Good News / MetaFaith|
Preferences and the Presence of God
by Wayne Ferguson
26.08.2007, changed 31.08.2007
Nearly four hundred years ago, a Christian mystic named Brother Lawrence learned to practice the presence of God and was gracious enough to share what he had learned with a friend:
"After having given myself wholly to God to make all the satisfaction I could for my sins, I renounced, for the love of Him, everything that was not God; and I began to live as if there was none but He and I in the world. . . . I worshipped Him the oftenest I could, keeping my mind in His holy presence and recalling it as often as I found it wandered from Him." [More]
Note that Brother Lawrence did not always perform this exercise flawlessly:
"I found no small pain in this exercise. Yet I continued it notwithstanding all the difficulties that occurred." [More]
But despite the difficulties, he informs his friend, "I tried not to trouble or disquiet myself when my mind wandered." Rather, as indicated above, he simply recalled his mind to God's holy presence as often as he noticed it wandered from Him.
About 300 years after Brother Lawrence, the Sufi mystic Hazrat Inayat Khan also wrote about practicing the presence of God:
"Every moment passed outside the presence of God is sin, and every moment in His presence is virtue." [More]
Most of the time, it seems, we are tempted away from God's presence by inordinate desires of one kind or another. And all too often, such desires are rooted in feelings of fear and insecurity. As an elderly Christian lady once remarked to me, somewhat ironically, "I guess it's easier to worry than to trust!”
Indeed, for many of us, such worries can be truly difficult to shake. Rather than pretending they don't exist or simply giving in and becoming consumed by them, another option is to pray about the things that are worrying us, expressing our desires in the form of preferences as we continue to practice the presence of God: Lord, I would prefer such-an-such, nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.
Let’s say, for example, that we are worried about how a job or other relationship is unfolding: Lord, I would prefer that this job or relationship works out in the way that I have imagined it, nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.
Perhaps we are afraid of the possible results of some foolish mistake we made: Lord, I would prefer that there be no harmful repercussions from this, nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.
Or maybe someone we love is seriously ill: Lord, I would prefer that he or she be completely healed of this disease, nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.
No situation is too serious or too trivial to try this with. Indeed, sometimes it is even helpful to pray about our state of anxiety, itself: Lord, I would prefer not to feel this anxiety, nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.
In this way we can acknowledge our (often conflicting) desires as preferences and begin sorting through them in a orderly, spiritual manner (instead of becoming consumed with them—or, worse, by them). And over time, our decision making process will be transformed as we learn to live moment by moment in His life sustaining presence, surrendering unconditionally to His will for our life.
[Editor's Note: This article was inspired, in part, by Joel Kupperman's discussion of "Desire and Suffering" in the chapter on The Dhammapada in his Classic Asian Philosophy: A Guide to the Essential Texts. The image is from FirstPresbyterian.Org.]