I’ve been stuck for a while now on how God prepares us. I pray over people – Thank you, God, for preparing this person for the work they are doing now and for using this work to prepare them for the next thing. I pray over myself – Thank you, God, for all of the many ways you prepared me for right now and for how You are going to use right now later.
There’s a horrible Christian cliche that says God never gives us more than we can handle and anyone who’s been a Christian for more than two months can probably tell you that that’s not true. Look at Job. Can anyone handle losing all of their children in one freak accident? How do you handle something like that? How do you even deal with such senseless, total, sudden, and overwhelming loss? I don’t believe that as humans we know what to do with that kind of brokenness. Which is why we need God. If God never gave us more than we could handle, we’d never have a reason to go to Him, and if there’s one thing I know God loves, it’s when we go to Him. For anything and everything, big and small, happy and sad, handle-able and completely out of our hands. It’s what He lives for. Handling us and our brokenness and our circumstances and literally loving the hell out of us.
But God isn’t a masochist and He isn’t needy. There’s an episode of Raising Hope where Jimmy finds out that his dad, Burt, used to dress up like scary “dog man” on Halloween and scare Jimmy so that he’d run home and hug him. Burt was desperate for hugs from his son and he was willing to scare him to be able to spend that time with him. God is not Burt. He’s not scaring us or hurting us so that we’ll cling to Him. Scary and hard stuff happens because we are humans living a world with other humans and until Jesus comes back and ultimately and forever restores this mess, humans + more humans will often equal hurt.
Humans + more humans + God = beautiful things, though. And it’s those kind of things that God prepares us for. Not the stuff that is void of any hurt or fear, but the stuff that contains beautiful things despite the hard stuff. The brutiful as Glennon Doyle Melton refers to it. That’s the kind of stuff God called us for. That’s the kind of stuff we are justified and glorified in.
In college I studied Teaching English as a Second Language and we learned about some formula or theory that I can only vaguely remember that said we need to teach L + 1. (Or what is T + 1? I can’t find it online.) The gist was that we needed to take all of the language that the student knew and add one new concept or verb tense or grammar rule or vocabulary chunk. You don’t sit down on the first day of class and teach a language learner an entire language. You also don’t start a second class with all new information. You build. You teach a foundation of letters and their sounds and then you build on top of that foundation with vocabulary and grammar rules and sentence structure and idioms. But as any good teacher knows, you always start with review. L + 1. What you’ve already learned, plus a little more.
This is what God does with us. Or at least what He’s done with me. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve looked down the barrel of an upcoming responsibility and thought, “I cannot do that.” Moving away to a college where I know NOBODY? I can’t do that. Leading a bible study of 8th grade girls every week? I can’t do that! Leading a YouthWorks site as Site Director? I surely cannot do that. Have a meeting with a parent in my second language. Scary! Uncapable.
But God didn’t just drop me off at college after my first day of kindergarten. He sent me to school first. He let me learn how to make friends. He didn’t ask me to lead Bible Study after I’d been a Christian for a week and was seven years old. He sent me to seven years of Bible Study where I watched someone else lead first. He didn’t ask me to lead a YouthWorks site without first sending me on eleven short term mission trips (three of which were with YouthWorks). He does the + 1 thing. Everything builds. Each lesson informs the next and draws from the previous.
That’s why comfort and complacency are so dangerous. If you keep repeating the same day 1 English lesson over and over, you’ll get really good at that lesson and you’ll really know the alphabet and it will feel great asking people how they are and telling them your name, but without that tricky + 1 you’ll never actually learn the language. There will be no learning, no growth.
Isaiah tells us that God hedges us in. He goes before us, behind us, and with us. Basically, He has the whole syllabus planned out and memorized. He knows what’s up. And he lovingly guides us to the + 1. He gives us the tools to succeed and to grow. When we know who God is, when we trust the foundation He’s given us, when we take the time to build that foundation with Scripture and prayer and conversation and vulnerability and accepting-grace, we can trust that we are ready for the + 1 the same way that my students trust that they are ready for a new set of vocabulary words every week. I trust what I know, I trust the L, the learned – my experiences and relationships and what they’ve taught me about who God is and who I am. And I also trust the + 1, the new – what’s happening, what I’m learning, how I’m growing, what God’s doing, and who I can be.
Here’s the thing about prep work: God does His in us. We can trust what we’ve learned and also trust that there is so much more coming at us in the form of new + 1’s all the time. Moses did not think he was ready. He couldn’t see the L, what he already knew to be true. He only saw the + 1 and it freaked him out. But the truth is, God had been preparing Moses his whole life to lead God’s people out of Israel. Moses was predestined, called, justified, and glorified. He was scared, but He trusted who God was (and He asked for help, which is a whole nother thing about how we need each other) and He ultimately took that step.
God has been preparing me my whole life to be the first grade teacher at Las Palmas. And He is using this experience to teach me something I will need for the next one (I bet it’s patience). It is with this knowledge that I can believe big things about myself. Not because of who I am, but because of who my teacher is. As long as I continue to show up to my lessons, I am capable. I am ready for the + 1 because I have been prepared well by a knowledgeable teacher who knows me and loves me.