As my older sister Marji and I drove from Arkansas to Utah in August 1996, I shared with her how much I hated my birthday. This had stemmed from the previous 3 birthdays being disappointing for various reasons. We were on our way to BYU where I would start my first year and turn 18 the next month. Marji said we’d do something on my birthday. My birthday was a on school day and we made plans to go get a treat. She came and picked me up from the dorms and said we needed to find her friend before going to her apartment. She asked me to keep an eye out for her friend as we drove who was walking to her apartment. She gave me vague answers to my questions about why she wasn’t waiting. We drove around for a while with me intently watching for her friend. I even pointed to several people walking asking if we should pull over to be sure. She finally said that we should just go to her apartment and check for her there. As we walked up to her apartment, a guy asked us if we were going to the party and my sister was surprisingly rude and emphatic about him shutting up and going away.
As I entered her apartment, I was utterly shocked by the shouts of “SURPRISE” by the large group gathered. Marji had planned to hold this surprise party almost as soon as she heard how the last three birthdays had gone. There were so many clues and hints that something was going on, but I was oblivious and perfectly content to celebrate with a treat and just my sister. She had even organized for many of the girls from my dorm to come who had only known me a couple of weeks. Those girls who barely knew me surprised me most of all. My past disappointments had formed all of the low expectations I had for my birthday.
In the story of the prodigal son as told in Luke 15:11-32 we read that the younger son, after riotous living and squandering his inheritance, found himself in great want. He decided to return to his father’s home only hoping to be treated and accepted as a servant. When he came near his home, his father ran to meet him and threw him a party befitting a son returned. I’ve wondered how surprised he was by the greeting. Why had the prodigal son expected so little from his father? Was it because of his own actions and taking so much that he expected so little upon his return? In his years of living away from his father, had he forgotten how loving, generous and kind his father was? Had his exposure to being in want and receiving no kindness aided in his forgetfulness? Had his own disappointments also formed all his expectations of his reception at home?
I have spent much of my adult life being surprised by the goodness, love, and generosity of God. I’ve decided that my situation must only be endured or that I must remain in want. I’ve gone to my Heavenly Father hoping for only a morsel and He surprises me with a feast. I have been nervous and anxious for answers or guidance I may receive when I’ve always received that which strengthens me and helps me feel God’s love.
Just over Thanksgiving, I volunteered to gather donations for a Thanksgiving meal for a last minute need in my neighborhood. We sent an email on Monday asking for donations by Wednesday. The other women that were helping with this service and I were worried that we wouldn’t get much with such little notice. I was surprised and delighted as my doorbell rang continually on Tuesday with donations. What most delighted me is how joyful everyone was especially the little girls who dropped off a whole ham. Why was I so surprised by the goodness and generosity of my neighbors? I’ve witnessed their goodness time and again, but it still surprised me.
Paul teaches us in 1 Corinthians 13 that the greatest of all gifts or virtues is charity or the pure love of Christ. Charity never faileth. I have studied charity extensively, yet I have failed to expect that supreme quality to be manifest in all our Supreme Savior does. If charity must be the root of all that we do, surely it is the same for God. Imagine what surprises God is planning for you to swallow up any of your past disappointments. Indeed, many surprises or blessings I’ve had are all the sweeter and joyous because of my opposing experiences. While I think that God must delight in surprising us at times, I think He would be more pleased if we better understood His character and love. As we return to Him, even if we have squandered or been away for some time, we should not be surprised at Him meeting us a long way off. We should look for signs of His love, care, and blessings to come rather than letting disappointments or squandering form our expectations and view of God. We should not be surprised by goodness, love and miracles.
Because charity never fails, God can never fail.