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Let’s Talk: Don’t Miss the Surprise

Photo of Daniel Ross-JonesI hate surprises. I am, by nature, a planner. I don’t like anything that takes me off my carefully mapped and measured trajectory. At best, when I encounter the unexpected, I quickly assess it and strategize my way back to the plan as if it didn’t happen. Then, the next time I’m planning, I use it as a scenario in said planning to be prepared should it happen again.

Well… that’s not quite accurate. I’m A-OK with happy surprises, or even neutral surprises – especially when I can tell, in the moment, they’ll make for a humorous anecdote when I retell the story to others. I hate big surprises, the kinds of surprises that compel me to truly grapple with my own vulnerability and human limitations. Ones that have a way to throw me into an internal conflict with my expectations, norms, and values.

On Tuesday, as I was scrolling through Instagram, I came across a friend’s re-post that surprised me. It was a graphic that said, “Did it hurt? When you realized 2022 is just 25 days away and you’re still processing 2019 which is about to be three years ago?”

It felt like the wind had gotten knocked out of me, as if someone had just ka-thumped me in the center of my back.

Since March 19, 2020, I’ve been assessing and strategizing my way back to plan. Like so many people, I started with a confidence that the patterns of normalcy will return following these brief messages from our sponsors.

I was looking to 2020 with no small amount of anticipation. “Decade years” have a certain amount of gravitas behind them already, and I was eager to turn the page on the angst of the teen years.

What felt at first like it would be nothing more than a “pause” transformed into nothing less than a world-altering break with the past. Yet, I don’t think I’m the only one who has still felt stuck in the pause: waiting out the obstacle, planning and strategizing my way around it to get back to the original plan and move forward.

I’ve grieved – both for my own personal experience in our collective trauma, as well as the stories of the lived experiences of others. I’ve slowly, often painfully, come to accept the reality that those patterns of normalcy that I most hoped (yearned) to return are unlikely to ever look the same in my lifetime.

And through it all, I’ve kept planning: assessing, mapping, strategizing, finding the common through-line to grip with one hand as I stumble forward, my other hand extended in front of me to steady myself.

I feel foolish when I admit that my addiction to planning meant I missed the surprise altogether. I’ve been clinging so tightly to that which linked me with where I’ve been, I haven’t been able to appreciate where I am or to even consider the hope for where I’m going.

Last week I wrote about how I appreciate the liturgical calendar placing Advent, the season of preparation, as the beginning of the church year. In that spirit of preparation, this year I’m challenging myself to a different kind of pause – suspending my impulse toward planning and instead taking stock of what’s surprising me.

Because, even as someone who hates surprises, I have to admit that they’re often the only things that can interrupt me long enough to consider whether the plan I’m working is the best plan – or even a plan to a destination I want to reach.

So this Advent, I don’t want to miss the surprise. Whatever it is. Just… maybe only a small surprise? And maybe during this specific block of time next Thursday when I can prepare and hold space for it? Or maybe a quick preview so I can be fully present in the moment and expect it? Baby steps, after all.

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