My son tried counting the trees the other day.
During the 15 minute car-ride to his friend’s house, he counted first one tree and then another in someone’s front yard. Then a clump of trees a few houses down.
Then we passed a stretch of woods and his counting sped up faster and faster until he finally gave up because it was just impossible. “There are just so many trees prepared for snow,” he said.
So that was it. He wasn’t just counting any old random tree. He counted only the ones he considered to be “prepared for snow.”
And what could that possibly mean, anyway? How does a tree, in fact, “prepare for snow?”
He explained it to me. Trees that lose all their leaves are ready for the snow to come, but trees that are still holding tightly onto their leaves simply aren’t prepared yet.
This matters, of course, because my six-year-old son is quite, quite ready for some snow here in Virginia. It’s January and there’s not a flake in the forecast. He’s getting a bit anxious that it won’t every come, so seeing the barren trees along the stretch of road outside our neighborhood gives him hope.
I’d never thought about a leafless tree in that way before—not barren or dormant or dreary or fruitless or any of those things that seem lifeless and beauty-less. I’ve enjoyed the greenest of spring and summer trees and the radiance of the fall color-filled trees, but I’ve never looked at an empty tree and thought of it as prepared for something beautiful.
This shifts my perspective a bit.
When I’ve slogged through mudpits of discouragement or loss, mourning, grief, disappointment, or anxiety, I’ve felt emptied out.
I have lost. I have mourned. I have waited (impatiently most of the time). I have let go. I have wished for the sign of something new, the assurance that this is not the end and that there is still reason to have hope.
What if all that feeling of being emptied out, of having to let go, is truly preparation?
I am not dead; I am awaiting new life.
I have shed the old. I am ready for the beautiful covering of something gloriously hushed and holy.
Scripture tells us that John the Baptist fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, calling out into the wilderness:
“‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him'” (Matthew 3:3 NIV).
We don’t always see the work of preparation being done in others. We don’t see what Noah went through day after day to built the ark. Or all that God did in Abraham’s life or Mary’s life to prepare their hearts for radical obedience to a divine call.
Maybe that’s why I can be so impatient with the process. I see them fulfilling, but not preparing, and preparation can feel so painful, long, or hopeless. I personally don’t want to let go. I don’t want to be emptied out. I don’t want to sorrow or lose. I don’t want to shed the old.
And I do not want to wait and wait and wait for the beauty of the new or the next. I would like God always to be at work in grand and apparent ways now, now, now.
But John the Baptist called out to anyone who would listen so that they would “prepare!” Prepare their hearts and minds and lives for God’s new work–the Messiah, the fulfillment of promise and all their longing.
They were to make straight paths for Him.
Could this be me? Could this be us?
Can I yield to the work of preparation? Instead of throwing up obstacles or complaints, instead of trying to hold onto the past or force something new, can I make straight paths for the Lord to be at work in my life, in my heart, in my mind, in my relationships, in my ministry, in my work?
My focus then isn’t on all the circumstances I’m in, and I’m no longer straining my eyes to see any glimpse or sign that God is working in the landscape around me.
My focus is on what God is doing within me. How can my heart be ready? How can my mind be ready? How can my life be ready, paths made straight, for the Lord to fulfill His plans–whatever they may be and whenever they may come?
Am I prepared for snow? Not languishing in a waiting period….but prepared for the beauty of a new season and ready to receive all that God has planned?