The Unexpected

Now that I have some distance from the holiday season, I've been mulling over the way I respond to holidays and big events.  I'm continually surprised by what a let down New Year's Eve tends to be, and this year's Super Bowl was another event that I looked forward to for weeks, only to end up feeling like a bored zombie while watching a game that was never even close.  So often a day that I'm told is supposed to be exciting or celebratory falls flat.  Why is this?  Have you ever had this experience?  The bigger the day, it seems like the bigger chance for frustration and disappointment.  If you're beginning to wonder where I'm going with such a downer subject, let me assure you I am not Eeyore the donkey in disgruntled human form.  I think the key is found in the unexpected.

You Can't Force It

One of the rules of psychology is that if you try not to think of something, you will inevitably only be able to think of that thing.  Try it right now.  Don't think of an elephant.  Why are you thinking of an elephant standing on a ball?  Stop it and pay attention to what I'm trying to write about.

It is the same with events.  If we approach a day or a situation with preconceived ideas about how it's going to be or how it's supposed to be, we will be focused on that and will end up having a bad time.  Your mind is focused on one thing to the exclusion of the actual experience.  This is another way of saying that in life, you can't force things.  You cannot force yourself to have a good time if you're telling yourself that you should be having a good time, and you can't make other people behave the way you want them to.

I just had a birthday.  This is another day that we are told is supposed to be one of the best of the year.  People always ask me on my birthday what I'm doing to celebrate or if I had a great day.  I feel so much pressure to make it a great day, that even if something great happens, I'm not really able to be in the moment.  Often some activity to celebrate my birthday either several days before or after the big day ends up being more meaningful.  The exception to this rule was a couple of years ago when on my birthday, my wife surprised me by turning our kitchen into a candlelit French cafe and preparing all my favorite foods.  Realizing this pattern, I see that the best days are the ones we haven't planned, the times we are surprised.

The 3 Hangover movies were wildly successful, and I think part of the reason is that they tap into this reality, albeit in a raucous, immoral manner.  Friends get together with an idea of what they're going to end up doing for a bachelor party, and one crazy thing happens after another.  We are drawn to "I can't believe that just happened!"


Look back on your fondest memories.  Some of them may have been big days, like your wedding or the birth of a child.  But I would wager that many of them were days when you woke up expecting one thing and got another.  At the end you find yourself smiling, laughing, and feeling grateful for the experience.  This is the power of the unexpected.  You can't force it, and it often appears in very simple moments.  But you can put yourself in a position to experience it more often.  For me, it's about moving through life with open hands, not holding too tightly to expectations or thoughts about how a day or event should go.  It's realizing that the middle of the week could be more profound or enjoyable than the Saturday night plans I've been looking forward to all week.

I believe this principle holds true with God as well.  We cannot force God to show up when and how we want Him to, nor can we create the kind of experiences we want during worship services or times of prayer.  God moves in the unexpected, and asks us to be ready for Him to break through in our lives each day in thousands of ways, from the mundane to the life changing.  Our responsibility is to be ready, to adopt a child-like attitude of hope and expectation, without forcing it.  So many of our expectations are completely self absorbed and God wants to take us out of that, to be ready to actually experience what is around us.