After I read Practicing the Presence of Godby Brother Lawrence in 1996, I wanted to be like him. I wanted the spiritual life he described. I wanted to become so consumed by the love of God that every action I took was about my relationship with God. The book is an easy read and a Christian classic that I believe every Christian should read. This simple kitchen worker with a limp, an un-cloistered monk who worked in the kitchen, not even a priest but he spiritually influenced Cardinals during his life. Not to mention that no one can count how many Christians he has influenced over the centuries after his death. He never wrote a book, but his letters and notes from conversations have been complied into a little book that has a simple message about our complex spiritual lives.
For the first time, I am teaching his book week by week to a class. Most in the class are new to his writings. I can see that they, too, want to be like Brother Lawrence. They want the freedom to love God twenty-four hours a day. They sense that the distance they feel between themselves and God could actually diminish as they read his story. What I have learned in the three decades that I have wanted what Brother Lawrence experienced here on earth is that I should never give up my attempt to love God twenty-four hours a day. (I can personally attest to how difficult that is to do on a 10-day silent retreat while a guest at a monastery. I think there was a day or two that my heart remained totally dedicated to my love for God, but I can’t be sure).
It is in teaching the class that I recognize the small steps I have made into living out the desire of my heart. Back in 1996 I absolutely hated cleaning my house. I hated it so much that I asked for a maid as my Christmas present from my husband (my home was only 1300 square feet). But that was only for a year (after my son was born), and then I went back to my dreaded task of cleaning that small home. After reading Brother Lawrence, I began cleaning my home for the love of God. When I scrubbed the toilet, I would confess my sins and realize that I didn’t deserve to even have this task. When I would fold the laundry, I would pray for the individual family member to whom the laundry belonged. I didn’t realize it until I was teaching, but I can honestly say that I love cleaning my house. I just thought I was growing up, but in reality I began cleaning my house and going about my tasks somewhat for the love of God, and it had a huge effect on me.
Not that I don’t want to allow God to invite me into a more constant relationship with Him. This is the instruction of Brother Lawrence. I do recognize that the Holy Spirit has been faithful to take my wish to become more connected to Him on a daily basis even more seriously than I did. He was faithful to produce the fruit in me in spite of the fact that my feeble attempts did not deserve His gift of grace. This in itself motivates me to love Him more.
Through teaching the class I am more conscious of doing everything I do for the love of God. I have plenty of opportunities each day to put that into practice. Rather than judging my neighbors for throwing their trash in the bushes when the dumpster is only a couple yards away, I can pick up that trash and take it to the dumpster out of love for God. I can drive out of love for Him, rather than condemning the uncourteous (in my mind) person who cuts me off. I can be gentle with myself too, not judging my lack of God-obsessing moment by moment, and be grateful for all the ways God lives in me in spite of myself.
1 Thessalonians 5:17 says simply: “Pray without ceasing.” Praying without ceasing is the message of Brother Lawrence. His book gives the application to this seemingly impossible instruction. What has surprised me most is that there are ways that I have been praying without ceasing that I had not noticed. Yet God notices every little effort I make!