The Monk and Me

“…we ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of GOD, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.”

That is what Brother Lawrence said. He was not educated enough to be a cleric in the monastery, so he worked in the kitchen, at the constant beck and call of his superiors. He also said this:

“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, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.”

And this:

“The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while 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 the blessed sacrament.[1]

I have been reading “The Practice of the Presence of God” and finding it very relevant to my life. So, what do I have in common with a French Carmelite monk from the 17th century? I suspect it has a lot to do with my life in the kitchen, my life of scrubbing and being at others’ needy beck and call. Do you ever feel like I do? That I do for free what you couldn’t pay a lot of people to do?

A wise aunt of mine advised me that the best way to deal with the repetitive nature of my household work is to learn to enjoy it. I get that. It totally makes sense. I actually really got a kick out of raising fat cabbages in my garden, shredding them up and making them into sour kraut. It was a satisfying project that turned out well, with 16 filled pint jars to show for it. I like baking carrot cake and spreading thick cream cheese icing on it. I really enjoy sewing cute little dresses for my girls, and making them matching blankets for their toddler beds.

But there are a few things I do not like, no matter how much Pollyanna logic I employ. I will never choose to iron clothes for fun. Neither will I just wish I would have something to clean. So what can I do when I really hate to do the thing that must be done? I can choose to worship. I can offer up the thing that I am doing to God and believe that it is acceptable and pleasing to Him, just as pleasing as if I were rescuing orphans or preaching the Gospel. It comes back to the love that Brother Lawrence described. The worst menial task I can imagine can be offered up to Jesus and become transformed into love’s work.

I am reminded of an early morning in Africa, just after the roosters started crowing. I was on a short term mission trip, and I heard someone heartily singing, “It is joy unspeakable and full of glory, full of glory, full of glory…” I wondered what on earth the guy was doing so early in the morning, what it could be that made him so happy. Peeking out the window, I saw him in the field next door, digging a hole to bury the contents of the toilet bucket.

Believe me, I am not at that exalted plain. I get really tired and I lose my joy, and I mutter and grumble about some of my tasks. That is why I am finding Brother Lawrence to be such excellent company these days.

3 thoughts on “The Monk and Me

  1. Pick up a straw for Jesus! Wow!! That monk really did have it figured out! I bet he got weary in well doing though too:) i think i will try to remember the joy unspeakable at night when i stumble out of bed:)

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