Weekly Edgework #24 - Dec. 14, 2004

Anticipating Surprise

Each day holds a surprise. But only if we expect it can we see, hear, or feel it when it comes to us. Letís not be afraid to receive each dayís surprise, whether it comes to us as sorrow or as joy. It will open a new place in our hearts, a place where we can welcome new friends and celebrate more fully our shared humanity (Bread for the Journey, Henri Nouwen, 1).

Many of us live mundane lives. We donít expect anything different, interesting or exciting to happen. Today will be like yesterday, and tomorrow will be similar. And we like it that way. Life may be kind of dull, but at least itís predictable. We donít particularly relish being caught off guard Ė to be surprised.

Recently a group of us were talking about what we had experienced in the past year. One person said that he and his wife had had a regular year. Nothing unusual had happened in twelve months. Things were normal. But even from my vantage point I knew of a number of things that had happened in their lives of significant note. Why, I wondered to myself, could he not see what I saw?

Nouwen suggests that we will only experience these surprises if we anticipate them. If our senses are not trained to pick up on surprises, we may not recognize them when they come. We will plod right by them even though they are waving at us, trying to catch our attention. I suppose it is similar to forgetting your spouseís birthday. Life just happens and without sufficient anticipation we just donít notice. This past August 8th, which is Ruthís birthday, I was having a regular day. Toward supper time she took my face in her hands, looked me squarely in the eyes and asked, ď Do you know what day it is today?Ē I guess that was my surprise for the day.

I think some of our distaste for surprise is rooted in our need to be in control. We like to think that we are in charge of our lives Ė what will or will not happen to them. We fill our calendars with appointments until we are satisfied that we have found a good balance, and then we proceed to live life according to schedule, our schedule that is. It feels good to be in control. It can even be a heady experience. To live with the anticipation of surprise each day would be to admit to not being fully in charge of our lives Ė that something will enter our personal space that we have not formally invited in.

So what? Why do we feel the need to place sentries at the gateway of our souls? Why must we not be disturbed? Is it our insecurities that make us afraid we will not know how to respond should a surprise overtake us? Some of us donít know how to revel in the surprises of joy. To get too excited about unexpected happy events sends a signal to others that we didnít see this one coming, that is, we were not in control of our agenda. Others donít know how to respond to unexpected sorrow. It is an unwelcome intrusion into a well-planned life, again reminding us that we do not have as much control as we like to think we have.

Anticipating surprise in our lives is a sign that our souls are healthy. We are admitting that our lives are intertwined inextricably with the cosmos, that we are a part of all that surrounds us. The world was not created for me alone; I was created to blend into the world that swirls around me. And that world will unavoidably intersect with my personal space whether I like it or not. The great news is that we can learn to expect it and even celebrate it.

Most of us can recognize a big surprise. Perhaps a loved one dies or is hurt in an accident. A son comes home to announce he is engaged to be married. You receive an unexpected inheritance from your motherís aunt who never married. Of course recognizing a big surprise does not ensure that we will receive it and process it in a healthy way. Many of us, however, donít recognize little surprises as being worthy of note or celebration. The blue jay that perches on a branch just outside my window. A firm handshake from someone who had seemed distant for some time. A call from a friend who wants nothing but to encourage you that day. A repeated thought about someone close to you going through a struggle. Sunshine when you expected cloud. A kind word when you had expected none.

Jesusí disciples had to get used to surprises. I am sure there was some predictability about their daily activities. But repeatedly Jesus would surprise them with the unexpected. A new interpretation of an old proverb. Going to eat with sinners. Treating women kindly. Inviting children to come to him. Clearing out the temple. A tongue-lashing for the religious establishment. A dogged determination to face imminent danger in Jerusalem. A parable that uncovered their ignorance.

If we anticipate surprises and are not afraid to receive them when they come, we will come to cherish life in a fourth dimension. So loosen up, my friend. Your planned agenda for today may only be significant to the extent to which you allow it to be a doorway through which surprises can slip. And when they do, donít be afraid to receive them and find a place in your heart for them.