More than anyone else, it was two 17th-century writers who showed me how to live my most intimate relationship -- my relationship with God.
“Fight loneliness. Choose the beautiful. Sweat gratitude.”
In college, I received an interesting assignment during senior year. I had to create a life motto for myself. The goal was to assemble a set of guiding principles that summed up who you wanted to be. As I brainstormed my motto, I thought about my time studying, and was struck by the loneliness around me in college — over the years, I had come to realize people craved (and lacked) human connection.
The first line of my motto therefore became: “Fight loneliness.” I wanted to actively engage with other people to defeat isolation wherever I could for the rest of my future.
Strengthening our human relationships is important. We were all made for one specific relationship above all others, however. It is that particular relationship that will provide the truest intimacy, the most lasting antidote to loneliness, and the one that won’t fail regardless of how much we get it wrong.
Two important teachers
More than anyone else, it was two celibate men from the 17th century who taught me how to live this most important and intimate relationship — my relationship with God, my Creator and Redeemer.
The two men are Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection and St. Alphonsus Liguori. Each wrote a very short, easy-to-read book that I highly recommend. They are The Practice of the Presence of God and How to Converse Continually and Familiarly With God.
The theme of both books is something along the lines of “taking every thought captive for Christ” (as St. Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians 10:5) by turning your day over to Him over and over again. This means that every mundane, ugly, extraordinary, and beautiful moment of your life can be used to grow in relationship with God.
The way of St. Alphonsus
St. Alphonsus gives many practical steps for turning moments to God. Here are three: First of all, be aware of everything around you as a gift from Him. When you notice the beauty of the sunset, or a snowflake on the window, or a little plant pushing its way up through the cracks in the sidewalk, immediately thank Him for His Creation. This extends to all good things that happen during a day.
Secondly, ask for help immediately during the struggles that turn up throughout the day. Remember when Peter starts walking towards Jesus in the water and starts to get nervous and flounder? He calls out to Jesus saying, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately stretches out his hand. (Matthew 14:30-31). Simply crying out in your mind, “Lord, help!” is enough.
The third way is to live this intimacy with God is to immerse yourself in His word and graces. So much of St. Alphonsus’ book is direct quotes or allusions to scripture, which points to the fact that the more you know God’s word, the more easily it comes to mind in any situation. An easy way to try is to read through the Psalms or Gospels, slowly, for a few minutes each day. Mass is great exposure to God’s Word as well.
The way of Brother Lawrence
Brother Lawrence, in his book, gives an even more direct and accessible way to grow intimacy. In everything that you do, from washing the dishes, to walking the dog, to working in your garden, you can form the habit of giving each moment to God. Brother Lawrence hated the kitchen—he would much rather have had a different job in his religious community. But, because of his practice of the presence of God, he found the kitchen tolerable and even grew to like washing dishes.
Let’s dig deeper using Brother Lawrence’s kitchen example. As you enter to wash the dishes at the sink after a meal, offer the moment to God. That’s as simple as praying silently, “Here Jesus, this dish is for you.”
Or when you wake up and brush your teeth you can say quietly “I love you, thanks for this day. This fresh breath is for you.” Use your own words, of course, but Brother Lawrence’s key is to realize that at every moment you are in the presence of God, and then acknowledging that fact to Him as often as you can.
Each holy man’s insight works with the other. The more you thank God for the beauty you see, ask Him for help in your struggles, and fill yourself with His Word, the more you can acknowledge his presence at every moment — and vice versa. And in that way, in the depths of our souls, we can cultivate the only intimacy that makes life worth living.