a God of surprises

Practically everything about this baby has been a surprise.

Beyond the sheer fact of his existence – which was very much hoped for – almost everything else related to him has blindsided me.

I was surprised that I got so sick so early with this pregnancy. And then I was really surprised to find myself so sick for six solid months.

I was surprised that he went full-term and didn’t come early like his brother. And then I was really surprised that he came so fast – a mere 5 hours of labor, start to finish – when he did decide to arrive.

I was shocked to learn that he was a boy (after months of morning sickness convinced me it was a girl) and that he was so big (nearly three pounds bigger than his brother). And I was even more shocked that I was able to deliver him drug-free.

I was shocked to find him sleeping through the night at less than a month old. And I find myself shocked every morning as his streak of solid sleeping stretches continues.

I’m amazed at how much I’ve enjoyed my maternity leave this time around. I’m amazed that sibling rivalry hasn’t reared its ugly head. And I’m amazed that I haven’t had a single sobbing breakdown to date.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised by all the surprises. Everyone told me to check my expectations at the door. That everything I learned with my first would be tossed out the window by my second.

But I still thought I knew something about babies, right?

And it turns out I do. I don’t unravel when he screams; I know a trick or two to soothe him. I don’t puzzle at his moods; I understand newborn rhythms of eat-sleep-repeat. I don’t run to check on his every peep; I let him settle himself back down (and we both get more sleep).

Yet some of the things I thought I knew well – like nursing – turned out to be the hardest this time around. It was only when I could set my expectations aside, using what I knew but not being held prisoner by it, that I could start to learn from the surprises.

I think God is like this, too.

I’m constantly surprised by God: how God acts in my life, what God asks of me, where God shows up. I’ve tried to learn a thing or two about God along the way, to help me learn how to respond and react. But the great mystery continues to elude me. Some days I feel like a fraud to have committed so much of my life to something – to Someone – I so little understand.

But Augustine said that if you have understood, what you have understood is not God.* I’ve always loved that saying, taken comfort in its humility. We humans are so hard to figure out – from our very earliest days, I’m relearning – that perhaps the surprising nature of the One who created us should come as no great shock either. Things get dangerous when we convince ourselves that we know God absolutely, when we forget that ours is a God of surprises.

Mine is a baby of surprises, too. Who, in a charming reminder not to let this reflection get too esoteric, has just decided to grace me with what appears to be an amazingly dirty diaper, especially given that I just changed a similar one not ten minutes ago. Surprise…


*One of the first things you learn in graduate theological studies is that Augustine said nearly everything. No one can find most of it, but that doesn’t stop anyone from citing it. Like that thing about “singing is praying twice”? My liturgy professor swears you can’t find the original. Again, surprise! 

7 thoughts on “a God of surprises

  1. I totally get this, especially the references to theological ‘quotes’ being assigned from Augustine! 🙂 God is surprising me as I know start a PhD program, as we’re having difficulties conceiving again, as I’m getting more aware of my anger and how it impacts me and my family. It seems to me that the expectations I bring to the table, the attachments to how I want my life to be, often create the space for a ‘God of Surprises’ to make Her presence known and show me another way.

    1. That’s a lot on your plate, Carrie…peace to you in all of the different directions you are pulled and called. And beautiful perspective about how the expectations we bring create the space for God to surprise us – I like how that helps put our expectations in a positive light.

  2. This reminds me of a bit of wisdom from one of my literature professors: Almost any quotation is from the Bible, Shakespeare, or Alexander Pope. We could certainly add Augustine to that list!

    Lovely reflection. A friend of a friend often says “We have a very smart God.” Indeed, we do. We have a surprising God as well. That is, to me, one of the most hopeful things about the divine.

  3. I can think of a couple other ways to reflect on Augustine’s word- he is a many of talent in his ability to string these words together and get a point across- don’t forget to “melt” in your baby’s presence!

    Also, I think that God’s refrain will someday be just to say, ” I do what I do.”

    1. To that last: It will, of course, be in your voice…a God of curly hair and big sunglasses. I like that God a lot.

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