Awaken: Brother Lawrence, I want to thank you for spending this time with us, and helping us to understand how to enrich our spiritual life.
Brother Lawrence: I still believe that all spiritual life consists of practicing God’s presence, and that anyone who practices it correctly will soon attain spiritual fulfillment.
Awaken: Could you elaborate? What does it mean to practice correctly?
Brother Lawrence: It is necessary for the heart to be emptied of everything that would offend God. He wants to possess your heart completely. Before any work can be done in your soul, God must be totally in control.
Awaken: The language you are using sounds slightly severe, for example, this idea of God wanting to “possess”our heart… But I know you are talking about something that is in fact, very precious… Could you elaborate?
Brother Lawrence: There is no sweeter manner of living in the world than continuous communion with God. Only those who have experienced it can understand…
Awaken: Do you mean that communion with God helps us find answers to our problems and generally makes life less challenging?
Brother Lawrence: I don’t advise you to practice it for the sole purpose of gaining consolation for your problems. Seek it, rather, because God wills it and out of love for him.
Awaken: To be very clear, the practice you speak of consists of simply communing with God?
Brother Lawrence: If I were a preacher, I would preach nothing but practicing the presence of God. If I were to be responsible for guiding souls in the right direction, I would urge everyone to be aware of God’s constant presence, if for no other reason than because his presence is a delight to our souls and spirits.
It is, however, also necessary. If we only knew how much we need God’s Grace, we would never lose touch with Him. Believe me. Make a commitment never to deliberately stray from Him, to live the rest of your life in His holy presence.
Awaken: And when you speak of needing God’s Grace, you are talking about something that runs deeper than seeking him for the purpose of assuaging our fears and insecurities? I say this because it seems that fear or want, especially of a favorable afterlife, is the driving force for so many practitioners…
Brother Lawrence: Don’t do this in expectation of receiving heavenly comfort; simply do it out of love for Him.
Awaken: But at the same time, is it not undeniably true that the presence of God in our lives alleviates the weight of our trials and tribulations?
Brother Lawrence: You know, the difficulties of life do not have to be unbearable. It is the way that we look at them — through faith or unbelief. We must be convinced that our Father is full of love for us, that He only permits trials to come our way for our own good.
Awaken: Yet it is difficult not to wonder why an all powerful God would let us go through the difficulties that we are faced with, if He could take them from us… What would you say to one who is in trouble and comes to you with this question?
Brother Lawrence: Take courage! God often allows us to go through difficulties to purify our souls, and to teach us to rely on him more. So offer Him your problems unceasingly, and ask Him for the strength to overcome them. Talk to Him often; forget Him as seldom as possible. Praise Him. When the difficulties are at their worst, go to Him humbly and lovingly — as a child goes to a loving father — and ask for the help you need from His Grace.
Awaken: How does a man’s life change when he has taken God into his heart?
Brother Lawrence: At times, he can live, as if no one else existed on earth, but himself and God. He lovingly speaks with God, wherever he goes, asking Him for all he needs, and rejoicing with Him in a thousand ways. His spirit abides, without much effort, in the restful peace of God. In this rest, he is filled with a faith that equipped him to handle anything that comes to him.
Awaken: Yes, although my experience may be meager, I can so appreciate what you are saying about the peace that is found when we feel that God is near. It should be peaceful and easy shouldn’t it? Why are some people inclined to think that they must make themselves suffer to reach God?
Brother Lawrence: Leaving the seemingly innocent and permissible pleasures of the world for a time will give us comfort. In fact, God won’t allow a soul that is searching for Him to be comforted anywhere other than with him. So it makes sense to sacrifice ourselves for some time in His presence.
This does not mean that you have to suffer in this endeavor. No, God must be served with holy freedom. He should labor faithfully, without distress or anxiety, calmly recalling our spirit to God, whenever it is distracted.
The only requirement is that we place our confidence entirely in God. Abandon any other concerns, including any special devotions you’ve undertaken simply as a means to an end. God is our “end.” We can continue our exchange of love with Him by just remaining in His holy presence. The Holy Spirit dwelling in us leads us to love God in a diversity of ways.
Awaken: I understand… the sacrifice you speak of refers more to letting go of frivolous distractions, so as to be with God… And contrary to the common belief that one must suffer to be with Him, our suffering is in fact lifted once we direct our hearts to God. The every day fears and anxieties seem to evaporate in His presence!
Brother Lawrence: When I am with Him… Nothing frightens me. But the slightest diversion away from Him is painful to me. I honestly cannot understand how people who claim to love the Lord can be content without practicing His presence.
Awaken: But what would you say to those who have a strong resistance to anything pertaining to religion, church, or any kind of ecclesiastical ritual?
Brother Lawrence: It isn’t necessary that we stay in church in order to remain in God’s presence. We can make our heart a chapel where we can go any time to talk to God privately. These conversations can be so loving and gentle, and anyone can have them.
Awaken: So you do not adhere strictly to a prescribed set of religious rituals?
Brother Lawrence: I haven’t followed any particular steps in my own spiritual growth. On the contrary, I found methods to be discouraging. My intent, at the beginning of my Christian walk, was to give myself to God all at once. I did this out of love for Him, because I wanted to pay for my sins and renounce everything that offended Him.
My first prayers were about death, judgment, hell, heaven, and my sins. This went on for several years. When I wasn’t praying, I kept myself carefully in God’s presence, even while I was working. I knew He was always near me, in the deepest part of my heart. This gave me such great respect for God, that I was content with faith alone. And so I continued to pray this way, which gave me enormous, peace and joy.
Awaken: I love what you are saying… If I am understanding you correctly, it sounds like you are sharing the power and the beauty of simply having a personal relationship with God. This is quite different than the image people have of forced communions and ceremonies and such…
Brother Lawrence: Lifting our hearts up to God is sufficient.
Awaken: For anyone who is curious, but unaccustomed to this practice, could you be more specific about how to begin?
Brother Lawrence: Simply present yourself to God, as if you were a poor man, knocking on the door of a rich man, and fix your attention on His presence. If your mind wanders at times, don’t be upset, because being upset will only distract you more. Allow your will to recall your attention gently to God.
So why not begin? He may be waiting for us to take the first step. Because we have such a short time to live, we should spend our remaining time with God. Even suffering will be easier when we are with Him, but without Him, even the greatest pleasures will be joyless. Gradually train yourself to show your love for Him by asking for his grace. Offer your heart to Him at every moment. Don’t restrict your love of Him with rules or special devotions. Go out in faith, with love and humility.
Awaken: Did you ever feel discouraged, while on your path?
Brother Lawrence: During the first 10 years, I worried that my walk with the Lord wasn’t good enough. Because I couldn’t forget my past sins, I felt very guilty when I thought of all the Grace He had shown me. During this time, I used to fall often and then get up again. It seemed that everything — even God — was against me, and that only faith was on my side. Sometimes I believed I felt this way because I was trying to show, at the beginning of my walk, the same maturity it had taken other Christians years to achieve. Sometimes it got so bad that I thought I was on my way to hell — willfully offending God — and that there was no salvation for me.
Awaken: From what you are saying here, and from what I know about your story, you faced great difficulties, both as a soldier, a prisoner of war, and in your personal life… Did these challenges and worries shake your faith?
Brother Lawrence: Thankfully, these worries did not weaken my faith in God, but actually made it stronger. When I finally reached the point where I expected the rest of my life to be very difficult, I suddenly found myself wholly changed. My soul, which had always been troubled, finally came to rest in a profound inner peace.
Since that time, I have been serving God, simply, in humility, and faith.
Awaken: The world is a trying place… whether it’s due to conditions of external conditions of poverty or war, internal challenges with depression or anxiety, physical health, or trouble at home, just to name a few. I don’t think anybody gets out without undergoing many tests and trials! Are you saying that your relationship with God has helped you stay peaceful in the midst of it all?
Brother Lawrence: One should realize that this conversation with God occurs in the depth and center of the soul. It is there that the soul speaks to God heart to heart, and always dwells in a great and profound peace that the soul enjoys in God. The trouble that happens in the world can become like a blaze of straw that goes out, even as it is catching fire. The soul can retain its interior peace in God.
The presence of God is, then, the life and nourishment of the soul, which can be acquired with the Grace of God.
Awaken: Although you do not adhere to fixed rituals, I know that you have discovered certain means and methods of becoming closer to God, or as you put it, “acquiring the presence of God.” What is the most special aspect of your practice… something that may not be obvious even to those who already have a place for God in their lives?
Brother Lawrence: The soul’s eyes must be kept on God, particularly when something is being done in the outside world. Since much time and effort are needed to perfect this practice, one should not be discouraged by failure. Although the habit is difficult to form, it is a source of divine pleasure once it is learned.
Awaken: “The soul’s eyes”… that is beautiful. Do you mean the heart? Like, living from the heart?
Brother Lawrence: The heart is the beginning and the end of all our spiritual, bodily actions, and, generally speaking, of everything we do in our lives. It is, therefore, the heart whose attention we must carefully focus on God. It is proper that the heart — which is the first to live, and which dominates all the other parts of the body — should be the first and the last to love God.
Awaken: What are some other techniques, in other words, how do we continue to develop our practice so that we may live in the presence of God?
Brother Lawrence: In the beginning… it would not be wrong to offer short phrases that are inspired by love, such as “Lord, I am all yours,” “God of love, I love you with all my heart,” or “Lord, use me according to your will.” But remember to keep the mind from wandering or returning to the world. Hold your attention on God alone by exercising your will to remain in God’s presence.
Awaken: I know that inner peace is one of the many blessings that comes from developing this relationship with God, and of course, self interest should not be the incentive, but nonetheless, I would like to know about some of the other blessings that naturally follow from maturing our practice…
Brother Lawrence: The first blessing that the soul receives from the practice of the presence of God is that its faith is livelier and more active everywhere in our lives. This is particularly true in difficult times, since it obtains the grace we need to deal with temptation and conduct ourselves in the world. The soul — accustomed by this exercise to the practice of faith — can actually see, and feel God, by simply entering His presence. It invokes Him easily and obtains what it needs. In so doing, the soul could be said to approach the Blessed, in that it can almost say, “I no longer believe, but I see and experience.” Its faith becomes more and more penetrating as it advances through practice.
Awaken: So, you are saying that we no longer depend on “blind faith.” Instead, we enter into a deeper state of knowing… We know that God is there, because we have experienced him…
Brother Lawrence: The practice of the presence of God strengthens us in hope. Our hope increases as our faith penetrates God’s secrets through practice of our holy exercise. The soul discovers in God, a beauty, infinitely surpassing not only that of bodies we see on earth, but even that of the angels. Our hope increases and grows stronger, and the amount of good that it expects to enjoy, and that in some degree it tastes, reassures and sustains it.
Awaken: Please continue…
Brother Lawrence: This practice causes the will to rejoice at being set apart from the world, setting it aglow with the fire of holy love. This is because the soul is always with God, who is a consuming fire, who reduces into powder whatever is opposed to Him. The soul thus inflamed, can no longer live except in the presence of its God. This presence produces a holy ardor, a sacred urgency, and violent desire in the heart to see this God, who is loved.
Awaken: I understand. You are saying that the paltry and trite pleasures of the world just don’t compare to the splendor that is God’s presence. Are there any other final insights or words of advice that you would like to offer us?
Brother Lawrence: By practicing God’s presence, and continuously looking at Him, the soul familiarizes itself with Him to the extent that it passes almost its whole life in continual acts of love, praise, confidence, thanksgiving, offering, and petition. Sometimes all this may merge into one single act that does not end, because the soul is always in the ceaseless exercise of God’s divine presence.
Awaken: So beautiful. I want to thank you sincerely, once again, for sharing the secrets from your practice with us today, Dear Brother Lawrence!