I’ve written before about the phenomenon of practicing.
You may or may not have noticed the list of “Recent Reads” down towards the bottom of the right sidebar. Current reading projects include: The Wisdom of the Enneagram, Enthroned on Our Praise, and The House of the Seven Gables, which my wife and I are reading aloud together.
But a few weeks ago, I read through a Christian classic, The Practice of the Presence of God. The book is routinely cited in support of the notion that whatever we’re doing in the course of our day can be an outworking of prayer. In the midst of whatever we’re doing, we can be in continual conversation with God.
Nice idea, perhaps, but I’m not so certain that this way of living is the spiritual ideal that we all need to shoot for.
I’ve had people suggest that I try praying and walking, praying and gardening, praying and doing laundry, praying and doing dishes, praying and driving, praying and reading emails. For me, each of those has been complete “failures.”
I’m a one-track-mind kind of guy. I’m really terrible at multitasking when it means having to absorb multiple streams of input at once. If I’m on the phone and my wife tries to tell me something, forget it; either I have to ignore the person on the phone or I have to ignore my wife–I can’t process both at the same time.
When I was in graduate school, I used to put a movie on in the background while studying or writing a paper. Before I knew it, the credits were rolling and I had no idea what happened in the movie. As a result, I learned to only put on movies that I was very familiar with and which didn’t require me to invest any attention.
Nonetheless, we’re encouraged to multitask when it comes to prayer. “All of life should be prayer.” If that were true for me, I literally think that I wouldn’t do anything else at all. Not even eating. For me, it’s one thing at a time; it may not be efficient, but slow and steady wins the race.
So, the question is: do I need to attain this state described by Brother Lawrence in his book? Must I master the skill of doing two things at once, of talking (and listening) to God and…walking/driving/doing chores? Do I need to invest the energy in disciplining my mind, body, and spirit so that I can achieve this state of ethereal efficiency?
So far, I’m not convinced that I do.
Don’t get me wrong: I pray, regularly, daily, and make a significant investment of time in doing so. But I can’t do anything else during those minutes. It’s just prayer. It’s just dialogue with God. Talking and listening, with undivided attention–and even that’s difficult enough, because the mind certainly has a tendency to wander.
Perhaps for some people (A.D.D. types?) the extra stimulation of an additional activity helps to give focus and maintain attention. But not me. GOD + ANYTHING = ONE OR THE OTHER, not both. And I don’t feel bad about it, though sometimes I think I should.
Prayer does take practice. It is a skill of communication that can be developed. All of life can be lived for God, but for me, every moment cannot be lived in continual conversation with Him. Sure, I can be available, ready for Him to speak, for Him to interrupt my day and activity at any time. But to think that I can achieve a state in which I do everything that I’m planning to while also talking to Him is impossible. And frankly, potentially irreverent as well.
My wife usually isn’t too excited when I decide to ignore her words as she speaks up while I’m on the phone with someone. And rightly so: I’m not honoring her or valuing her when I ignore her in those situations. But I don’t know how else to handle the multiple streams of input, and I make my choice of who’s going to get ignored.
The thought of placing myself into a situation where I will have to continually choose to either ignore God or the work that He’s given me to do seems like a bad idea for me. I want to honor Him, to be fully present and engaging in our times together. Giving Him half my attention (as if that were even possible for me) really doesn’t seem like a good idea, and since it’s basically all or nothing with me, I think I’m best to give Him my all, and not try to setup a competition between Him and the day’s errands.
Brother Lawrence may think me unspiritual, undisciplined, falsely segmented in my approach to life.
Oh well. It’s not His relationship with God, it’s mine. And I don’t have a sense from God that He’s displeased about the choices I’m making in this area. And if He is, I’ll make sure that He’s got my undivided attention for a portion of each day so that we can talk about it.