I noticed recently that several of the baseboards and doorframes in my house looked dingy. I like white trim, but the downside is that it readily shows smudges, stains and nicks. Last week, unable to tolerate my home’s dilapidated woodwork a moment longer, I grabbed a brush, pried open a can of white paint and got to work.
I don’t mind painting, especially touching up trim. I find the precise work soothing, the repetitive sweep of the brush back and forth over molding and baseboards, the rhythmic dip of the bristles in and out of the smooth paint.
I’d intentionally chosen not to listen to my usual podcasts or music in favor of silence. With my kids at school and my husband at work, the only sounds in the house were the whoosh of the heat blowing out of the vents and the dog snoring softly in her bed. I was hoping the quiet and the hypnotic motion of the paintbrush over the wood would allow my mind the space to noodle over a writing project I am working on. What I didn’t expect was that painting would turn out to be an unconventional spiritual discipline of sorts.
“Constant noise, interruption and drivenness to be more productive cut us off or at least interrupt the direct experience of God and other human beings,” observes Ruth Haley Barton in her book, Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation.
I’ve found this to be true in my own life. I often use social media, busyness and my to-do list to create connection and meaning. I rush from task to task, place to place and errand to errand. I skate by on bits of shallow connection – an email, a Facebook comment, a string of texts. I don’t often linger with people in real, face-to-face conversation. I don’t often allow myself the time and space to soak in the details of a particular place or moment, to let my mind and heart wander toward God.
I didn’t pray outright or reflect on Bible verses as I crouched on my knees last week, paintbrush in hand, nor did I set out to be intentionally “spiritual.” Rather, I simply focused on the task, let my thoughts come and go and was present in the moment.
I noticed the acrid smell of the paint and the faint scent of polish emanating from the wood. I felt the warmth of the heat as it gushed from the grate. I listened to the black-capped chickadee’s two-note call from the magnolia tree outside the window and noticed how a square of sunlight shifted across the living room floor as the afternoon waned.
This attention to the details of the moment was in itself a kind of worship. As Brother Lawrence once wrote, “We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.”
God desires to connect with us personally and intimately. But in our frenetic, loud, technology-dependent lives, we rarely allow the stillness, quiet and space for that connection to happen. The restless agitation we often feel simmering just under the surface hints that we are missing something important, but we don’t allow ourselves the opportunity to figure out what that something is.
Turns out, that “something” we are missing is the nearness of God.
I wrote a whole e-book on practicing ordinary tasks as spiritual disciplines, called Five Unconventional Spiritual Practices for Your Soul, which I offer as a free gift to subscribers of my weekly blog or monthly newsletter. Interested? You can subscribe HERE. Once you submit the form, you’ll get an email from me with a link to the downloadable PDF of the e-book.