Finding Simple Beauty in a “Keeping Up With The Joneses” World


Whether we like it or not, we live in a Keeping Up With the Joneses kind of world. HGTV helps us see all the flaws in our homes. Instagram helps us see all the flaws in our bodies and social calendars. Society helps us remember our inability to do it all. (Funny side note: My neighbors are actually named the Joneses, and their lawn and home maintenance are impeccable.)

simple beautyI recently read a fascinating article in the New York Times that convicted me. It was called “The New Spiritual Consumerism”  and addressed the fact that our generation is somewhat obsessed with the idea that renewal is found in home renovations and luxury facial products and that we have lost touch with nature, true spiritualism, and the real meaning of “self-care.”

The day after reading the article, I took off on my daily running route down the Pascagoula beach. I had the opportunity to look left and gaze along the shore, take in the wildlife, watch the waves rolling in, and reflect… or to look right at all of the many upscale homes that line that beautiful scenic route. Without ever realizing it, my gaze went right, as it always has tended to do. I jogged and I scrutinized flowerbeds thinking of what I could do to improve our own at home. I looked at vacant lots and wondered how much of a financial strain it would be to buy one and build our dream home on it. I jogged and spent my time thinking of all the ways my current reality could be improved with just a little effort and a lot of money.

Suddenly, it occurred to me that, when given the opportunity to reflect on the beauty surrounding me and be renewed, I was instead choosing discontent.

I had the recipe before me for the ultimate renewal of mind and soul: nature, beauty, endorphins, and quiet, and I was missing it.

I was honestly a little ashamed, but I was also more than a little motivated. I decided in that moment that I was going to use the season of Lent as a springboard to make some changes in my own heart and in how I consume things.

Here’s what I came up with:

  1. Financial Consumerism: I started with deciding it was time to take a break from purchasing. No trips through Target buying $250 worth of things to try to make myself feel good. No ordering things online unless they were really needed. No impulse buys on a bad day.
  2. Media Consumption: I needed a break from social media. I tell myself all of the time that I use it in moderation, but it gets out of hand quickly and breeds a spirit of discontent within me. I didn’t give it up completely, but I have replaced the mindless scroll with reading books on my phone instead (more on that in a minute).
  3. Physical Consumption: I also realized in my own life that I needed a little break from consuming junk food. I had pretty much decided that the best way to “treat” myself was with sugar and caffeine, and my body deserves better than that.
  4. Spiritual Consumption: I knew that making a concerted effort to reawaken my spiritual life was going to be the basis for making the rest of it work. After having a fourth child, I had a hard time figuring out how to make time for a spiritual life. My waking time was never the same and sleep was too precious to set an alarm and wake up before the world. My days started in chaos, ended in chaos, and even my sleep was erratic and interrupted with a new baby at home. It was time to find some sort of spiritual peace so that it could flow into the other parts of my crazy.

Of course, life has a funny way of working itself out.

When I decided to read real books instead of Facebook, I somehow got ridiculously into reading the classics from the 1800’s, specifically those with female protagonists. Taking a break from the modern world and stepping back in time (albeit a partly romanticized time) has been SO good for my heart. I feel like my entire interaction with the world around me changed. The women in these beautiful classic works were engaged in so many worthwhile pursuits.

Yes, they were still a little obsessed with station in life and marriage, but they spent so much time listening to beautiful works of music. They learned piano and sketching or painting. They knew each and every flower and cultivated beautiful gardens. They were well read and loved poetry and literature. They were patient and virtuous in their pursuits. Above all, they weathered hardship with strong spirts and deep faith.

The next thing I knew, I was less concerned with my countertops and far more desirous of having a little garden in the backyard that I could tend. I took my decidedly brown thumbed hands and planted two lemon trees that are actually growing lemons. I’ve always loved the beauty of a climbing vine, and we just planted a few of those as well. Not for curb appeal, but because they make my heart really happy.

The other day I turned on a Broadway soundtrack that I haven’t listened to in years. Tears formed in my eyes as I listened to all of those voices harmonizing into one incredibly powerful sound.

Beauty abounds.

When I tuned my heart to recognize it, beauty bloomed before my eyes around every corner.

The way the green trees pop against the blue sky on a pretty day. The way little hands look when they are resting on you in a quiet moment.

The less I have bought, the more I have realized to really appreciate and take care of what I already have.

The more I have prayed, the easier it has been to find peace with the more challenging moments.

The food one has been harder for me. I still want chocolate. Probably because chocolate is beautiful and I recognize that even more now.

Recently I was taking my little jog down the beach, and I saw a pelican flying my way. I stopped and just watched it pass overhead. It was fascinating to watch it swoop, swoop, and glide. So large, yet so graceful. As I stood in awe of it, a sudden realization hit me: my gaze had fallen left this time, toward the water. It wasn’t an intentional shift, but an inward decision to learn to find renewal in all the beauty that surrounds me daily. I spent the rest of my jog feeling immense gratitude for what I have, for all that I have to learn, and for the journey.

None of us could have anticipated that this would become the Lent-iest Lent ever.

We have no control over quarantines and global pandemics, and the struggle during this time has been oh so real. But I am certain that God can use this time to continue to help us see what’s really important.

There is no shopping to be done. No HGTV style makeovers. No vacations to be taken. No picture perfect Easter outfits to be chosen.

But there is beauty to be found each and every day. Some of these homeschooling days make me have to look REAL hard for it, but it’s there.

In every homecooked meal. In every story read. In every bike ride taken. In every sunset watched. In every flower bloomed. In every book that takes your breath away. In every song that fills you up. In every prayer. In every bedtime snuggle.

Beauty surrounds us. Perhaps it’s time we get reacquainted with it.

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Jenni Murray was born into a military family and moved around a good bit before settling on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, which she now considers “home.” She is a social worker turned stay-at-home mom and lives in Pascagoula with her husband and their 4 rambunctious and wonderful boys, ages 11, 8, 6, and 2. When she’s not doing laundry or refereeing little boys, she hides away to write for therapy. She loves God, her family, Diet Coke, and Disney World, in that order.


  1. A beautiful read! I hope people will look back on this time and appreciate the joys of nature, reading, listening to music, cooking homemade meals, and simply being with family, with less consumerism.

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