To my friend Brother Lawrence,
Greetings from the digital era. You’ll be pleased to know you have your own Wikipedia page now and you’ve managed to impact my daily routine despite living a partially concealed life of service in 17th-century Paris. Consider this a round of applause for living your life well and teaching me a few things.
You’re wondering how we met. Someone preserved your testimony by recalling conversations with you and compiling them along with letters into a little treasure chest called The Practice of the Presence of God. It’s been a while since I read it but I seem to recall that he didn’t ask your permission; he likely waited until you died and couldn’t protest. The thought makes me giggle. It was Father Joseph de Beaufort (who, for the record, does not have any Wikipedia love.) Now the world has the pleasure of peering into your heart through the pages of your book.
Your life was not much in the eyes of the world, hardly glamorous. You spent time bustling in a kitchen as a priory cook, preparing meals and cleaning. Apparently you did so with reverent humility and peace because you saw every dimension of your work as an opportunity to serve God. We both know the pace of a busy kitchen. You obviously had a lot of time to practice over the years.
Your tranquil presence caused people to wonder what set you apart. You made it clear: there was no work separate from prayer. You were spending quality time with God in each passing moment of everyday life. He was at work in your heart, imparting wisdom and pouring out love.
I am not a priory cook but some days it seems I hardly leave the kitchen. This season of motherhood is a mosaic of sticky spills, food scraps, dirty dishes and hungry children. Despite my best efforts there is also Lego constantly scattered across the kitchen floor (which I have not washed in days, let’s be honest.) It feels like relative chaos is the norm most afternoons. Over time it gets to me. It’s not a pleasant working environment and some days it feels like I can’t wait for “the other real stuff” to begin.
It wasn’t always like this. I used to pride myself on culinary gymnastics and keeping my kitchen orderly. Now the menus are humble. Sometimes the kitchen is contained but mostly it’s not. I’m learning to be okay with the pandemonium. The evidence is all over my home around 3:00pm.
Containing the mess monopolized my free moments when Isaac was young. I’m talking both literal and metaphorical messes. Clutter was everywhere. I mourned the loss of quality time in solitude and prayer. I felt guilty, like I was disappointing God or hiding. I believed a lie. I remember asking my pastor Carol to pray for me and she lovingly did so, recognizing my longing for communion. She then reminded me that God was pleased with me and the work I was doing with Isaac and though I might not spend time with Him as I once did, He was not absent and I was not out of His sight. He loves you deeply, she said. This was a mighty encouragement. This got the ball rolling in the right direction.
Then I eventually met you, Brother Lawrence.
You taught me to redesign my household operations. Now I see them as opportunities to spend time with God and serve others in the midst of the trodden Cheerios. I’m also learning to see myself reflected in the state of my kitchen. I can look at the hot mess and proclaim, “Yes, you’re filthy. But the work is not over!” Then I tidy it up and offer up a hearty, “Hallelujah! My kitchen has been redeemed!” and pour myself a drink. The never-ending cycle reminds me that God is also forever at work in my spirit – His kitchen – tidying, trimming, polishing, rearranging, pitching the waste and producing hearty things worth sharing. I like to think that God and I are sharing counter space and having a laugh.
This way of life does indeed take practice. I’ve realized that in the seasons when my mind and heart ricochet from God, all that is necessary is a simple “Sorry, Lord, I’m back” and not a long-winded journal entry full of self-deprecating drivel. That’s not what God wants to hear. God just wants my company and he doesn’t mind the mess. My time in the kitchen is not lost time. Thank you for showing me that.
I do plan on publishing books but it’s nice to know that if something prevents that from happening, someone else might finish the job on my behalf. I doubt my insights will resonate with people centuries down the line but I guess either way I’ll never know. Who cares, right?
Okay. The kitchen’s calling. Goodnight.