I recently finished reading a book entitled The Practice of the Presence of God (with Spiritual Maxims). It is a collection of thoughts by and about a simple monk who lived in the seventeenth century. He was not an abbot or a prior. He is not (yet) a Blessed, much less a saint.
He was the doorkeeper and kitchen-hand for his monastery.
Despite his humble position, he was revered for his holiness. His thoughts on “practicing God’s presence” have been transmitted by his confreres and have enhanced the spiritual lives of millions…including me.
I have learned a lot about Jesus and His Church over the last couple of years. I have tried really hard (in spurts) to become holy. But I fail, continuously, to make what I would consider “real progress”. It’s been, at times, quite frustrating.
So I’ve been looking for the missing piece, for the next step, for whatever it was I could do to make this virtue thing happen.
But, as Brother Lawrence’s little book helped me see, there are two problems with that.
The first is that I’m quite impatient.
I have this idea in my head of Jesus, and I know how deeply true His love and existence are, but my ability to love Him back is just now developing. Slowly. So. Freaking. Slowly.
And it was the same for Brother Lawrence.
As I read, he talked about being ever mindful of God’s presence, of learning by constant practice to raise your heart and mind to His, of living in a state of gratitude for and awareness of our Divine Beloved. He said it would be hard at first, but once you became acclimated to it, it would bear incredible fruit in your life and the lives of others.
Great! I thought. This is what I have needed to hear! This is the missing piece!
As I read further, I quickly became dismayed. He said it “only” took him ten years of constant dedication to this task before it became second nature.
Only ten years. Of constant dedication.
I keep wanting something to happen fast. But it won’t. Not in my marriage. Not in my professional life. Not in my prayer life. I just keep encountering little choices, little dramas, and my decisions in these moments either fold my broken little heart back in on itself, or they stretch the edges of my love just a little further, creating a bit more space for love and light to enter.
I sometimes wish I was like the Grinch, whose heart just magically grows three sizes in the blink of an eye.
But it doesn’t work like that, at least not for me. And, on second thought, I’m not sure I’d want it to, especially when I look at St. Paul: He had the dramatic conversion moment, but then had to spend the rest of his life enduring mockery and frustration and imprisonment as he followed Christ’s call.
Perhaps I shouldn’t complain as much about the gradual approach.
But nonetheless, it is difficult to be patient with myself. It’s difficult that I can’t just flip a switch to make myself a certain way. But I can tell, when I stay faithful to my prayer, faithful to putting myself in God’s presence, that something is happening to me, something good and beautiful and difficult.
As I will elaborate on in my next post, all I need do is keep showing up and trust that God will do the rest.