Please, No Surprises

Sobbing in a heap on the floor. That’s how she found me, and it was all her fault.

Because that’s what surprises do to me.

Oh, it was a good surprise, the party for my fifteenth birthday. I couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised. We were more than a hundred miles from home that summer at basketball camp. I had even forgotten it was my birthday. But she didn’t. Not my best friend, Sally. It was important enough that she managed to make special arrangements to celebrate my day, and I rewarded her by running away.

When I had gone back to our dorm room between practice sessions, the last thing I had expected to see when I opened the door was balloons, cake, and friends shouting “Surprise!” in celebration of my birthday. I was overcome with emotion.

That’s that surprises do to me.

It’s probably one of the reasons I don’t deal with them well. I become a blubbering puddle of tears, or I react inappropriately. Like the time I punched Richard in the arm and called him a dog in front of my whole family when he surprised me with an engagement ring on Christmas Eve 25 years ago. I’m guessing that probably wasn’t the reaction he was going for.

This time of year surprises are everywhere. Every wrapped package, every box tucked away in the car trunk, is destined to make someone gasp. To take their breath away. Or, leave them sobbing in a heap on the floor.

I’ve never been a big fan of surprises. Surely I’m not the only one, because let’s face it, all surprises aren’t that great. At one point or another we’ve all been left sobbing in a heap on the floor after we threw open the door and were met with somber faces and ominous voices, struck down by surprise phrases like…

It’s cancer.

I’m leaving you.

Your position at this business has been eliminated.

Yeah, we’ve all had way too many of those surprises. So, why should I want to pray a prayer asking for a surprise? But that’s exactly what I was challenged to do in a devotional I read a couple of years ago. Pray a two-word prayer, “Surprise me!” I didn’t want to pray it, and the reason behind my not wanting to pray that prayer was the very reason I knew I needed to: a lack of trust.

I didn’t trust God.

You know who does trust? Kids. That’s why kids love surprises. They expect every surprise to be the best one ever. They haven’t yet grown skeptical or cynical. Their wide-eyed innocence allows them the full-blown thrill of experiencing surprises. I think that’s probably what appeals to Jesus so much about kids.

Then Jesus called the children over to him and said to the disciples, “Let the little children come to me! Never send them away! For the kingdom of God belongs to men who have hearts as trusting as these little children’s. And anyone who doesn’t have their kind of faith will never get within the Kingdom’s gates.”

Luke 18:16-17 (The Living Bible)

We adults, however, know better than to allow our hearts to be so trusting, don’t we? We’ve learned to play it safe, not gambling on being surprised by another painful experience. No, we’ll just pass on the surprises, thank you very much. Because we don’t trust.

I didn’t want to ask God to surprise me. Maybe I didn’t believe He was loving enough to give me something I’d like. Maybe I thought His idea of a surprise wouldn’t be very fun, or very easy, or very satisfying. Or, maybe I was afraid He would leave me sobbing in a heap on the floor.

Maybe I was afraid He would give me what I deserved. Maybe I was afraid He didn’t care enough to answer. After all, I remembered some dark times when He seemed glaringly absent. Had He been looking down on me, completely unaware of my pain? Or, even worse, unconcerned?

What might happen if I prayed, “God, surprise me”? I didn’t know, but I felt like something inside me might explode if I didn’t pray it. I had no idea if, or how, God would answer that prayer, but I knew it was the only way I could face head-on the fear that stemmed from my lack of trust in Him.

So, I did it. It was just a whisper; about as far removed as possible from the bold request of a trusting child who expected the best surprise ever. I may have even flinched involuntarily to avoid some imagined bolt of lightning. But I felt a strange relief after that prayer. Nothing earth-shaking, just an easy calm. And He answered. Nothing earth-shaking, just a nice surprise that let me feel His smile of approval at my step of faith. It was enough to encourage me to pray it again. And again. Each time with a little more oomph. Each time feeling a little more like a spiritual daredevil.

Now I realize how that prayer opens the door for God to give me more than I could ever think to ask Him for. I find that ironic, since my favorite Bible verse tells me that, pretty much word-for-word.

Now glory be to God, who by his mighty power at work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of — infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes.

Ephesians 3:20 (The Living Bible)

I think God probably gets a kick out of taking the time to set everything in place for our surprises, much like my friend Sally did. I think He loves to surprise us with things He knows we’ll like, things that sometimes even take our breath away. And like my engagement ring in 1992, which was hidden inside a much more nondescript gift, sometimes God gives us something that looks nice, but turns out to be more than we could ever dream of asking for!

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