“Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. “
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Pray without ceasing. . . what does this mean? Can we really pray constantly as St. Paul tells us to do in this verse? Most of us are not cloistered―we live in this very busy world―a world full of high expectations and productivity ―a world in which we run from activity to activity―a world in which we are bombarded with constant media. I know that I easily get caught up in filling my day to overflowing. My thoughts and my body are generally traveling a mile a minute aiming to keep up with all that needs to be done for the day whether I am at work or home―answering calls and emails, doing errands or laundry, attending meetings or social events. I’m sure you can all relate, our to do lists can be endless.
So again―how do we realistically “pray without ceasing” and still fulfill all the daily obligations we have?
The answer for me came over 20 years ago as a young mother, when I discovered Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection. I cannot recall who introduced me to this humble Carmelite Friar. I believe it was either an elderly priest or my dad―both prayerful, very busy men. Brother Lawrence and his simple way of prayer changed my life. I was having difficulty as a young mother trying to reconcile the changes I needed to make in my prayer life. Before children I was accustomed to attending daily Mass and having more time for reading Scripture, praying and community service. I discovered that this former lifestyle was not possible with young children. I needed to live my prayer life in a new way―Brother Lawrence showed me how to do this. And I’ve found this way to be good for a lifetime.
Let me share a little about this man who lived a very quiet, unassuming life, an almost hidden life. Brother Lawrence was a simple, uneducated man who lived during the 1600’s. He was often described as rough in appearance but gentle in grace. After having served in the military he joined the Discalced Carmelite Order but was not allowed to become a priest due to his lack of education. For almost 15 years his duties were in the busy monastery kitchen, a job which he had a great aversion to, however, he decided he would do all of his tasks with joy and for the love of God. Brother Lawrence adopted the practice of trying to continually remain in the presence of God. Before beginning any task he offered it up to the Lord and while working he would speak to our Lord or raise his heart to Him acknowledging Him. After completing a task Brother Lawrence would thank Him. If he realized that he had forgotten the Lord for some time rather than get discouraged he would confess his fault and return to the practice. Brother Lawrence called this way of prayer “practicing the Presence of God”, and practice he did until it became second nature to him. He almost always remained in what he called continual silent conversation with God and often felt as though it was only he and God in the world. The job or task he was doing didn’t matter to him because he had made a conscious decision to do everything for the love of God―moment to moment―hour to hour. He said that God doesn’t consider the work but the love with which we are doing the work. Brother Lawrence became so accustomed to being in God’s presence at all times that he did not distinguish times of activity with times of prayer as he expressed in these words: “The times of activity are not at all different from the hours of prayer, for I possess God as peacefully in the commotion of my kitchen, where often enough several people are asking me for different things at the same time, as I do when kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament.”
THIS is what I wanted to strive for! This is what I still strive for! I think what drew me so strongly to Brother Lawrence’s way of prayer is the simplicity. His way of prayer is available to all―no matter what station or position in life. We do not need to be theologians to draw close to God. Brother Lawrence believed that the shortest road to holiness was to do everything for God. We can all become holy no matter our vocation by offering all that we do for Christ.
Brother Lawrence encouraged everyone to adopt this method of prayer. He believed it was simple and easy. I must agree that it is simple but I do not think it is easy! Taming my mind and heart and keeping them focused on the Lord continually is not an easy task ―in fact it is quite challenging! Although Brother Lawrence did not get discouraged, I often do. However, we can be encouraged by his words “Drawing near to this presence of God may be a little painful in the beginning, but it produces marvelous effects in the soul when it is faithfully practiced. It draws down in abundance the graces of the Lord and carries the soul without effort to that pure gazing, that loving sight of God present everywhere, which is the holiest, the firmest, the easiest, and the most powerful manner of prayer.”
I was also encouraged by Brother Lawrence’s belief that to practice this intimate conversation with God requires only courage, good will and the truth of deeds. I figured even if I didn’t posses these qualities I could always ask God to provide them, so I did and I still do! I began practicing talking to God more often during the day and the night, while changing diapers, preparing meals, playing with my children, while spending months on bed rest during pregnancies and caring for a very ill child.
I learned to talk to God, simply and often very succinctly: thank you, please help, what do I say now Lord, please forgive me. It also helps to make the work I do a prayer―when I fold laundry as I fold each piece of clothing I pray for the person who will put it on, for example, when folding a pair of my son’s pants I ask God to always help him to walk in his ways. As my children grew and I taught them to do laundry I also taught them to pray―I horrified the girls when I folded their underwear and asked God to keep them pure! I pray when I garden and pull out weeds, asking God to remove the weeds in my heart; I pray when I cook thanking him for his provision and asking him to give us the sustenance we need in our hearts; when I wash dishes I ask that he cleanse us of all that is not of him; I pray when I drive asking him to show me the way he has chosen for me to go.
Praying throughout my day has become more natural but I still have a long way to go. Today, often my prayers throughout the day are just short verses of a song or a scripture that express my emotion, needs or gratitude. Time set aside for daily scripture, Mass and prayer are still very important because they nourish me and give me food for all the minutes in-between. Without the Eucharist or the Word of God my thoughts and words would be lacking―like a one-sided conversation. Any good relationship requires listening. We only come to know another by attentively listening to what they have to say and watching how they live. Coming to know a person by spending quality time, with him or her, allows us at times to be intimately present without words―to be comfortable and feel loved with just a look a gaze or an embrace. This is the intimacy we strive for with our Lord, the intimacy that Brother Lawrence discovered and wanted to share with everyone.
All material and quotes on Brother Lawrence were taken from – Writings and Conversations on the practice of the presence of God, Lawrence – Meester Conrad De –ICS Publications – 1994, Washington, D.C.