“Each day holds a surprise. But only if we expect it, can we see, hear, or feel it when it comes to us. Let us not be afraid to receive each day’s surprise, whether it comes to us as sorrow or as joy. It will open a new place in our hearts, a place where we can welcome new friends and celebrate more fully our shared humanity.”
Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey
Henri Nouwen’s simple observation can provide us with a straightforward, three-step way to order our days.
1) Expect a surprise each day. “Expect” here can mean anticipate, hope for, and be ready for it, by watching for it but also by opening our minds and hearts to it. Our own dispositions can condition how we understand, interpret and even experience our lives. If we succumb to undue skepticism and suspicion, for example, we will see bias and deceit everywhere. But bias and deceit, even where present, may not be all that is available to us to see, perceive and process. Anticipating surprise is really a way of allowing life and those around us to speak to us afresh.
2) Receive the surprises of each day from a space of greater inner neutrality, noticing them without moving immediately into patterned behaviors. When we have chronic stresses or long-standing relational patterns, it is easy to respond to a surprising situation in ways that do not allow us to view it afresh. In fact, our own patterns of interpretation can keep us from seeing something as it actually is. A surprise should encourage us to take note more carefully of a situation; it should be a signal to be aware and sensitive to a new situation, filing it away for reflection later.
3) If it is true that each day holds a surprise, then we should review the events of the day at the end of our day, asking ourselves “what surprised me today and why?” This simple practice allows us to notice the surprising features of the day, to consider how we handled what surprised us, and to reflect on how we want to continue to respond.
Surprise is the spice that adds flavor to our lives. It can certainly enhance the intensity of our lives, and surprise is not always a positive element. In these senses, Nouwen is wise to remind us that surprise can and should be shared. Even when a surprise brings sorrow, it can also bring greater solidarity. Sharing our surprising moments with others can help us to build and deepen our connections with others, creating empathy, compassion, meaning, and hope.