‘In failing to prepare you are preparing to fail’ – anyone else having awful flashbacks to school exams on reading this phrase? For me it brings up the vague sick feeling that accompanies revision timetables, flashcards, and piles of textbooks in the library while the sun shines outside.
Educational environments naturally lead to a very focused, goal-orientated approach. You focus on your studying, avoid being distracted, keep your eyes on the prize until you leave that exam hall or hand in that project and can finally breathe a sigh of relief. Whenever I completed a deadline, I would then go back and pick up all the pieces of my life I’d been neglecting during the revision season – tackle the pile of washing up that had been building, speak to friends I’d not seen in weeks, go to church and all the other routine activities that go out the window when I think I’ve got more important things to focus on. And as students face more and more assessment, and graduate life brings with it the challenges of balancing work and life, this feeling can take over not just the end of term push, but the whole of our lives.
But this quote from Bonhoeffer’s ‘Life Together’ made me rethink what it means to be prepared: “We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and cancelling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions.”
Instead of good preparation being about focusing hard and never taking our eyes off the task at hand, Bonhoeffer suggests that we should always be prepared to be distracted. Rather than sticking doggedly to our own plans, we should be ready to follow the nudge of God’s call wherever we hear it, especially when it comes in the form of a person in need.
This attitude of holding the plans we make loosely, of being prepared to stop what we’re doing and attend to the needs we see around us, seemed counterintuitive to me at first. But this turning aside from the things we think are important is a way that we see God at work throughout the bible. In Exodus 3, Moses is minding his own business, tending to the sheep his new father-in-law has given to him (not something you want to mess up, presumably) and suddenly a bush catches fire nearby. Rather than just getting on with shepherding his flock, he senses a presence of God in this spectacle, and in taking the time to be interrupted by the strange occurrence, has an encounter with the divine where he discovers his calling to lead the Israelites out of slavery. Moses was prepared to follow his curiosity where it led him – and thank goodness he was.
So rather than taking an approach to preparation of rigidity and focus, and instead of trying to protect myself from mishaps through my own good planning, I’m trying to adopt an attitude of trusting in God, and preparing myself to respond to the spontaneous call of the divine in my everyday life. And if Moses’ story of this is anything to go by, this might just be how we find ourselves on holy ground.
This blog was written by Emma, our Regional Development Worker based in the North East. If you would like to contribute towards the work of SCM so that we can keep employing brilliant regional workers across the country you can do so on our donate page. Thank you!