You can prepare
it will come to you
crossing through your doorway
calling your name in greeting,
turning like a child
who quickens suddenly
it will astonish you
how wide your heart
for the joy
that finds you
and still so
–For Joy, by Jan Richardson
So ready and still so unprepared.
This is an apt description of so much of life, and especially life’s seminal moments and transitions: graduations, career moves, periods of discernment and anticipation and waiting. Test results. Diagnoses. The car ride on the way to the doctor’s office.
I remember meeting with a friend some time ago whose father was quite ill with an incurable cancer that they were managing as best they could. We spoke of this tension of wanting to prepare for what is surely coming: to say things that need to be said, to ask questions that need to be asked, to hear stories that need to be shared—to see and touch and hold and laugh and cry. But all the while knowing we can only prepare to a point. There’s no way to stand fully prepared for life’s end.
Neither can we prepare fully for life’s beginning. “So ready and yet still so unprepared” could describe any woman or couple awaiting the birth of a child. You’ve read the books, maybe even attended the classes. You’re ready, mostly. Ready to see and touch and hold and laugh and cry. But the rest of it? The long nights, the long days, the dirty diapers and doctor visits, the constant worry, the incessant fear, the terrible vulnerability?
There comes a point when the best we can do—and it turns out, it is quite a lot—is simply stand ready to receive what comes. To keep our minds and our hearts open to receive what we know will be much more than we could ever plan for, and trust that we are not alone when we do.
This is the true work of Advent. It’s true in the immediate sense of preparing for Christmas and all the rush of emotions and memories and expectations. But this is only meant to be the doorway into something much greater. In Advent we await not simply the coming of baby Jesus on Christmas morning, but for the Kingdom of God to be among us. For the first to become last and the last first. For tears to be wiped away and loved ones to return and for all of us to be called home.
How could we ever be fully prepared for all of this?
So instead, we make ourselves ready to receive what comes. We practice standing with our arms out and our hearts open. With our back straight and our eyes looking out. We breathe deeply. We relax the muscles in our shoulders and our gut and find the rhythm of our own heart beating. We look around and see others standing with us as we do. We remember we’re not alone.
This is how we wait; not crafting a plan that will surely be insufficient, but assuming a posture that we pray will allow us to receive what comes, remembering that Christ will be there somewhere within it.