Is It Possible to Experience God’s Peace When Your Work Is Making You Crazy?

Does your work ever make you feel crazy? I wouldn’t be surprised if it did because this is a pretty common experience. There are lots of reasons why work can make us crazy. Sometimes it happens because our boss is, well, crazy-making. He or she may be always changing course, or giving inconsistent directions, or making impossible demands. Sometimes our customers can make us crazy with their petty, privileged demands. Or, perhaps it’s the pace of work that can drive you crazy. You’ve got so much going on at once that you can barely focus on any one project. Or . . . . You can fill in the blanks.

In times like these, I confess I find it difficult to experience God’s presence, not to mention God’s peace. Thus, I am challenged by the quotation from Brother Lawrence, the one I included in yesterday’s post. Here it is again:

“For me,” [Lawrence] said, “the time of work does not differ from the time of prayer. Even in the noise and clutter of my kitchen—when several persons are at the same time calling for different things—I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at communion.”

Dunster House of Harvard College. I worked in the dining hall of this dorm my freshman year.
Dunster House of Harvard College. I worked in the dining hall of this dorm my freshman year.

How do you respond to Lawrence’s statement about “great tranquility”? How do you feel about his saying that he experiences deep peace in the midst of “the noise and clutter” of the kitchen where he worked?

I’ll share with you some of my own responses. At first, what Brother Lawrence says feels almost inappropriately boastful, until I remember that he said this in a private conversation with his superior, to whom he had a commitment to complete honesty. It’s doubtful that Lawrence believed his simple statement would be read by any others, not to mention the millions of others who have read The Practice of the Presence of God.

If I did not know who Lawrence was, I might be inclined to doubt his claim here. I have known too many Christians who pretend that their spiritual life is amazing. Sometimes they are motivated by pride. Mostly, they are motivated by the shame of feelings as if their life with God doesn’t measure up. So they pretend and exaggerate. I don’t believe this was the case with Brother Lawrence, however. He was well known among his peers for exactly the kind of intimacy with God about which he speaks. My skepticism is, no doubt, a reflection of my own impoverished experience of God rather than Lawrence’s exaggeration.

Once I get beyond my resistance to what Lawrence says here, I find myself both relating and not relating to his statement. Though I don’t work in a kitchen anymore (I did when I was a freshman in college), I regularly experience the “noise and clutter” of my work life, namely: emails, phone calls, travel arrangements, meetings, expectations, etc. I get the chaos of which Lawrence speaks. But what I don’t get, at least not very often, is the experience of “possessing God in as great tranquility [at work] as if I were upon my knees at communion.” Here’s where I need Lawrence to teach me as well as to inspire me. Here’s where I need the Spirit of God to awaken my heart and open my eyes to God’s gracious and trustworthy presence as I do my work.

Thus, my response to Lawrence’s claim to “great tranquility” includes a fair measure of envy. I wish I were like Lawrence! I believe this is possible, at least to some extent. You see, Lawrence was able to experience God’s peace in a crazy-making workplace because he had practiced God’s presence for countless hours during many, many years. He wasn’t just magically attuned to the Lord. Rather, he learned through disciplined practice to be aware of God in the context of his daily work.

I’ll have more to say about this in future blog posts. For now, let me encourage you to reflect on your own experience of God, especially in the context of your work. How would you describe this experience?

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