I remember back in late high school or early college: There was this short Christian classic on sale or clearance or something and I wanted to get it. A small part actually wanting to be the kind of person to read such books, and a larger part wanting to seem to be the kind of person to read such books, I snagged it. I read through it a bit. I smiled. I even understood a few sentences.
In college, it was mentioned here and there. I knew the topic vaguely, and smiled and nodded whenever someone mentioned it in conversation. Yes, that is quite a good book. Yes, I do so enjoy practicing the presence of God, just like Brother Lawrence did in “Practicing the Presence of God”. Whether doing the dishes (as he did) or other menial tasks that my day to day existence brings me, I love the fact that Christ always offers to be very near. God truly is with us, closer than we often realize.
I was a bit surprised then, when reading the book more closely for my current course on Spiritual Formation, to find so much in the book I didn’t like. When the author writes Brother Lawrence (let’s call him Larry) to tell him of a friend who loses a close friend to death, Larry tells him to advise his friend to use these moments to his advantage. “What a great opportunity to give the part of your heart previously given to your friend back to God where it belongs!”, he seems to say. Or when the author himself is aging and enduring intense suffering of some sort, Larry refuses to pray his suffering would be taken away. Instead, Larry insists on praying that God would strengthen the author to endure the suffering that is most likely God’s way of refining his heart and soul. No, I do not like this guy much at all. I don’t think I would have written him as much as the author seemed to. A man who neurotically spent at least 10 years of his life anxious that he shouldn’t be distracted in thought or feeling by anything that might take God’s place, finally ending up with peace (albeit alone, and without much pleasure it would seem beyond the “presence of God”). No, I do not like this guy much at all.
Yet…I can appreciate his heart. A heart that yearns for the presence of God so much that everything else – even the extremely important things in life – melt away. An experience of God’s presence, even in suffering alone, that gives him a sense of complete and udder wholeness that so many empty people in our world are hungry for.
I’ll admit, wrestling with his message comes at a poignant time. Last week was the final week of Lent. The season of preparing for Easter. It was also a week of waiting for an important update in terms of our adoption. This journey that has taken over 3 years, it finally feels like our boat has spotted land. So it takes a bit of humility to confess that I, a pastor who was allowed to even baptize several people this morning, was distracted most of my week by checking my e-mail for an update that never came. That dotting my week of anticipating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I was experiencing the brokenness of a human whose heart is not at complete peace in this broken world.
Part of me realizes that’s probably okay. Jesus was certainly not often “at peace” in this world. Another part of me realizes, there’s something to all this stuff Larry was talking about.
But before you or I go out and leave our family, secluding ourselves in monasteries away from our spouses and children, aiming to live like Larry and push away anything that threatens to occupy a place in our hearts – I don’t think that is required. But we can be reminded in powerful ways, the truths found in Scriptures like 1 Corinthians 15. That Jesus died and was resurrected. The truth of this powerful statement impacts us as individuals, and puts every anxious thought, every deep-seated need/emotion, and every well-intentioned prayer in a wonderfully redemptive context.
The Truth of a resurrected Jesus Christ releases us from serving the state of our situations. Even though there are times (like this past week, and probably again in the future) we don’t want to hear it, the words of Brother Lawrence come as important reminders: Even really important and good things are not “foundational” the way Christ and His resurrection are. We can have Peace, even in the midst of needing peace. That is something the world considers foolish. That is something scripture considers faith.
That is something my daughters need from their father. Something my wife needs from her husband. And so, not as an individual but as a family – we work to shape our heart to seek pleasure only in the things that please God. We seek to walk with Him as the center of our being. We confess that this is not an easy road, and we sometimes lose focus. But we return to this walk and practice – together.
(and really really pray that our boat would draw a big step closer to “land” this week) 🙂