As you know I have been teaching the book Practicing the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. Our class came to the third letter that was written to Soldier. Brother Lawrence told the Soldier to carry out his duty as a guard with God. He told him that no one else would notice and that the mundane duty of marching back and forth between the gate he guarded was the perfect way to keep his mind on being in God’s presence.
I wanted to ask my class to find a task to do with God so I decided to purposefully practice God’s presence during a mundane task. It was early in the morning, and I really wanted to paint my toenails. It had been a while since they had been painted because of my foot surgery. I invited God to be with me as I painted my nails, a task I had never done before while conscious of God’s presence. I was ready for a different color, and I saw my toenails in desperate need of attention. I went outside on the patio to carry out my task so my nails would dry faster. It was dawn and not full light. While painting my nails, I realized that something was awry. I saw that the color was off and assumed I had chosen the pink rather than the coral. “Oh well, God, I thought, I guess pink is better than coral, assuming He had decided on a different color than I had in mind and I liked pink also.” My natural tendency was to assume that since I had invited God into this process, He must have decided to make Himself known through changing the color. But as the light became brighter I saw that I had picked up red not pink—that was the color I did not want for sure.
Red represented all the pain I had been through, everything I was trying to leave behind. I wondered, “God why didn’t you alert me to the fact that I had chosen the wrong color, as I painted my toenails with you?” I wasn’t mad or bratty in this question. After all, it was just toenail polish. I didn’t let my mind stay there. Rather I was so determined to have coral toenails that I decided to just use the red as the basecoat and paint coral right over. It was outside of my prior belief system about painting toenails (you need to use the same colors), but I did it anyway because I was so tired of red and ready for something new. Problem solved, I went on about my day.
It was later when I taught the class and used my experience as an example of practicing the presence with God that I better understood and appreciated the answer to the question I had asked but was not ready for an answer.
God never promises that just because we focus on Him during a mundane task, like painting toenails, that everything will turn out perfect! In fact, my toenail painting was definitely imperfect with smudges here and there. It is not a perfect where everything turns out better than you expect. Rather it is the experience of peace when even things you don’t expect to happen disappoint and leave you without what you wanted that you still have God’s presence. I even considered Him smiling while I sat there in the half dark so proud of myself for being so wise to teach my class how to paint their toenails with God and get a more exquisite result. Knowing my thoughts, I could see Him waiting patiently for the moment when I would realize that I had sat there and painted my own toenails red even while doing it for the love of God, of all things. I think He was proud when I didn’t lash out at Him or blame Him for not to alerting me about my folly, as if that was His job to make everything in my life turn out the way I expect.
I actually love to look down at my coral toenails with tiny streaks of red peeking out. They remind me of the truth Paul wrote in Romans 8:28:
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
A lesson God can each even from painting toenails.