I hate surprises. They make me so anxious. I hate not knowing what’s coming next. I get antsy just thinking about the unknown, about the future sometimes. I’ve been this way ever since I was a kid. Being a born and bred So Cal child, I loved going to Disneyland, but I wanted to always know when we were going. I wanted to plan it all. I wanted to be able to control just a little bit of the fun we had.
Control is something I think we all want. Especially as educators, we want to have control over our classrooms, our systems, and processes too. Even the conversations we have with parents are often curated over time with deep thought and intentionality. We pour our time and our hearts into our lesson plans so that we can express the wisdom and knowledge our students need to know. We pray that this will keep them engaged, growing and learning, and hopefully our teaching will also keep behavior problems at a minimum. We don’t want them to not engage with the content due to boredom. We all spend significant time trying to control our immediate world around us.
I remember my 16th birthday, when my parents threw me a surprise birthday party at Buca de Beppo. All my friends were there, even the guy from youth group that I had a crush on. I remember being a total pain to my mom that day. She picked me up from school and I argued with her that I was expecting a boring 16th birthday because we didn’t have the time to have a big party with all my friends or go to the beach for a fun girls’ beach day. I was mean, belittling, and selfish. I was bummed and made sure she knew how bummed I was. Turns out, as we were having that conversation, she was driving me to the restaurant, where at least 15 of my friends and family had gathered. I walked in that back special events room, and everyone yelled, “Surprise!”. I cried. I felt so guilty and ashamed of how I had acted and the words I said. I looked over at her across the room, smiled and whispered, “Thank you,” while she just smiled, with that knowing look of forgiveness. I remember she said to me, “You’re welcome and I love you.” A mother’s love really knows no bounds, and I’m so thankful for her forgiveness that day. I’m thankful that even though she knew I didn’t like surprises, she still surprised me. She gave me that experience. I learned a lot about being in control that day, both of my words and my actions, as well as the world around me.
In reality, we don’t control anything, really. God is in control. Always and every time. In all things.
In Matthew 28:1-7, the disciples and Jesus’ followers were dismayed by what they had witnessed two days prior. Jesus had been brutally crucified and He bore that pain and torture with grace. He died. They all knew it. John and the women had witnessed it. They were grieving and mourning because they didn’t know what would happen next. He was supposed to be the King of the Jews, the guy that saved them all from Roman control. And here He goes, and He gets Himself killed? How could this guy actually be the Messiah? Maybe he was just a liar or a lunatic. Or was He actually Lord, after all, as He said?
“After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. 2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. 5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
Surprise!! He’s NOT dead! He’s actually alive! He rose from the dead!
WHATTTT????? ← That’s what I would imagine the Marys’ and the disciples’ responses were like! A big ol’ “HUH??? How is this possible!?”
This guy who had taught them all so much, had lived by example, performed countless miracles and healings, who claimed He was the Son of God, actually did what He said He would do. That’s the kicker for me. There really is no surprises with Jesus. The angel's words in verse 6, “He is not here; He has risen, just as He said.” Just as He said. He told them He would die and that He would be raised to life on the third day. He knew. He KNEW.
When I think about how much I hate surprises, I also have to remind myself of all the times in life that I’ve been surprised by something God has done. When I think about the surprising nature of our God, I wonder how I can still hate surprises. I guess it’s a work in progress, because God surprises us all the time with unexpected answers to prayer, blessings and gifts that bring us joy. He surprised me with an incredible husband when I thought for sure I was going to be single forever. He surprised me when a friend recently told me that her cancer has almost completely disappeared from her body, that she no longer needs significant surgery with a long recovery.
He also surprises us sometimes with the things that are allowed to happen for now, things like death, disease, and fear. He surprised me when we experienced three miscarriages last year. We are still seeking God’s guidance and will for our family. We trust His promises and believe how Scripture tells us He will surprise us still. I know that we will be parents, but I’m just not yet sure how that will happen or when. I know that God will surprise us with His Will, in His time. In those unknown-to-us moments of life, we learn, and we grow. In the meantime, we can find rest and peace by trusting in God’s all-knowing nature.
So when you feel that need to be in control or even when you feel out of control, with a desperate need to control just about everything, take a deep breath and trust in how God knows what He is doing in every part of your life. Even in the grief, and the hard things, He still can surprise us. There is joy in the mourning. And there will be joy in the morning when we see Jesus again face to face. Even Jesus’ mother experienced the surprising joy of Easter. As we celebrate Easter now, in just a few days, one day we will experience not just His resurrection, but ours and all those who belong to Him. One day the greatest surprise will be who is with us in paradise.
In the meantime, we hold onto the fact that we are loved and forgiven by the limitless love of our Savior. As we enter Holy Week, let’s each take the time to be surprised and amazed by God’s infinite mercy and grace in our lives, thankful for how He always shows up, how He never leaves us, and let’s rejoice that He will again return, to surprise us more with His words and promises which we already know, because well… He ALREADY TOLD US.
Annie Anderson, Little Palms School, Mesa, AZ