Advent 1 – Luke 21:25-36
Sunday, December 2, 2018
Preparation requires foresight and intention. We need foresight to see that something is coming that will affect our experience. It is foresight that makes us step on our brakes when, a few cars ahead, we see traffic slowing down. We think “I’m going to pump the breaks now so that I don’t rear-end the person in front of me when they slow down” and thusly slow down in anticipation of what will happen. We are motivated by our own safety and survival. This isn’t selfish on our part, it’s just common sense. Foresight keeps us on top of things. When I roll out of bed and start the day, I begin with an hour of prayer. During that hour I lay the day ahead before the Lord, asking for wisdom, strength, insight, and the resolve to be faithful in all I have been entrusted with. This is an act of foresight. There is no rule that demands that I practice as such. No drill sergeant is blaring in my ear about getting out of bed, no boss is insisting that I report for duty before the sun is up. Over time I’ve gained the foresight to know that if I don’t get out of bed and get on top of the day, the day will get on top of me and I’ll be always behind, motivated by my own strength, full of my own dumb ideas, and largely unaware of what God is doing in the moment. I see the traffic ahead and, in anticipation, I change my habit so that I’m ready before it happens. I want to respond, not react. This is preparation, based on the foresight that something is coming that will affect my experience.
Foresight is what I see in the longview. We can’t take tomorrow for granted, as it hasn’t been promised to us by any organization, person, or deity. Each day is a gift and each tomorrow is a possibility without a guarantee. Our tomorrows are only ours when they change into today. And today has a new set of tomorrows that are, at best, a definite maybe. Arrogant foresight assumes that time is limitless, that humans are death-proof, and that we have total control. Deep down we all know these to be mere illusions, yet we tend to live our lives as if all three are true. We deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us, at least as far as what we really believe.
Dallas Willard says that we believe something when we live as if it were true. For me to live as if it were true looks far different from me saying I believe something but living as if it weren’t true. Arrogant foresight combines the self-illusion of eternal control with the empty words of false humility. That’s why we know one thing and do another. When we get caught in this truth, we hang our heads and say “I know, I know…”. This is what pushes us to make a New Years Resolution. Isn’t every New Years Resolution nothing more than us saying that we’re going to actually believe something? I’m going to lose 50 pounds. I’ve always known I was overweight, but it’s time for me to do something about it. The treadmill helps us melt 50 pounds off. We keep pounding away because we believe we really need to lose weight. That’s where we went from knowledge to belief.
Arrogant foresight knows something is going to happen but doesn’t have the accompanying belief that it will affect us. It is arrogant foresight that causes me to speed down the interstate in my blue Nissan. I know that I’m not supposed to speed, that there is a limit that the law has set and that I must obey. But I don’t believe it applies to me until I see a police car. That’s when I believe. Arrogant foresight says “I know the speed limit but I won’t get caught.” Humble foresight says “I know the speed limit and I believe it’s not right to speed.”
Does Jesus forgive us for speeding? I can’t help but wonder. Does the savior roll his eyes every time we go 71? Jesus, why aren’t you constantly frustrated with us? Because you love us? Because of grace? I know that, I’m just not sure if I believe it.
What we need is humble foresight. Humble foresight acknowledges our lack of control. It isn’t just foresight. It’s humble foresight. Humble foresight is the first part of Preparation. I must confess something about myself. I have a problem, and it’s that I’m always running late. I must be very honest with you. I don’t think it’s cute that I’m often 2-5 minutes late for things, nor do I think it’s ok. Yet I must believe it’s ok because I keep running late. I have some diagnostic information to add to my knowledge base. For example, one study suggests that certain personalities tend to run late. Can you guess what kind of people run late? Optimists. Optimists run late because they really believe that it will only take 30 seconds to get ready, that they haven’t misplaced their keys, that it will take them less time to commute because, if you go fast enough, you can squeeze a 5 minute drive down to 3. How? Every light is green and there will be no train. Optimists indeed. The realists got there a few minutes early because, in their humble foresight, they know that there are factors well outside their control. People who often run late are called “Polychronic” because they have a different, often skewed view of how time passes. This way you can say “Im not running late — I’m an optimistic polychron.” In other words, we had the foresight to know what was coming, we just weren’t humble about it.
Humble foresight begins with a firm grasp on reality. It’s not just vision of what’s ahead, it’s also an honest view of who you are and how you roll. It is pride and arrogance that gets us overcommitted. It is greed and power hunger that keeps us there. I say this as an optimistic polochron, arrogant with overcommitment and greed to keep me complaining about how busy I am. This is my genuine confession. I’m working on it. I’m trying to get a firm grasp on my reality. It will take longer to get ready. There are red lights. It’s rude to walk in late. I see it, I just need the humility to act like it’s true. To believe.
This is where intention comes in. We need to see (foresight) with a firm grasp of reality (humility) and then act on what we see and know about ourselves with great intention. We practice intentionality out of the belief that nothing happens by itself, that God is the only unmoved mover, that everything else is in motion because something bumped it, pushed it, kicked it. Motivation is required. Boxcars have freight but only the locomotive can move them. The tracks are intentionally laid. Nothing will happen unless we move. We only move because God has given us the ability. We speak because we have been spoken into existence. We breathe because God made a planet and a set of lungs run by a brainstem. We think and create and feel because we are made in the image of our creator who does the same.
One of the skills our creator God has given us is the skill of focused intention. Admittedly some of us are better at this than others. Some people on the autism spectrum have a special ability in this arena because their ability to focus and get things done is enviable to those of us who are more easily distracted. It is distraction that removes our focus, and then our intention changes. Just like foresight, focused intention requires humility. We really have to believe that what we are doing is important enough to say “no” to the other options for our intentions to flow toward. When I sit down to write, I do so with focused intention. One way I protect the focus of my intention is by turning off the wi-fi on my computer. I resist, again and again, the inborn desire to google something, to take a peek twitter, to check my many email boxes (a sign of overcommitment, perhaps). This takes humility because I have to believe that it’s impossible for me to “just check my email real quick.” Unfortunately I know myself better than that. As soon as I get online, I will find myself bouncing from site to site, chasing tangents to their eventuality, a meme, which then leads to even more ridiculousness. Meanwhile my writing work gets ignored as my intention switches focus to whatever is most shiny at that moment. Never once did I suspend my belief, or so I think, that what I needed to get done still needs to get done. Yet I must have believed, in that moment of pointless internet wandering, that what I was doing in that moment was more important than what I was supposed to be doing. We are funny creatures, all of us, and we need to fool ourselves into doing the right thing. That’s what a discipline basically is: fooling ourselves into doing the right thing.
Preparation requires humble foresight, which is the ability to see the future with a firm grasp on my reality, and focused intention, which is saying no to everything but the right thing, no matter how interesting or important they may seem. We will never be prepared without these two forces at work in us.
When Emily and I were praying — desperately — to have a child, we had limited foresight that was, I suppose, as humble as it could be at the time. We don’t know what we don’t know, and it seems true that we are never ready to have children. I’m not ready for my son to be dating, but here he is, 13 years old, and he’s got a girlfriend. Anyway, God clearly answered that prayer, and now we have three awesome children, all blessings from the Lord. I’ll never forget the moment when Emily came out of the bathroom holding plastic stick soaked in her fresh urine and a big smile of joy on her face. Positive. We hugged, Emily jumped up and down, I think I did, too. We prayed and thanked God and kept praying for the baby in her tummy.
As the weeks rolled on, Emily started this thing called nesting. That’s what our parents told us was happening. Nesting. It’s where you start preparing for the baby to come. I got up one night and Emily was sorting our Tupperware lids and containers. Why? So that they’re organized. The way I saw it, there’s no point in trying to match lids to containers because they aren’t meant to be found together, plus, the cupboard door is always closed and no one could see in there. But they had to be organized. The nursery had to be painted. The crib had to be assembled. The diaper changing table had to be stocked. Clothes, including tiny socks and t shirts with witty sayings. We had one bib that said “Give peas a chance.” Cute. Bottles and formulas and pumps and rocking chairs… tons of preparation for something we saw on the horizon.
Humble foresight? Indeed. We need to get ready, because this is going to really affect us. In other words, start sleeping now and store up as much as you can because it’s all over. Those 13 hour sleeps followed by a day on the Playstation are over. I started asking other dads what it’s like, how to prepare, what to expect when she’s expecting.
Focused intention? Absolutely. There’s a timeline, and some things will just have to be pushed aside so that we’re ready for the baby. Today I signed us up for Lamaze class. Next week we’re going to buy a car seat and get it fitted to the Jeep. I’ve researched strollers and decided on the blue Graco from Target. No, we can’t go out to eat there because the smell of breadsticks makes the baby angry, and when the baby is angry, I get sick.
Humble foresight without focused intention means that I know something is coming and that I’m not ready, but that there’s really no point in getting ready.
Focused intention without humble foresight is activity without purpose. It is busy work.
The gospel reading for today is one that calls us to prepare. We need both humble foresight and focused intention… to be continued