Two of my children dislike being surprised. I’ve told each of them to buckle up if they don’t like surprises, because life is full of them! Good ones and bad ones, they seem to be around every corner. And I do understand why surprises unnerve some people; they like to feel steady ground beneath them. Surprises catch you off-guard and unprepared sometimes.
But most of us like pleasant surprises. We’ve all hidden in the dark with a group of pals, waiting for a birthday friend to open the door so we can shout, “Surprise!” It’s the reason we wrap presents, to maintain just a few seconds of suspense before the big reveal.
The anticipation prior to Christmas is nearly always more exciting than the actual opening of gifts. Seeing them under the tree, hearing the rustle of someone wrapping a present, and wondering what each one could be. The suspense is irresistible.
And we love a surprise wedding proposal, surprise bonuses at work, a surprise favorite dinner, the surprise announcement of a new baby on the way, a surprise vacation.
Many of us feel tingly excitement when we wait to spring a surprise gift on someone. Christmas and birthdays give us that chance. Often, we toil over the perfect handmade present, thinking the whole time of the smile on our loved one’s face when they see the final result.
Game shows capitalize on this. My husband, Bob, hosted Let’s Make a Deal for ABC, and got to surprise people for a living. The curtain would open and he’d shout, “It’s a brand-new car!” One time a woman fainted dead away.
But where does this come from? Why do we get such joy from making others suddenly ecstatic?
I think it’s a heavenly trait. I do. I know for a fact that Heavenly Father loves to surprise us, because I’ve watched Him do it so many times. Haven’t you earnestly prayed for something to happen, and then not only did it happen, but it exceeded all your expectations?
Think of the discouraged missionary praying mightily for just one friendly person to open one door. And then an entire family runs up to them on the street and asks to know more, eventually getting baptized.
There’s the mother praying for her young son after a car accident when he’s told he’ll never walk again, and all she wants is for him to be out of pain. And then, God not only grants the desires of her heart, He heals the boy to walk and even run.
Many a single adult has prayed to meet the right person to marry, and watched, and swallowed, and forced a smile as everyone else seems to head off to the altar. Then, suddenly, years after they expect it, right out of the blue comes the perfect mate. The timing now makes absolute sense and Heavenly Father has delivered a person beyond their wildest dreams.
Every one of us has experienced some kind of miracle that surprised us. Surprises have more impact. They elicit emotion and stay in our permanent memories.
I think the entire physical world is like this. I imagine joyous laughter and clapping as the most magnificent waterfalls were created. Stunning Northern Lights. Precious baby lambs. Sparkling crystal caves. Riots of color on the petals of flowers. Dolphins. Stars. New life in all its forms. How many times have you gasped in delight as you have come around a bend, and there is a gorgeous vista that defies belief? I feel certain that Heavenly Father wanted this world to catch us by surprise and to delight our senses. He pictured our happy faces as we beheld something He made, solely to please us.
Perhaps the “age of magical thinking” we all have as children, should extend longer. Maybe we need to delight in simple beauty again. Could this be part of His directive to become as little children, to be profoundly grateful for all He has given us? Do we not feel gratitude for plants and animals during the temple endowment?
I’ve often speculated about how interesting it is that human beings, all over the world, love twinkly lights. They love seeing a city lit up at night, from an overview. We love flickering candles. We put lights on our Christmas trees. My theory is that we are drawn to the light of Christ, and it sometimes manifests itself in this universal, yet very simple way.
But I also believe we are drawn to the element of surprise because this, too, is a quality of Godliness. It’s another way to express love, and to show genuine caring. It blesses the giver as well, because it grants us a chance to imagine the happy outcome of our efforts. Every holiday we celebrate includes some element of surprise. It’s as if we were worried there wouldn’t be enough happy surprises, so we created annual occasions of it.
Don’t you love learning what symbols mean? Whether in Christ’s parables, in the words of Isaiah, or in our temple ordinances, isn’t it fun to find out what something symbolizes? There’s that little “aha” moment of surprise. And we are delighted.
The Bible is full of surprises. Thousands of them. Old Sarah bearing a child. Elizabeth’s son, John the Baptist, leaping for joy within her womb when Mary came to visit, pregnant with the Savior. Samuel being chosen as a prophet when he was so young. Moses parting the Red Sea. Young David killing Goliath to show whose God was real. Literally everything Jesus did, including feeding the 5,000, raising the dead, and walking on water. And greatest of all, the Resurrection.
And the Book of Mormon is no different. Nephi getting the brass plates. And building a ship. Abinadi preaching truth, unable to be killed until he finished. Alma the Younger’s conversion. Ammon saving the herds. King Lamoni’s conversion. The restoration of so many lost truths. Samuel the Lamanite. Christ’s appearance to the Nephites. We could go on and on, and we haven’t even begun to list the surprises in the Doctrine and Covenants.
Someone (not me, I’ve got too many presents to wrap) should write a book about all the scriptural surprises.
And someone else could write one about the things that surprise us, which shouldn’t. If we have enough faith and enough understanding about how God does things, we might not be so rocked back on our heels when He does things the way He always has. His blessings for our obedience, the consequences for sin—perhaps many of life’s “surprises” could have been predicted if we were paying closer attention.
I certainly look back at mistakes I’ve made and can see how, had I been wiser, I could have avoided very predictable consequences. Perhaps you feel the same way. Hopefully we learn, so we don’t make the same mistakes over and over.
Meanwhile, let’s enjoy the good surprises that God sprinkles into our lives. Just as all loving Fathers want to delight their children, He knows exactly how to do it.
Hilton’s book, A Little Christmas Prayer, is the perfect Christmas gift. Sometimes it takes a child to raise a village, and this tale teaches anyone, of any faith, the magic of gratitude. All her books and YouTube Mom videos can be found at jonihilton.com.
David DDecember 22, 2022
For those who have had "bad" surprises that never (at least on earth) seem to evolve into "good" surprises, the heavenly explanation may be a tough one to accept.