The Discouragement of Brother Lawrence

Spiritual discouragement can cause us to judge the Christian life. Either we judge ourselves incapable of true, authentic spiritual experiences, or we begin to assume that deep satisfaction in our faith is unrealistic. Either way, allowing the voice of discouragement to speak a defining word dampens the voice of Christ’s love, acceptance, and grace. Eventually, this may push us away from the community of faith altogether.

Have you ever uncovered this?  Have you ever judged your spiritual experiences negatively? Of course, you want to feel the presence of Jesus; you want to pray deeply and fervently. The voice of spiritual discouragement, however, makes you believe that you are incapable of such experiences. “There must be something about me that makes Jesus not want to interact with my life as He does with others,” you whisper to yourself.

Or is this just me.

This is nothing new. Such experiences are common in the Christian life. Christians throughout the centuries have battled spiritual discouragement. Consider Brother Lawrence as a prime example. Brother Lawrence’s “The Practice of the Presence of God” is a classic text of Christian devotion.Throughout the centuries, many people have found this text to be a source of inspiration for their devotional life. In this work, Lawrence explains how he laboured to keep the presence of God fully before his mind each hour of each day. This enabled Lawrence to see each moment as a moment of divine intimacy and worship. Even the kitchen, amid the pots and pans, became a holy sanctuary for him.

Lawrence’s talk of feeling bathed in God’s presence seems fantastic and blissful. Because of this, it can be easy to dismiss his experience as far fetched, fraudulent even. This rarely matches the experience of our own lives. Even if we allow a certain truthfulness to Lawrence’s spiritual experiences, our own discouragement tells us that such experiences are reserved for mystics or monastics. Either way, the point is that we are cut off from such an experience of God’s presence.

Brother Lawrence, however, is honest that he had been trying his exercise for over thirty years.  His experience of spiritual struggle comes resounding through this classic text. Even at the point of writing his letters, Lawrence did not consider himself a master at the spiritual life.

What Brother Lawrence does not do, however, is allow his spiritual discouragement to speak a final word. Lawrence refuses to allow his discouragement to dissuade his belief that he could grow closer to Jesus. His letters describe how he “examined himself, how he had discharged his duty; if he found well, he returned thanks to God; if otherwise, he asked pardon; and without being discouraged, he set his mind right again, and continued his exercise on the presence of God, as if he had never deviated from it” (fourth conversation; my emphasis). Instead of looking at his discouragement, Lawrence continued to set his sight on the desire to journey closer to Jesus in loving intimacy.

Our faith rarely exists in palaces of simple logic or problem-free solutions. We face discouragements; we struggle with God’s silence in prayer, we sometimes are left bereft of an answer for what is occurring in our lives. Our faith grows when, like Brother Lawrence, we develop a bold stubbornness that refuses to see ourselves condemned for being discouraged. Yes, we can recognise our faith-struggle and allow ourselves to feel the pricks of frustration. Such experiences, however, do not necessarily pronounce a judgement upon our life with God. Amid such discouragement, we are free to ask pardon, turn around, and embrace Jesus with renewed fervour.  Brother Lawrence did it, and so can we.

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