If you say that someone is stirring the pot, you usually mean that they’re making trouble or bringing up things that they know will lead to arguments and tension, and we almost always see this as a bad thing. It’s the same idea as the rule that you’re not supposed to talk about politics or religion in polite company, because it will just lead to an argument. However, stirring the pot has a literal meaning, too, in cooking, and it’s absolutely vital to preparing good food.
If you’re making a pot of beans or stew you need to occasionally stir the pot to make sure that everything’s not just sitting in one place on the bottom. If you don’t stir the pot it’ll burn and you’ll be left with ruined beans and a pot needing to be scrubbed down. The same is true in the spiritual life. You need to occasionally examine your conscience in prayer, asking the Lord to help you see where you’re sins and vices are, where you’ve failed to listen to the voice of God and how He’s calling you to conversion. We normally do this before going to confession so we can make a good and complete confession, but if you only go to confession once a year or less, that’s not really enough. We know that saints like Mother Teresa and Pope St. John Paul II went to confession at least every week or two. We don’t need confession less than they did. That’s why I encourage people to go to confession at least once or twice a month. In this way we don’t let things just sink to the bottom but keep them stirred up where we can see them and, with God’s help, grow in holiness and virtue.
Things like beans only need to be stirred every 15 minutes or so, but some things need to be stirred constantly, like a roux for gumbo or sauce. If you don’t keep stirring the roux it won’t combine and the butter and four will start to burn, then you’ll have to completely start over. I compare this to the spiritual discipline of practicing the presence of God. You can’t live your life if you’re constantly examining your conscience. There has to come a point when you stop examining and start acting. Most of life consists in putting into action in our lives what we’ve heard from God in prayer. Practicing the presence of God, however, is something that we can do all the time. It’s a very simple discipline where you just remind yourself that God is present. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, and whoever you’re with, whether in Church, at work, or in a bar, God is present there in some way. Remembering God’s presence can motivate us to avoid sin, to practice Christian virtue, and to have to courage to live out our faith even in the most difficult times.
Stirring the pot just to cause trouble for people is bad, but we do occasionally need to stir up our own spiritual lives in order to keep things on the right track. After all, if you ruin a pot of beans you’ve lost a few hours work and some beans, but you only get one shot at life.
Fr. Bryan became pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes on July 3, 2017. Read his bio here.