AMISH PEACE: Simple Wisdom for a Complicated World
Suzanne Woods Fisher
About the Book
Reading Group Guide
Do you feel peace --- true, inner peace --- only in spurts? I do.
My faith is very important to me. I love the Lord, I pray often, I study the Bible, but still, peace of mind often eludes me.
Why is that? Am I missing something? Jesus made a promise to give believers an abiding peace. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).
So why is it that peace often feels elusive, like trying to package fog?
Clearly, Jesus indicates that the peace he offers is different from that which believers can find in the world. Christ meant for our hearts to be anchored in peace. Set firmly in place. Unyielding.
Yet for me, and maybe for you, peace is fleeting, not a constant state of mind.
Perhaps the reason is that I rely on the wrong kind of peace --- one that is based on circumstances in life all lining up properly, like ducks in a row, which is seldom. Jesus’ peace means my heart should not be troubled. But, often, I do feel troubled. Especially when “what-ifs?” bounce like popcorn in my mind. Jesus’ peace means that I shouldn’t be afraid. But, often, I do fear the future. Lying in bed at night, staring up at the ceiling, I know that no household is entirely safe from natural disaster, fire or theft, stock market crashes or personal suffering. The world, even in a best-case scenario, can only offer a troubled peace.
The truth is that bad things do happen, despite our best efforts to stay safe. There is no guarantee for total security in any area of life. That’s why “peace as the world gives” doesn’t offer staying power.
The only people I have ever known who seem to have a handle on abiding peace are my relatives, members of the Dunkard Brethren Church. Similar to the Amish but not as strict or as isolated, my Dunkard cousins embody Christ’s instruction to “live in the world but not of it.” They wear plain, modest clothing, with their trademark bonnets and horseshoe beards, and live in colonies scattered around the country.
The roots of the Anabaptist movement reach back to sixteenth-century Europe. A group of religious radicals rejected the common practice of infant baptism and, instead, affirmed an adult’s “believer’s baptism.” Descendants of the Anabaptist movement are known as the Amish, Mennonites, Hutterites, Church of the Brethren, and Brethren in Christ.
A common element among these groups is their emphasis on developing character, honoring God, avoiding temptation and sin, and living plain. But the peaceful countenance of the Anabaptists runs much deeper than living a simple lifestyle.
There was a time when my cousin Doug and his wife, Mina, sought treatment at Stanford University for their little boy, born with a genetic defect. Since we lived close to the hospital, Doug and Mina stayed with my family now and then. Their peace of mind never wavered, carrying them through the slow and sad death of their firstborn child. They grieved, to be sure, but held confidence in God’s sovereignty. Even as a teenager, I sensed I was witnessing something extraordinary.
The Anabaptist communities may seem old-fashioned, but when it comes to living with an abiding peace, they are far beyond most of us living a frazzled, fast-paced modern life.
So is the answer to living with an abiding peace to “go Amish”? Some think so.
An Amish newspaper ran a story about the hundreds of letters they received asking how to become Amish. The article explained that most people wanted a change of pace or were feeling stressed by their hectic lifestyle. The solution, they thought, was to become Amish.
The newspaper conjectured that most likely, they wouldn’t last a day in the Amish lifestyle. One cold winter ride in a buggy would send them scurrying to get home, happy to flip on the car heater and switch on the radio.
“Uncle Amos,” an Amish man who wrote occasionally for the Small Farmer’s Journal, wrote this thought-provoking response:
If you admire our faith, strengthen yours. If you admire our sense of commitment, deepen yours. If you admire our community spirit, build your own. If you admire the simple life, cut back. If you admire deep character and enduring values, live them yourself.1
We don’t need to “go Amish” to bring true peace into our lives. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to become Amish. There is a basic foundation of being Amish, called Gelassenheit, that is simply contrary to the American way of thinking. Gelassenheit is translated to mean “yielding to a higher authority.” The Amish believe in living a life of humility and submission to God, as well as the church district’s leaders and Ordnung (rules for living). It’s more than just living without conveniences; the welfare of the community is at the forefront of decision making. It means that drawing attention to oneself is inappropriate --- very different from our tendency to be considered special. It means keeping life simple so they can emphasize what is truly important.
But peace? The lasting peace we long for isn’t exclusive to the Amish. Their example is our example. Their principles can be our principles. Their peace, based in the security of God, can belong to us too.
Amish Peace: Simple Wisdom for a Complicated World seeks to answer that question by exploring the taproot of the Amish. We can graft into it --- an “English” tree drawing strength from Amish roots --- and integrate those principles into our modern life.
Plain and simple, a troubled heart is not Jesus’ intent for you, or me. A heart anchored in peace is.
Take all you want, eat all you take.
By the cash register at my favorite coffee shop sits a stack of business cards that promise to simplify my life. The secret, shouts the card, is to “Get Organized!” A worthy goal, but I have a feeling that its aim is to help me stuff even more activities into my weighted-with-responsibilities schedule --- not exactly my definition of simple living. Actually, I’m not sure any of us in the twenty-first century --- running breathless, addicted to technologies that are supposed to make our lives easier but really make them far more complex --- well, I’m not sure any of us get what simple living really means.
Except for, maybe, the Amish.
The Amish personify simple living. To the casual observer, their life of simplicity seems based on living with less choice. When an Amish woman wakes in the morning, she doesn’t face countless decisions about how to carry on with her day: what to wear, what to do, how to do it. It’s already been decided: Friday? housecleaning; Saturday? grass cutting; Monday? laundry day. She knows exactly what has to be done and in what order.
But having less choice isn’t what makes the Amish life a simple life. A truly simple life is much more than that.
There’s a verse in the Bible that keeps rolling around in my mind. Jesus tells his listeners not to lay up for themselves treasures on earth, where rust and moth can attack (Matt. 6:19–21). I know there’s a layer of eternity in Jesus’ words, but I think there’s also a very practical, earthly application in those verses. Rust and moth only attack things that are neglected. Forgotten. Devalued.
In fact, I’ve wondered if Jesus’ remark was inspired by a memory of some Nazareth neighbor’s overflowing garage. Neighbors like mine, who pay monthly storage locker fees to store things that they seldom use, so that rust and moth can settle in, undisturbed, for a feast.
Do you feel overwhelmed by clutter in your life? I sure do --- both figuratively and literally. Peace of mind vanishes when I feel overwhelmed. In its place swarm restlessness and fretting, as if I’m wearing a pair of pants that are one size too small. I’m just not comfortable. That feeling happens whenever I let nonessentials crowd out the essentials. My treasures --- time with the Lord, time with my family --- get shoved to the back of the attic, gathering dust, while less important things --- an endless to-do list, projects that seem essential but probably aren’t --- grab my full attention.
The Amish have a guiding principle that seems to rest on Jesus’ words: to only live with things that they really use. And to treasure them.
In the Amish world --- and applicable to our world --- Jesus’ principle extends to more than material objects. It relates to guarding well what the Amish truly treasure: their families, their homes, their communities, their faith.
That’s what keeps life simple.
The Worth of Money
He who has no money is poor; he who has nothing but money is even poorer.
When David and Elsie Kline started Farming magazine in 2001, David described the experience as going off the end of a dock in a cannonball dive. “I didn’t know how deep the water would be,” David said. Committed to farming in harmony with nature, David knew there was a need for a farm magazine that really cared about small-scale farming. The Klines had a vision of a literate quarterly dedicated to teaching others, Amish and non-Amish, about how they can make a good living from a small farm, the old-fashioned way: without heavy machines or pesticides, and in ways that welcome wildlife. “We wanted to be the voice of hope for small farmers,” he explained.
They faced a few obstacles that would have buckled the faint of heart: David and Elsie did not have any money with which to start a magazine. They would have to do it while they continued to farm for a living. The Klines live on a farm in Holmes County, Ohio. Although David had written for magazines, including National Wildlife, and had published two books, he had no experience in publishing a magazine. Like most Old Order Amish, David’s formal education stopped at the eighth grade, though his edification certainly didn’t stop there. An anonymous private grant had been donated to Holmes County, earmarked for vocational training for those with an eighth-grade education. “It wasn’t government money,” David was quick to point out. “It was private money.” The Amish reject any government subsidies or benefits, like Social Security. Even a government grant would be viewed as a “handout.” David applied for and was awarded the grant; that seed money produced the first issue of 5,000 copies. Farming magazine has been self-supporting ever since.
David and Elsie believe passionately in a kind of farming that is done out of reverence for nature as part of God’s divine creation. Farming for profit, including the production of Farming magazine, is secondary. Working hard for the principles they stand for and live by, not for money and accumulation of wealth, is an Amish core value. “Money is there to help others,” said David. “Not to get rich. It’s a little ironic. Even though we Amish have a work ethic that can eventually accumulate wealth, we believe in restricting wealth.” He gave a short laugh. “We don’t have anything like a Lexus buggy.”
David told a story about a technician who advised him to join the no-till crowd and be freed from plowing. That way, the fellow reasoned, David and his sons could work in a factory. The technician assumed that the extra income would improve the quality of the Klines’ lives. “What’s to improve?” David asked. “Besides, I like to plow.” He plows with horses, rather than a tractor, to avoid compacting the soil. An added bonus: when the horses rest, he can read.
The Klines have forty-five Jersey dairy cows that support two families --- theirs, plus their daughter and son-in-law. David describes the Jersey as the cow for the dairyman who likes to read. Jerseys tend to be low-maintenance, intelligent, carefree animals. “We’ll never get wealthy,” he said, “but we’re supporting ourselves.”
That suits the Klines just fine. Worrying about money isn’t something David and Elsie are inclined to do. After seven years, the magazine seems to have found a loyal audience; its spine grows thicker with every issue. “I’ve edited Farming for seven years without pay,” he said. “We like to use the money to pay the writers. We have good writers from all over.”
The Klines aren’t particularly worried about the long-term viability of the magazine. They believe that if God wants the magazine to continue, it will. If not, well, they hope it did some good while it lasted.
One of David’s brothers, a minister in the Amish church since 1959, often quotes a verse in the book of Proverbs: “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me; lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain ” (30:8–9 KJV). “That’s where I aim to be with money,” David said. He spoke with gentleness, conviction, and a twinkle in his eye. “Just enough for today and not a penny more.”
Reflections on Simplicity
David and Elsie Kline decided to invest in something they felt had value. Yet they were equally comfortable letting it go if God did not provide enough for it to continue. What’s your perspective on things you value? Do they mean more than they should?
How would you define a successful life? Have you ever asked yourself, “What does that definition of success cost me?”
How often do you worry about money?
Ask God to illuminate your understanding of how living simply can bring about his peace.
Less than 5 percent of all new Amish businesses fail --- the national average for small-business failures exceeds 65 percent.
Excerpted from AMISH PEACE: Simple Wisdom for a Complicated World © Copyright 2017 by Suzanne Woods Fisher. Reprinted with permission by Revell. All rights reserved.
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