On my very first birthday, I fell off the front porch of our home and broke my leg. Because I lived in a remote village in Papua New Guinea with my missionary parents, I was flown to the closest town with a western doctor. Upon admittance to the hospital, my leg was put in traction and my mother told to go home.
The nurses loved me. Who wouldn’t adore a one-year-old baby cooing and doing acrobatics on the traction ropes? My dear mother, having five other children to care for, could only come to visit me after three weeks. Medical practice in the early 1960s also did not allow parents to remain with their children, believing that children fussed less if they weren’t around. And even if my mother had wanted to dispute the medical experts, my behavior validated their beliefs. For I was a happy child—until I realized Mom was present. Then, when I started to cry, she was sent home.
I had been told this story of my broken leg many times and thought nothing of it until I began to see some negative patterns in my adult relationships. Every time I struggled, I felt like a little child crying for her mother. After I got married, I needed my husband to be there for me like I had wanted my mother. When he wasn’t, I reacted with an exaggerated sense of rejection.
One day, while praying about this issue, my loving heavenly Counselor led me back to those six weeks in the hospital. He showed me that even when my mother had been forced to leave me, he had been with me. I pictured him swinging around on the traction ropes with me and laughing and thoroughly enjoying himself. And then when my mother came to visit and I had to watch her leave yet again, my heavenly “Baby-sitter” encouraged me, “Wave goodbye to Mommy. I am staying here with you and she will be back soon.”
Even though I had felt no emotional pain associated with the event of my broken leg, knowing and experiencing God’s presence with me at that time helped to break my stronghold of rejection.
Scripture teaches that Christ dwells in our hearts by faith (Ephesians 3:17). The word for “dwell” conveys the truth that God’s shekinah glory that previously inhabited the temple now lives in his children, for they are God’s temple (1 Corinthians 3:16).
I am amazed that the God who does not dwell in houses made by humans (Acts 7:48–49) would choose to abide us who believe and follow him. No more going to the temple, no more sacrifices of bulls and goats, no priests to mediate for us, not even the need to follow Christ around in order to be with God. He is in us! We simply have to turn our minds and hearts toward him (Hebrews 3:1), acknowledge him, think about him (Hebrews 12:1), draw near to him (James 4:8)—connect with him.
This is the spiritual discipline of practicing the presence of God—essential for learning to trust God in painful times. It was introduced by Brother Lawrence, a lay brother in the Carmelite monastery in Paris in the mid 1600s. Although he worked in the kitchen, he became known for his closeness to God and many sought him for spiritual guidance. His letters and conversations have been compiled in the familiar book, The Practice of the Presence of God. Brother Lawrence describes this discipline as “a habitual, silent, and secret conversation of the soul with God.” He tells us to “think of God as often as you can. Stop from time to time to converse with him in meekness, humility and love.”
Practicing God’s presence is not about finding God, but rather acknowledging that he is already present. It is purposefully changing our minds to focus on him, not once a day when we pray or read the Bible, but continually, as often as possible, even every minute, turning our thoughts to him.
I did not need to find God in my rejection, or ask him to come to me, or wonder why he didn’t rescue me. I needed to recognize that he was there all along!
How can you recognize that God was present with you in your painful situation? In every moment of this day?
Lord, thank you for dwelling in my heart and being with me always. Teach me to fix my thoughts on you at all times.