Jessica and I are expecting our second child to arrive in a couple of months. As you might imagine, we’re incredibly excited. Excited, because this pregnancy was totally unexpected, given that we endured infertility for five years before the birth of our first daughter, Maggie. And we’re excited for our little girl Maggie, who frequently asks to hold her baby sister and eagerly awaits her arrival. This excitement is matched only by the sheer terror I’m experiencing at the prospect of keeping two small humans alive at the same time, one who will be wholly and utterly dependent for her every need, the other who likes to treat public places like a track and field event or her opening night at the Fox Theater. As my friend Sherrad Hayes once put it, “wow, man, she has one speed, and it ain’t slow.”
So, preparation is pretty much all I can think about these days. I’m doing all I can to get into a better routine, more disciplined habits, and a more structured lifestyle, so that when we encounter the reality of multiple children, the #$%#@%$ doesn’t totally hit the fan. I have a lot of friends who have three, four, or even 5 kids, and if this is you, you’re probably (and justifiably) chuckling a bit at all this. So be it. I’m still preparing. To be sure, I have no illusions that any amount of preparation will preclude or eliminate the common challenges and unexpected predicaments that come with any newborn. Rather, I am preparing so that I might more faithfully face the excitement, the exhaustion, the extraordinary, the mundane, the highs, lows, and in-betweens of this next season of life. There will be successes. There will be failures. There will be good times. There will be bad times. In terms of life circumstance, I don’t think God is promising any more or any less than that.
When my first child, Maggie, was born my close friend and consummate fount of wisdom, Rev. Derek Jacks, sent me a text message that read, “Welcome to this world, Maggie. Prepare to be amazed and disappointed.” This sage advice is almost as hilarious as it is true, and I’ve since passed along this same greeting to numerous newborns of my friends and family. Some of you will recall the similar and oft quoted line from writer, preacher, and theologian Fredrick Buechner, “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” Jacks and Buechner are on to something here that strikes at the deepest parts of our human experience and which captures something very important about the faithfulness of the triune God.
We learn from the wide range of biblical and theological notions of preparation that God is just as often preparing his people for trial, tribulation, and suffering as he is preparing them for vindication and deliverance. David’s famous prayer, “prepare for me a table in the presence of my enemies,” (Psalm 23) and Jesus’ poignant departing words in the upper room, “I will go and prepare a place for you” (John 14) are to be read and understood in conjunction with one another. The key for both passages, and for a multitude of others conveying this sentiment, is that God is present with us, preparing a way for us, enduring with us, and ultimately raising us up with Christ in glory.
While we often spend so much time operating in the mode of “hope for the best, plan for the worst” or “preparation is the key to success,” the truth is that most of life is far more complicated, that sometimes all the preparation in the world can result in unmitigated, disastrous failures, and that there are ultimately no real guarantees or failsafe approaches. This doesn’t mean cancel your insurance policies, stop studying for that next exam, or don’t plan for the next season of life. Please do. But if our preparation is oriented only toward worldly success or idealistic visions of the future, it will quickly distract us from the presence and promises of God that are for the here and now. We do not know for sure where our preparation will take us, but we do know (however difficult it is to accept and exhibit!) that God’s grace is sufficient for each present moment, and that it will carry us into the unknown future while conforming us daily to the image of Jesus.
In all my preparation, it is easy to forget that God is not really impressed with my plans or visions of the future, but is pleased only with my daily faithfulness and reliance on grace. And if I can pass that lesson on to my children, that will suffice. Perhaps when my daughter arrives in a couple of months I’ll amend the greeting I’ve frequently used by adding just a few more words to the end, words of welcome as well as hope, “Prepare to be amazed and disappointed, and remember that Jesus says, ‘I am with you always.’”