Have you ever felt that the bulk of your day is chock-full of routine and mundane tasks that seemingly have little or no eternal value? Some things are everyday like making the bed or brushing your teeth. Other things are once a week like cleaning the toilets and laundry. Some are multiple times a week like going to the market or watering the garden. All tasks that get squeezed in between the other events of your day that are also fairly routine and uneventful: charting on a patient, writing a report, answering phones, the commute.
I can’t remember exactly how I was introduced to Brother Lawrence. I’m pretty sure it was over forty years ago (yikes!) when I was still in high school. I’ve been thinking about a lot about his immensely practical concept: practicing the presence of God.
Brother Lawrence was a lay brother in a Carmelite monastery in 17th century Paris. He was uneducated and therefore unable to become a cleric. Instead he was assigned to the kitchen and in his later years repaired sandals. While performing his tedious tasks cooking and cleaning, and at the constant bidding of his superiors, he developed his rule for spirituality and work. Everything, no matter how mundane or tedious, could be a channel for God’s love.
To Brother Lawrence, the motivation behind the task, not the task itself, was what mattered:
Nor is it needful that we should have great things to do. . . We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him … It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.
Cultivating a keen awareness of God’s constant presence in our everyday lives is a lifelong endeavor. It requires a constant mindfulness on our part to be aware of what we’re doing, no matter how routine or unimportant, as if God is present with us. It also calls us to be mindful of everyone around us as we are a conduit of God’s love to that person. It forces us to be thoughtful and thorough, bringing a simplicity back to our otherwise frenetic and disjointed lives.
Brother Lawrence felt having a proper heart about tasks made every detail of his life possess surpassing value. And I think the same holds true for us today in the 21st century. Yes, some of us may have vocations that significantly impact the lives of thousands of people. Most of us, however, spend our lives just doing the stuff of life; behind-the-scenes, routine, necessary, and seemingly mundane.
One thing I’ve learned, however, is that sometimes the most mundane is the most sacred. Our lives are rife with stress and strife, and it’s not without basis. What I’ve found is that the more stress and strife that I’m experiencing is exactly the time I need most to practice the presence of God. I may be relegated to the indigent medical clinic for example, but I can be a conduit of God’s love and presence to the others who are also tossed into the abyss of the uninsured. I may be fixing a theme on a chicken variation for dinner, but the care and presentation of a well-loved recipe is a but a backdrop for a good time with family or friends around the table.
Your mission – should you chose to accept it – is to practice the presence of God in one thing you do daily this week. The more mundane, the better. I’d love to hear how it goes!