That question propelled me into the world of Scouting, and would see two other sons eventually follow suit. My wife jokingly tells everyone that “dad likes scouting more than the boys”, and at times it may be true.
If you have any familiarity with Scouts, you know their motto: Be Prepared!
And speaking from experience, I am often not.
On our first trip, during an unpredictable Kentucky October weekend, I took a small play tent someone had bought our boys a year or two earlier. It functioned well in our basement, but little did I know, it was not acceptable for outdoor use.
We got to the campsite, setup, and that night, my son and I squeezed into this tent, hearing the other families chuckle at the size. Beyond embarrassment and tent-envy, little did I expect real problems. The night turned to morning, and I woke slightly damp. It had not rained, so I couldn’t understand the dilemma. Not only were we damp, but my bag of clothes was covered in moisture.
The tent didn’t have a rain fly! For non-campers, the fly is a cloth that covers the top of the tent to protect not only from rain but from morning dew. The tent was soaked in dew, and it had penetrated inside and on top of us.
Shortly after the trip, I drove down to the local super-store and upgraded to a real tent that would sleep not two small children, but five or six adults. I would be prepared.
About a year later, I was humbled once more. Our pack planned a weekend getaway to a local state park where we could fish, hike, eat, and geo-cache, among other manly activities. I proudly set up my tent among the other dads (with rain-fly secure), and offered room to another dad and son, because my tent was way more spacious than his weak-looking A-frame.
Not long after lights-out, a severe storm blew through the park. The wind and lightning were so strong, alarms started screaming, and we had to gather the boys and hunker down in the bathroom/shower facilities. Eventually the rain calmed enough to permit us to re-enter the tents, and we attempted to sleep with lightning and thunder overhead.
Eventually, we fell asleep, waking the next morning to wet pants. That felt gross and left me confused. The rain-fly worked, there were no leaks in the tent, so how did water soak through our bags and onto our pants? It came through the floor, and then I learned about the necessity of a ground-cloth or tarp to place under the tent to deter ground water. Again, not prepared.
I could tell more stories of cold nights with inappropriate attire, attempts at air mattresses not fitting into tents, forgotten food, recipe mishaps, etc.
But if you’ve spent any time in Orthodoxy, the Scouts’ motto applies to you as well.
Preparation is an essential part of our journey. Open any prayer book, and you will see prayers and practices to prepare for confession and reception of the Eucharist.
Our morning prayers prepare our hearts for the day. The fasts prepare our hearts for the feasts. The feasts prepare us for the fasts. Our prayers at home prepare us for prayers at church. Our prayers at church prepare our hearts for our prayers at home.
Over the years, I have learned one thing about the “Be Prepared” motto: preparation takes practice. It never stops. You don’t arrive at being prepared. You get better with experience. Until you charge forward seemingly prepared, you won’t know the preparation you missed.
Our life is a constant preparation for the reception of God’s Grace, and each fulfillment of that grace stretches our hearts, leading us to prepare for the next encounter.
At times, discouragement is an easy path, when you have diligently prepared for Liturgy and your mind wanders and you struggle to gain any connection with the presence of God. Yet that struggle enables you to prepare differently and better on your next encounter.
“We must prepare our hearts for that future life. Those who do so are detached from everything in this present life, and this detachment enables them to look forward with confidence to that day which the Lord bade us await with fear and trembling.” -Augustine of Hippo (354-430): Commentary on Psalm 147, 3
“If we have prepared a place for Him, He will gladly come to us who made us that He might dwell in us, even Jesus Christ our Lord.” -Hugh of St Victor