When Preparation is Beautiful (not just painful)

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?

 

 

Bible Verses about Preparation

  • Exodus 23:20 ESV
    Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared.
  • Proverbs 6:6-8 CSB
    Go to the ant, you slacker!
    Observe its ways and become wise.
    Without leader, administrator, or ruler,
    it prepares its provisions in summer;
    it gathers its food during harvest.
  • Proverbs 22:3 CSB
    A sensible person sees danger and takes cover,
    but the inexperienced keep going and are punished.
  • Proverbs 24:27 CSB
    Complete your outdoor work, and prepare your field;
    afterward, build your house.
  • Matthew 24:44 CSB
     This is why you are also to be ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
  • Luke 12:47 CSB
    And that servant who knew his master’s will and didn’t prepare himself or do it[a] will be severely beaten.
  • Luke 14:28 CSB
    “For which of you, wanting to build a tower, doesn’t first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?
  • Luke 21:36 CSB
    But be alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place and to stand before the Son of Man.”
  •  1 Corinthians 9:24 CSB
    Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize.
  • Ephesians 2:10 ESV
     For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
  • 2 Timothy 4:2 ESV
    preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
  • 1 Peter 1:13 ESV
    Therefore, preparing your minds for action,[a] and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
  • 1 Peter 3:15 CSB
    but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, ready at any time to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.

Snow Boots without Snow

One year, I wrapped my kids’ feet in Ziploc bags before tying on their shoes and sending them out into the snow.

I live in southeastern Virginia, where we get snow sometimes.  Some years it’s a lot and other years not so much.

So, it’s a gamble, you see, whether purchasing snow boots and snow pants is a worthwhile investment or a complete waste of money.

That one year when all my kids were little and had snow boots, I can’t remember a single snowflake sticking to the ground.

But the following year, I had to resort to Ziploc bags inside the sneakers because I hadn’t bought snowboots and inevitably we had buckets of snow.

Since then, I’ve begun hunting for snow boots in all seasons and in all sizes at consignment shops in thrift stores.  I don’t want to pay full price for them, but I do want to have them on hand just in case.

This year I have put my thrifty shopping skills to work and found snow boots and snow pants in all the sizes for all the kids.

Of course, we’ve had a virtually snow-less winter with just one fluke snowstorm in early December.  It’s plenty cold here, but our snow attire is sitting completely unused in a bin in my closet.

I realize as I write this there’s probably some monumental snow event on the horizon for us.  For the record, I’m not saying I want a blizzard!   I don’t love shuffling plans and appointments around because of unexpected weather.   And I really don’t like having to make up any snow days by going  to school during a vacation.

But it’s always just worth a shake of my head and a slightly exasperated giggle that on the years I feel most prepared for snow we are virtually snow-less.  And on years I decline to prepare, we experience snowmageddon or something equally apocalyptic.

Maybe the lesson for me is that preparation in itself is worthwhile.

There’s not always going to be this direct, easily  visible connection to usefulness, but God can be trusted.

Some years, I’ll buy snow boots and there will be snow.  I’ll feel prepared and justified, wise, and ready.

Other years, I’ll buy snow boots and it won’t really snow.  But I’ll tuck them away and pull them out for a future storm when they’re now hand-me-downs for another child.  I’m still prepared, but the connection wasn’t as clear or as direct.

It’s God’s sovereignty I can trust.  His wisdom.  His all-knowing ability  to work in me now, in my life and in my heart and in my mind, all that He wants to do in me.  Maybe it’s for next week and maybe it’s for decades from now.  Maybe it’s for heaven.  I will not always see His purposes, but I can trust Him just the same.

Being in His presence, digging into His Word, learning to know Him, learning about  Him, serving with Him, walking  through hard seasons and wondering i f there will ever be a harvest—none of it’s ever wasted.

This is what I see in David, this young shepherd boy who invested a whole portion of his life in shepherding a flock of animals and who ultimately because the “shepherd of my people Israel” (2 Samuel 5:2 CSB).

It wasn’t clear and it wasn’t right away.  David spent time in Saul’s palace, time in the battlefields, time hiding out in caves and time living among the Philistines surrounded by enemies of the Lord.  Maybe his past experience with sheep and a harp seemed worthless when Saul was hunting him down.

But God did the work, the long,  steady, complete work.  He chose a shepherd of  sheep to be a shepherd to His people, nothing wasted, everything working for His good purposes in His perfect timing .

I can overthink this.  I can be like  an eager student with my clipboard, my paper and my pencil quizzing my Divine Master.  “What are you trying to teach me, Lord?  What can I learn?  How are you going to use this?  What are you doing  now?   Then what’s next?”

I want purposefulness.  I want clarity. I want intentionality.

But instead I learn to rest, knowing that seasons aren’t always so well-defined.  Sometimes it snows in October and I wear short sleeves in February.  Some years I need snow boots and some years I don’t.

I don’t need to worry about identifying the season I’m in or labeling the season or determining the purpose for the season.

I can just remain teachable, yielded, open, prayerful, submissive, humble, willing, submitted ever single day. “Lord, teach me,” and let Him do it.  Let Him use all of this, every bit, to change and transform me and prepare me for His plans, His will, His timing.

Bible Verses about Preparation

  • Exodus 23:20 ESV
    Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared.
  • Proverbs 6:6-8 CSB
    Go to the ant, you slacker!
    Observe its ways and become wise.
    Without leader, administrator, or ruler,
    it prepares its provisions in summer;
    it gathers its food during harvest.
  • Proverbs 22:3 CSB
    A sensible person sees danger and takes cover,
    but the inexperienced keep going and are punished.
  • Proverbs 24:27 CSB
    Complete your outdoor work, and prepare your field;
    afterward, build your house.
  • Matthew 24:44 CSB
     This is why you are also to be ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
  • Luke 12:47 CSB
    And that servant who knew his master’s will and didn’t prepare himself or do it[a] will be severely beaten.
  • Luke 14:28 CSB
    “For which of you, wanting to build a tower, doesn’t first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?
  • Luke 21:36 CSB
    But be alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place and to stand before the Son of Man.”
  •  1 Corinthians 9:24 CSB
    Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize.
  • Ephesians 2:10 ESV
     For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
  • 2 Timothy 4:2 ESV
    preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
  • 1 Peter 1:13 ESV
    Therefore, preparing your minds for action,[a] and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
  • 1 Peter 3:15 CSB
    but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, ready at any time to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.