preparing a place
I put a damp cloth in Adam’s hands and point toward the bathtub. “Go ahead, wipe it clean, now.”
“We don’t have to clean the bathroom,” he says to me, because he doesn’t like scrubbing bathtubs any more than most of the rest of us. And that’s his new thing, as if life spins on what we have to do, and this, in his opinion, we don’t. To be fair, he’d live in squalor himself if I’d let him.
“Yes, we do,” I say. “Do it well, or we’ll do it again.” If there’s anything Adam hates it’s re-doing something he didn’t want to do in the first place. “Don’t you want Grandma and Papa to have a nice bathroom to use? Okay, now rinse.”
“We don’t have to rinse,” he says, but flips on the faucet anyway.
“Yes, we do,” I say again. Really, we don’t, and suddenly I realize the problem in telling him so. We don’t have to clean the bathroom; we don’t have to smooth the covers on their bed; we don’t have to dust the bureau until it shines. I don’t have to consider carefully what delicious dish I can simmer warm for supper. But I will; we will, because love compels us–Christ’s love, as the scripture says, and because the love that prepares a place tastes rich. After their trip, they’ll be tired.
“Grandma and Papa are coming,” Adam says, sloshing cool water along the now shiny sides of the bathtub.
“Yes, they are,” I say, smiling. “And we’re making sure things are ready.” Because how many times have they made a place for us where it felt so good to land? In fact, just a few weeks ago, it was us, pulling in feeling dusty from the road, or at least half bent and crumpled at the corners, and Mom’s heating up the supper. I remember the kitchen smelled like the blend of their sweet presence–sea-breezy and honeyed–and that simmering feast. It calls to mind a thousand times a long trip has ended just this way: We walk in weary and baggage-laden, smudged and bleary-eyed, and she touches our faces with her soft hands and those fingers call us precious. She says, “I’ve made your beds, and how about something to eat?” She’s prepared a place for us. You’d hardly know she’s lived a full day–baked a cake, too–and that her twisted muscles are tired. And then we gather around the table and sup on the givenness of those bruised hands, drawing up extra chairs. Every single time, I drink it in, the assembly of us all, warmed both by the welcome and the meal. There’s something so beautiful about the moment we arrive at an outpost of our people, isn’t there?
“Okay now, what next?”
Adam stands, handing me the cloth, considering. “Toilet,” he says, bending to retrieve supplies. “We don’t have to clean the toilet.”
“No, but we want to, for Grandma and Papa.” We don’t have to but we want to because we Love. And Love eagerly anticipates arrival; Love prepares a place.
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am (John 14:3). Just now it comes to me while I’m guiding Adam’s hands, showing him how to be thorough. This was one of the last promises Jesus made to his disciples in person, the night before the crucifixion, before their journey suddenly went all crooked and the whole world slipped out from under their feet. Jesus didn’t have to go to the cross. He didn’t have to, but he did, for love, and focused on joy, enduring pain we can hardly imagine (Hebrews 12:2). And that he then promised to prepare a place? Oh, Grace. “Good job,” I say to Adam, because it’s as though he gets more diligent when I speak their names.
I can’t help but wonder: If it’s so sweet for us to arrive at an outpost of our people, what will it be to come home to Jesus and that place, His feast? What will it be to have him touch our faces, to have his fingers call us precious? “Now here, then here,” I’m saying, running a cloth along surfaces. Adam follows behind with his cloth.
“Four things,” he says to me, lifting up four long fingers. He wants me to quantify the work remaining, but how do you count the steps left to well-prepared? No. You just love until it’s done. It is finished, Jesus said (John 19:30).
“We’ll be done when we’re done,” I say. “So now what?”
He stands up, looking at me. “Mirror.”
“We don’t have to wash the mirror.”
“You’re right. We don’t have to. But we want the bathroom to be ready for Grandma and Papa, don’t we? We’ll do it for them.”
Suddenly I realize I’m teaching my son something most of us never quite get, something that oft becomes my missing treasure, this thing about love–not obligation–compelling. So often we live like goodness is a requirement instead of a choice, thinking we’ll tough it out through what must be done so we can get to a bit of what we really want. But God’s ways are not our ways. In God’s economy, Love compels. Love gives. Love sacrifices what I want for what you need, and joy–not the burden–is the enduring focus. And love that prepares a place tastes of grace.
“Grandma and Papa are coming,” Adam says with a broad smile, rubbing the mirror with a paper towel. And could it be that the Savior anticipates our arrival with just this much delight–more, even?
What a landing that will be, gathering around His table to sup on the givenness of His torn hands–the bread, the wine–didn’t he speak this to his disciples around that same table, in that same conversation full of promises? For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the Kingdom of God…I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes (Luke 22:16, 18). And isn’t this the joy that was set before him, us with him at last, all weary from the journey and looking for rest? Oh. How can it be? Such grace.
Carefully, Adam folds a clean towel and slides it onto the rack, smiling still, smoothing it a bit with his fingers. He has been waiting for Grandma and Papa all week. There isn’t have to enough to compel such anticipation, such preparation. Only love.