The S-Word to Watch Out For This Year

This is Leo, peering into the New Year (metaphorically speaking).

We’re four days into the New Year, and it’s about the time when you can smell the burned-out rubble of New Year’s resolutions left to die along the highway. It reminds me of the way those little race cars smelled, the ones that zoomed around the plastic tracks until you gave it too much throttle and they flew off the curve.

That’s too many of us, I think, at this time of year, suddenly deciding to go full-throttle on this thing or that, running or weight loss, reading or who-knows-what-else, and before we know it, an unexpected curve in the road sends us vaulting over the side, our engines smelling like hot oil and burned-out tires.

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“Each day holds a surprise. But only if we expect it can we see, hear, or feel it when it comes to us. Let’s 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

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Perhaps the greatest weakness in our resolutions or intentions or hopes for 2016 is that there’s no accounting for the s-word: SURPRISE. Even our most inspired intentions will often get plowed over by the surprises waiting for us: that new promotion, that unexpected diagnosis, that change in the market, that death in the family, that birth in the family, that inability to stay sober, or that surprising spell of freedom from that which has for so long enchained us.

I’m right there with you. I’ve already had some major surprises, many of which I’ll be writing about in the coming weeks. But here’s the thing. THE THING. I’m telling you:

We cannot let surprises derail our hope.

When the surprises come (and they will – perhaps they already have for you), we cannot give them the power to ruin us. Surprises, perhaps more than anything else, have the ability to knock the wind out of our sails, to render us motionless, to send us to the mat in despair.

We cannot let surprises derail our hope…but we also need to let them run their full course, because surprises, unlike resolutions or intentions, can completely transform us. We can become someone we never thought we could become, sometimes only by the power of that which surprises us. Grief can be surprising. So can joy, or good fortune, or change. Love or betrayal or moving from this place to that. So many surprises. So many transformations waiting to happen.

This is the fine line we must walk. When surprises come, can we let them transform us without letting them destroy us completely? If you can somehow do that, if you can, as Henri Nouwen so beautifully says, “allow surprises to open new places in your heart,” you will have a year no resolution or intention could ever have brought you.