I have fond memories of when the doorbell would ring unexpectedly in my childhood home. A moment of delight overtook me. Who could it be? Was it a neighborhood friend, a drop-in visit from a friend of mom’s or maybe the UPS man delivering a package? There was something about the unknown ding-dong that excited me. Nowadays, pop-in visits are not as common, but, the “unexpected” remains an absolute.
Truly, each day brings about something “unexpected”. First, there are the “joyful unexpected” encounters: the doorbell rings and a friend is on the other side of the door with a plate of cupcakes. Or, you answer your phone and have an invitation to lunch. Or, you receive great news that you hadn’t planned on. Yes, the “joyful unexpected” is always welcome.
Last week, I had dropped my kids off at school, to come home and find my neighbor with her daughter waiting for the school bus. I inquired and learned that the school bus had broken down and was going to be a while. I offered to take her daughter to school and a few minutes later, I had a “joyful unexpected” encounter taking a sweet girl to school for the day. I was grateful I was able to meet a need and had the margin in my life to be able to offer.
Then, there are the “oh, no unexpected” encounters. At times, very difficult and distressing “oh, no unexpected” moments arise such as illness, death, or the loss of a job. But, I want to take a look at the mini “oh, no unexpecteds” of our every day lives. Those unexpected split-second occurrences when the kids explode in an argument, the dog chews a favorite shoe, and the milk spills all over the floor. When in an instant, a day can change from delightful to frustrating.
I am still always taken aback when the “oh, no unexpected” smacks into my day, even when, by now, I can count on it! Such as last week, when after I had dropped my neighbor’s little girl off to school, I entered my home and, within 5 minutes, the phone rang and it was my son’s teacher letting me know my child was sick and I needed to pick him up. My “joyful” stance quickly left. The “oh, no unexpected” took over. I groaned inwardly. I had to drive back the same way I had just come and I was doubtful of how “sick” my child was. Selfishly, my plans for the day were interrupted. My first reaction of “oh, no” tends to be irritation. It is followed by a slippery slope of negativity that leads to words used as weapons.
As I was driving back to the school I had just come from, I was thinking about how I did not want today to be overcome by my selfish irritation. How could I take a more fruitful road? One that leads to a life-giving stance. A thought arose: “Welcome the unexpected; welcome this time as a time of nurturing”. I gingerly got out of the car and picked my child up. We walked to the car and I heard him tell me about his achy body and sore throat. I made a lot of mmmm-hmmmm’s and oh, yeahs. I won’t lie. I was fighting my standard inner reaction of aggravation, but I committed to “welcome the unexpected”. We arrived home and typical sick-day happenings took place. A big glass of water was poured. Medicine was swallowed. Napping was encouraged. A little TV was watched. I hung out with him while he ate lunch and heard stories about school. Truth be told, “Welcoming the unexpected” didn’t look much different than an ordinary sick day. The biggest difference was my attitude. Instead of aggravation, I awkwardly attempted a welcoming stance. By welcoming, I noticed my focus shifted from the hassle of inconvenience to gratitude. Grateful to be able to pick him up, grateful to have a day at home, grateful for one-on-one time.
I can’t help but wonder if welcoming the unexpected is the place of God? I consider Mary and Joseph, weary travelers, looking for a place to stay. Knocking on the door of an inn as total strangers. The innkeeper opening the door, taking one look, seeing the unexpected and uttering, “There is no room for you”. No, there is no room for a pregnant woman and her husband. No room for this child of God in the womb. No place for the inconvenient, the strange. When the “oh, no unexpected” comes into our life, the easier route is to say “No” to the disruption or to hit the “replay” button of our favorite go-to reaction.
When we take a look at Christ, we see He has a certain way of welcoming the unexpected. He comes to us as both divine and human, a stranger in our midst. Maybe because he understands what it’s like to be the stranger, his way welcomes the strange, the unexpected, the surprise. And, while I don’t think any person or circumstance is unexpected to Jesus, his welcome of the stranger comes as unexpected to us. What a surprise! Jesus is the one who allows the unclean, bleeding woman to touch his cloak (Luke 8:44); to forgive the adulteress woman (John 8); to notice Zacchaeus, wretched tax collector, in the tree (Luke 19). He’s the one who receives the late night call of Nicodemus, the questioning Pharisee (John 3) and heals the Roman centurion’s servant (Matthew 8:5-13). Yes, he’s always welcoming those people and situations that make the rest of us say, “Oh, no”! It seems the people and situations which interrupt, aggravate and come unexpectedly are God-ordained opportunities asking us to pause and welcome.
Towards the end of Jesus’ life, He told his disciples to go into the city and look for a certain man and tell him they would have Passover at his home (Matthew 26:18). This certain man, who’s name we never know, says, “Yes”. Was this an unexpected question coming from the disciples, “Hello, sir, ummm… Jesus sent us and said to ask you about having Passover at your home?” Seems a lofty request and yet, this certain man, welcomes the disciples into his space to prepare Passover. I wonder if this man had any trepidation? Was he inconvenienced or did he respond with any hesitation? Yes, I would love to know more about this man who was so willing to hold a feast for Jesus and friends at the drop of a hat. This man who welcomed the unexpected became the host home for a little dinner we know as the Last Supper.
Unexpected encounters happen daily. And, while we naturally welcome the “joyful unexpected”, I believe the “oh, no” encounters give us a special opportunity. The little mini “oh, no’s” that surprise us each day are chances to encounter a loving God. When our alarm clock doesn’t go off, or the traffic jams on our way to work, or the rain cancels our plans, we have a chance to welcome the interruption. And, by taking a deep breath and uttering, “Welcome”, something mysterious occurs. “Life, interrupted” transforms into a divine surprise: an encounter with the Living God. What is this divine surprise? It’s different for everyone, but it may simply be that our irritation is no longer with us. Amen.
The Welcoming Prayer was developed by Mary Mrozowski, a leader of the centering prayer movement. This is a prayer I was introduced to about two years ago and it has helped me immensely in “life, interrupted” times. When I sense tension taking over, this has become a friend to guide me through:
- Focus and Sink In: Notice the present moment. Notice where your body
is tense, what your emotions and feelings are. View them objectively,
attempt not to judge yourself.
- Welcome: Give yourself permission to be where you are; Acknowledge
God’s presence in the moment by stating, “Welcome (insert feeling/emotion)”
- Let Go: State these inwardly or outwardly:
I let go of my desire for security.
I let go of my desire for affection.
I let go of my desire for control.
I let go of my desire to change the situation.