A few months ago, during the pandemic lockdown, a friend suggested we each do some writing based on the prompt “Unexpected.” My mind was immediately flooded with all sorts of thoughts, some of which I scribbled in my journal.
Then my father died. He had not been in good health and was increasingly frail, but his death had not seemed imminent until a few days prior, despite the fact that he was nearly 96. Both of these pieces were written before my father’s death, but having experienced yet again that even the expected can hit one hard emotionally, I didn’t get around to typing them up until now. I may yet have more to add on this topic as I continue to process his death, my life, and a world in which hard things, both expected and unexpected, will continue to occur.
Unexpected (April 22, 2020)
“Come Thou Long-expected Jesus”—One of my favorite Christmas hymns, comes to mind every time I think of the word “unexpected.” Since I was a teenager I’ve loved this hymn that speaks of how Christ the Messiah was expected, predicted, prophesied for generations, centuries actually—more than 18 centuries. Expected for so long that he became unexpected, so that even those who knew the prophecies best and were, in theory, waiting eagerly for his coming were not actually expecting his arrival.
How about me? I know he will come again; that coming was also prophesied by multiple prophets, and Jesus said many times that he will come again. But will I be ready, watching for him, expectant? Or will his coming be unexpected, because time goes by and the ordinary continues, as it always does?
Or does it? These days of Covid-19 are far from ordinary. Nothing like this has happened in my lifetime, and our society, along with many societies around the world, is reeling. This level of disruption to our daily life and economy is truly unexpected. Because the unexpected has occurred, the possibility of serious illness and death at a relatively young age for some in our circles of friends and family can no longer be considered unexpected.
Interesting that the unexpected of one sort has made what was unexpected in another realm now likely rather than unexpected. The unexpected makes the unexpected expected. Am I ready? Am I expectant?
More thoughts on “Unexpected” (May 7, 2020)
It seems to me there are two categories of “unexpected.” There is that which is unexpected because one never thought it would happen and most likely never gave it any thought. This Covid-19 pandemic is such—who would ever have thought that our economy would come to a screeching halt, and not just ours, but most economies around the world? Who would have ever thought we’d be under stay-at-home orders for many weeks? This is unprecedented in our country, at least in my lifetime. I suppose there are countless scenarios that fall into this category, but it doesn’t seem reasonable to expend much mental energy on such possibilities, as they are truly unlikely by virtue of being so extreme.
So how can one prepare? I think in the same way one prepares for the other category of “unexpected,” those events that are inevitable but happen earlier than expected. This second category would include what is often termed the “unexpected death” of someone. Actually, dying is one of the most certain events I or anyone will ever face—every one of us will die someday. So by “unexpected” we mean that death came at a time we didn’t see it coming. A heart attack, stroke, accident, violent attack—these are some causes of unexpected deaths,, even though some of these causes are not so uncommon.
So how can I avoid the shock of the inevitable catching me unawares, thus seeming unexpected? I think Moses, millennia ago, had part of the answer:
Teach us to realize the brevity of life,
so that we may grow in wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)
If I truly grasp the brevity of my life (or as another translation puts it, if I “number my days”), I will always live with an awareness of possible death and a readiness to face it. If viewed with wisdom, that readiness to face and accept my death, whenever it may come, includes a recognition that God holds all of this life and this world, past, present, and future in his good, powerful, and loving hands. That confidence should enable me to trust him with both the inevitable and the truly unexpected, because I know I am safely held in his hands, and nothing is unexpected for him.