I sat down this afternoon, determined to write about my trip to Cambodia. But this is the piece that unfurled instead.

Because whenever I think for more than a moment about my recent visit to the Khmer kingdom, my proud smile melts into a heart-wrenching longing. You see, the trip was the beautiful, incredible, amazing adventure I had hoped for. It was also devastating.

Simple living brings more than joy.

When we talk about simple living as one of the keys to real joy, we only capture half of it. We capture the culprit behind false joy, the consumerist compulsion based on the premise that new things will increase our happiness. And we are right– more things does not mean more joy.

But fewer things does not always mean more joy, either. Fewer things means more mental space. Fewer things means fewer buffers between us and the difficult reality of the world in which we live. Fewer things means freedom to engage, to come out of hiding.

And this is what I’ve wanted. It’s just that my heart breaks, too.

When we hide behind our full closets, our busy schedules and our false sense of importance, the devastating truths about the world vanish into the distance. We overwhelm ourselves with often minute troubles so as not to be overwhelmed by the very real pain of others. If my plate is full, maybe there won’t be room for someone else’s troubles to be heaped on.

Yet those of us who believe the call of our lives (and our communities) is to care for the hungry, the hurting, the orphan and the widow, or for those who are enslaved in body and soul, find ourselves entangled in a dilemma. We can close our eyes and barely dip ourselves into the world, or we can strip ourselves of those protective layers and stare at it straight in the face.

Simple living has allowed me to travel more, and for that I am grateful. But it has also allowed me to pay attention: to wake up to my own role in the world’s injustices, to the challenges experienced by the less fortunate. God calls us to care for the least of these. And the less burdened I am by unnecessary possessions, the more clearly I see my privilege in the face of their pain.

We press deeper for hope

This isn’t another vote in the direction of “ignorance is bliss”– I am grateful for the ways I’ve peeled back the layers to find myself, albeit devastated, readier than ever to be effective. Simple living can lead us to break apart so that when we are put back together, we are different. The continual shattering of our self-centered perception is necessary for us to move forward in hope that is real.

Part of this hope is allowing the new-found space, which used to be occupied by the clutter we’ve cleared away, to be filled with more meaningful things. And meaningful things are worth weeping over.

In what ways has simple living opened your eyes?