“I’m falling in love with Frank,” I told my husband. He raised a puzzled eyebrow and asked, “Who’s Frank?”
At first glance, Frank Laubach appears to be a craggy-faced old man—someone you’d expect to glare at you from behind a judge’s desk, solemnly intoning orders. But behind his thick white brows and somber expression was a man whose heart yearned after God. Recently I was reading the letters he wrote to his father from a missionary post in the Philippines describing his “experiment” of living every moment in an awareness of the loving presence of God. Here’s an excerpt from a letter written January 26, 1930:
For the past few days I have been experimenting in a more complete surrender than ever before. I am taking by deliberate act of will, enough time from each hour to give God much thought. Yesterday and today I have made a new adventure, which is not easy to express. I am feeling God in each movement, by an act of will – willing that He shall direct these fingers that now strike this typewriter – willing that He shall pour through my steps as I walk – willing that He shall direct my words as I speak, and my very jaws as I eat!
You will object to this intense introspection. Do not try it, unless you feel dissatisfied with your own relationship with God, but at least allow me to realize all the leadership of God I can. I am disgusted with the pettiness and futility of my unled self. If the way out is not more perfect slavery to God then what is the way out? Paul speaks of our liberty in Christ. I am trying to be utterly free from everybody, free from my own self, but completely enslaved to the will of God every moment of this day.
Later that year, about four months into his experiment, he wrote:
All day I see souls dead to God look sadly out of hungry eyes. I want them to know my discovery! That any minute can be paradise, that any place can be heaven! That any man can have God! That every man does have God the moment he speaks to God, or listens for him!
That any minute can be paradise, that any place can be heaven. I wondered if Frank really was “any man.” Was this experience truly available to “any” man, “any” woman? Any minute for me might be spent changing the diapers—can this be paradise? Or emptying the compost—can it be heaven? Loading the dishwasher or washing the sheets—can I have God in this? Can a mother of a sixteen-month-old know Frank's kind of joy and meaning in the midst of the busy hum-drum of life, without having much space or time for quiet solitude with God?
The “practice of the presence of God” that Frank sought is a way for the busy (and also for the not-so-busy) among us to begin to think and live out of Love, to “Put on the mind of Christ.” It is about living all that I do in the presence of God, remembering him whenever I can. At one point, Frank wrote about trying to think of God for one second out of every sixty so that eventually thoughts of God would naturally be present behind and within everything he did. I told my husband about this and his immediate reaction was, “What’s the beginner’s version?”
When I began to try Frank’s practice, I realized that the beginner’s version for me equaled a sporadic handful of moments throughout the day. The intent, however, of turning my simple and loving attention toward Jesus whenever I could remember, was a step that brought me some beautiful moments of awareness. I have had more than one moment when I cleaned up my baby’s diaper with tender patience even as she screamed and kicked her feet in dismay at being laid down on the change table. It felt like Jesus was loving her chubby little self through me. I’ve also experienced moments of love while preparing food—love for the people who would eat whatever dish I was preparing, and gratitude to nature and to the farmers and processors who worked to bring the different ingredients into my kitchen. I’ve had times of just being more present myself to the gift of the beauty around me in the 1/8 inch-long green bug on my knee as it wobbled back-and-forth, or in the warm breeze of a summer morning carrying stargazer lily perfume in my direction. I've known a new kind of presence while sharing conversation with people, a greater love toward the long-winded, a totally different experience in the dental hygienist’s chair as Christ invited me to send love in her direction.
On June 16, 1930, Frank wrote:
Last Monday was the most completely successful day of my life to date so far as giving my day in complete and continuous surrender to God is concerned - though I shall hope for far better days - and I remember how as I looked at people with a love God gave, they looked back and acted as though they wanted to go with me. I felt then that for a day I saw a little of that marvelous pull that Jesus had as he walked along the road day after day ‘God-intoxicated’ and radiant with the endless communion of his soul with God.
The endless communion of Jesus’ soul with God—this is what Jesus longed for us to have when he painted a picture of the vine and the branches in John 15. As we make our home in him, as we abide in him, as we cultivate a secret conversation between our souls and the Lord, life will flow through us and fruit will be borne. This is prayer without ceasing in a way that doesn’t pull us away from life but actually engages us with life more fully than ever.
Does it sound too beautiful, too ideal, too unattainable, this kind of spirit? Try it. See if God doesn’t bring you the same joy and love that he brought to Frank and to Jesus before him. And to me too, in the moments when I remember.
Excerpts taken from Letters by a Modern Mystic, Revell: 1937. Reprint available: Purposeful Design Publications; 3rd edition (December 31, 2007).
Sarah Fusté and her husband, Robert, are the co-directors of Still Waters Retreat Center in Buchanan, Michigan. Read an interview with Sarah and the founder of Still Waters, Delcy Kuhlman, here.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/2693