it. For women, it can be even harder to name our needs. Race and class too often guide how we think about who is serving and who is served. A more excellent way is to remember, as Yoder writes, “Love gives but also receives.”

An interdependence that encourages mutual flourishing requires daily effort not only in action but restraint: honoring our own boundaries and those of others. This is also an act of stewardship, Yoder notes. Sabbath rest is a core example of this. It is difficult to honor the sabbath, especially when for many of us Sundays can be filled to the brim with volunteer roles in our congregations. Yoder encourages times and seasons of rest, including from volunteering. Instead of getting stuck in an attitude of “If I don’t do it, no one else will,” she writes, “Interdependence says a person with a gift is waiting to take their part of the body of Christ while you step away and rest.”

A weaker aspect of this book is that Yoder overstates her case in contrasting our lives with the lives of our “wiser forebears” and Plain Anabaptists. As long as humanity has existed, we have found ways to harm ourselves and others and to focus on penultimate things rather than the ultimate. To say that past generations and current Plain Anabaptist communities have less-complicated lives doesn’t necessarily mean they have healthier ones.

Yet amid our varied struggles, the values that Yoder lifts up are excellent ones for us all to aspire to live out more fully. Uncomplicated can aid readers who want practical suggestions and guiding questions to help them create a life of flourishing in their homes and communities.


Celeste Kennel-Shank is a Mennonite pastor in Chicago and author of What You Sow Is a Bare Seed: A Countercultural Christian Community during Five Decades of Change (2023).

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