Updated: Jul 26
Dad was a builder. He didn’t own the business; he did the actual building part. He and his crew built bridges, post offices, gas stations, houses, libraries, hospitals, churches—you name it and he built it! And when a job was completed, he could look back and see the results of what he had built. He knew that those buildings and bridges did not appear by themselves. Workers had to do something. I had the privilege (sometimes willingly, sometimes not) of working with and for him. I can’t tell you how many times I would hear him say, “Do something, even if it is wrong!”
Don’t get me wrong—Dad wasn’t condoning poor performance, and he didn’t want us to do a bad job. But if there was a choice to be made between doing a bad job and no job at all, he would prefer the bad job. Even if something had to be torn down and rebuilt, you had something to show for your labors.
Dad was a religious man, but he didn’t talk a lot about his faith on the job. He put his faith into action, pouring his creative energy into the task at hand. He demonstrated that when you become fully invested in the work that you do, your work becomes an expression of who you are. Dad had no desire for any notion of the contemplative life that meant sitting around doing nothing. He wanted to do something. And everything he did, he did with purpose.
Parker Palmer writes, “To be fully alive is to act. The capacity to act is the most obvious difference between the quick and the dead. But action is more than movement; it is movement that involves expression, discovery, re-formation of ourselves and our world. I understand action to be any way that we can co-create reality with other beings and with the Spirit.”
Have you ever become so engaged and caught up in your work that you blocked everything else out of your mind and lost all sense of time? Have you ever poured your heart and soul into a project that it became a reflection of you? I have known that feeling but I also have known the times that work was just laborious.
What makes the difference? How can we “co-create reality with other beings and with the Spirit?” The purpose behind our work may have something to do with it. Sometimes, there are moments of true inspiration. At other times, our work requires us to do something, whether we feel inspired or not.
One answer comes from a monk by the name of Brother Lawrence who lived in the mid 1600s. Brother Lawrence suggested that the key to the spiritual life is to develop the habit of always practicing the presence of God. Brother Lawrence wrote that the “holiest, most universal and most necessary practice in the spiritual life is the presence of God… As we carry out our duties, we must work gently, tranquilly and lovingly with God, asking Him to accept our labor.”
Brother Lawrence practiced what he preached. In a Eulogy written after Brother Lawrence’s death, the Abbé of Beaufort wrote, that “when he did his duty as a cook, that in the midst of an arduous task, even in the midst of the most attention-diverting duties, his mind and spirit were fixed on God.”
This seems to be both too simple and too difficult at the same time. I find that there are times I can work with awareness that God is present. Other times, I get distracted.
But I have to wonder what difference it would make in my own life if I were able to keep that awareness. Could cultivating that awareness transform all my work, all my action, into prayer? What could it do for you?
Maybe this is the secret of doing something—with Spirit!
Time for Reflection:
What have you done today? How has it made you feel alive? How have you experienced the presence of God in your work?
A Note for My Readers:
Sometimes we are too close to see the Spirit at work in our lives. Would you like for someone to help you see the ways the Spirit is moving in your life? If so, please contact me by using the “Contact Me” form at the end of this blog. Let’s see if spiritual direction is right for you!
 Parker Palmer, The Active Life: A Spirituality of Work, Creativity, and Caring (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1991), 17.  Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, trans. Robert J. Edmonson, ed. Hal M. Helms (Brewseter, MA: Paraclete Press, 1985), 125.  The Abbé of Beaufort, “Eulogy,” in Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, 38.