Plain and Simple, by Sue Bender

Plain and Simple“I had an obsession with the Amish. Plain and simple.”

- Sue Bender

Plain and Simple: A Woman’s Journey to the Amish, by Sue Bender, describes Bender’s attraction to the Amish culture, the time she spent living with Amish families and what she learned.

She describes her obsession as beginning when she saw some old quilts used as a backdrop in a men’s store. “They spoke directly to me,” she said. Bender often visited the quilts, in “something like a spiritual practice.”

She learned the quilts had been made by the Amish, who use a few geometric quilting patterns over and over.

Many years after falling in love with Amish quilts, Bender came across some “strange-looking dolls that had no features drawn on them” in a folk art gallery. She was drawn to these dolls and found the Amish had created these too.

“There was no rushing to finish so they could get on to the ‘important things.’ For them, it was all important.”

- Sue Bender

Bender eventually decides to go live with an Amish family. It was difficult, but eventually she found an Amish family in Iowa who would allow her to live with them.

She discovered the Amish lived simpler and more ordered lives than she did. They spent more time in the moment, and their daily lives reflected their faith.

“No distinction was made between the sacred and the everyday.

Five minutes in the early morning and five minutes in the evening were devoted to prayers. The rest of the day was spent living their beliefs. Their life was all one piece. It was all sacred – and all ordinary.

Two years after Bender’s visit to the Yoders, she returns to the area for another visit. This time, she stays with sister midwives (and the family of one of the sisters). The unmarried sister, fiercely independent, also practiced as a chiropractor.

“I thought it might be more fun to be an Amish man than an Amish woman.”

- Sue Bender

Plain and Simple spends a bit more time on the lives of Amish women than men. Although Bender found them generally content, despite the life of domesticity most led, she also felt their humility was stifling.

There was, however, more room for individuality among the women than you might suppose. One woman’s spectacular garden spelled her name in lettuce.

More seriously, the single midwife chose to exchange her white apron for a black. Although this was traditionally done only on marriage, her decision wasn’t challenged. She was even allowed to sit in the married women section at church.

“It’s time to celebrate the life I do have.”

- Sue Bender

Although Bender realizes there are advantages and disadvantages to the Amish lifestyle, she notes: “They lived with a short cord and lived fully, while I had a long cord and was always tripping over it.”

After returning home, she struggles to implement the lessons she learned from the Amish into own life, realizing that she doesn’t want to live an Amish lifestyle. Rather, she’s seeking the same calm and focus she found among the Amish community.

The Amish had found an answer to the question, “How can I live a good life?” They modeled another way to be. Their view of the world is different than mine, so they reached different conclusions about how to live. Their conclusions are not THE WAY, but one way – a way that works for them.

Bender concluded that her “task is to simplify and then go deeper, making a commitment to what remains. That’s what I’ve been after. To care and polish what remains till it glows and comes alive from loving care.”

She learns that declaring what is essential creates a framework for life. It eliminates some choices but gives meaning to the things that remain.”Satisfaction,” she says, “comes from giving up wishing I was somewhere else or doing something else.”

“To follow a ‘path that has heart,’ to take it wherever it leads, is not an Amish value, but it is a way I’ve come to value.”

- Sue Bender

I enjoyed reading this little book about Bender’s search for inner peace and simplicity. However, when deciding if you’d like to read it, know that Bender’s journey, not the Amish, is its primary focus. Also, it is not written from a religious perspective.

9 thoughts on “Plain and Simple, by Sue Bender

  1. Christy, I have lived around both the Amish and Mennonite communities most of my adult life. While I wish I could have more of the simplicity they have, working on that, I in no way would want their lifestyle completely, it is too rigid for my personality.

    1. I completely agree. However, I’ve always been the kind of person who loves to learn about many different angles and then choose what I like.

      I read a dozen books on how to train dogs, for instance, and instead of adopting any one book whole cloth, just took what resonated with me from each.

      For whatever reason, I’ve never (well, maybe rarely) found any one person or group’s set of beliefs to exactly match what I’m looking for.

    1. I’m always fascinated by people who do things like that. Wish I were braver – but I go for the next-best thing: reading other people’s stories.

  2. This sounds very interesting – that she found her own path by living with the Amish. Simplifying is so personal, and I love hearing how others find their own way. Thank you for sharing, Christy!

    1. Thanks, Tammy. I hope to continue to share others’ stories of simplifying. It seems I nearly always take away at least one idea that works for me from each story.

Leave a Reply