Practicing Presence

December 5, 2017

Sometimes when I agree to write an article, I end up humbled and surprised. I agreed to write about living out faith in daily habits, because my faith in Christ is the source of my deepest identity, and because I love habits. But as I wrote, I questioned my priorities.

I have a number of life-giving personal habits: I limit screen time, have consistent hours of sleep, and make time to read every day. As a family, habits keep us connected to and caring for the earth: we compost; grow fruits and vegetables in our back yard; and minimize how much food we throw away, by shopping with a list and by repurposing leftovers. (Even though the food we save does not benefit any of the too-many hungry in our world, it keeps us conscious of the lack faced by so many.)

So far, so good. But what is the end goal of faith? Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” and that the second is to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 23: 37-39). Micah declared something similar in the Old Testament: “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). These statements direct us first to God, then to others. Sadly, I naturally tend to think of myself first and most often—so any habit that takes me out of myself and directs me toward God and others is one that helps me live out my faith.

Loving God needs to come first. I live for Christ, trying to please Him in what I do and say. But I want to do more than live for Him; I want to live with Him. He is near me always—He promised, “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20)—but I want an awareness of His presence.

Brother Lawrence (a 17-century French monk) and Frank Laubach (a missionary in the early and mid-1900s) knew that same longing, and did something about it. Brother Lawrence washed pots and pans in a monastery, but learned to commune with God no matter what he was doing. He wrote, “from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.”1

Frank Laubach had a similar story. He invented a “Game with Minutes,” with the goal of living in a continual awareness of God’s presence. His game involved calling God to mind for at least one second out of every minute.

Years ago, while out on a run, I tried to live with this kind of constant awareness of God. It was remarkable! I viewed the things and people around me very differently. The whole world seemed “crammed with heaven” and “afire with God,” to use Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s memorable phrases. But how to keep it up? How to make it a habit?

As I read more about this idea of practicing God’s presence, it sounded simultaneously simpler than I expected and much more difficult than I thought. In his description of The Game with Minutes, Laubach explained, “We do not need to forget other things nor stop our work, but we invite Him to share everything we do or say or think.”

He continued, “You will find this just as easy and just as hard as forming any other habit. You have hitherto thought of God for only a few seconds or minutes a week, and He was out of your mind the rest of the time. Now you are attempting, like Brother Lawrence, to have God in mind each minute you are awake. Such drastic change in habit requires a real effort at the beginning.”

Laubach shared numerous ways to “win” the Game with Minutes. For example, he suggested the following:

  • As you pass people on the street or in the halls, look them in the eyes and pray for them. Try “to see double, as Christ does”—seeing people both as they are, and also as Christ longs to make them.
  • Walk on one side of the sidewalk, physically leaving room for Christ, who walks with you.
  • When in conversation with someone, quietly ask God to tell you what to say.
  • While reading a book or article, carry on an inward conversation with God about what you read.
  • When thinking, which is really a form of talking to yourself, talk to God instead.
  • Acknowledge God as the source of the beauty you see while walking or hiking.
  • Think of Jesus as you close your eyes to sleep.
  • Offer your work to God, several times a day. Ask for His wisdom.
  • Show children how to play the Game with Minutes.
  • Say to God, “Think your thoughts in my mind.”
  • Ask God to make your mind clear as you study, and to help you remember what you learn.
  • When you threaten to get annoyed by people’s irritating quirks, pray for them instead and recognize them as children of God.

This way of consciously recognizing and inviting God into the details of daily life is a way of loving and communing with God. But, asking for His perspective about the people we interact with each day, and praying for them, leads us to love our neighbors as well. Jesus made clear with His parable of the Good Samaritan that a neighbor is not just a person who lives near us or looks like us. Every person we encounter is a neighbor. Frankly, this thought can be paralyzing. Sometimes the weight of the whole world’s sadness and pain threatens to come crashing down, and I feel helpless to address any of it. Social media provides a daily onslaught of bad news, and the torrent makes me feel impotent. What can one person do, anyway? Responding on social media doesn’t seem very helpful—really, isn’t it kinder to refrain from adding to the deluge? But, the Game of Minutes provides a way to bring people’s sadness and pain straight to the feet of Jesus.

Despite writing about this as a game, Laubach discouraged people from trying to keep a detailed record of how many minutes they “won.” He wrote, “We are practicing a new freedom, not a new bondage. We must not get so tied down to score keeping that we lose the glory of it, and its spontaneity. We fix our eyes upon Jesus, not upon a clock.”

This is the kind of habit I want to develop!

About the Author
  • Dawn Berkelaar lives in southern Ontario with her husband Edward and their four children. She is a scientist, editor, writer, teacher and home maker. Additionally, she is a regular contributor at in All things.

  1. quoted in the Preface to The Practice of the Presence of God with Spiritual Maxims by Brother Lawrence. 2003 Spire Books