In life every day presents us with a smorgasbord of surprises. In fact, the most certain thing there is about life is the uncertainty of it. Our nature is, however, to view that as mostly a bad thing, something to be feared. Thus we prefer to be in control. For sure uncertainty is sometimes linked with tragedy such as the recent devastating tornadoes in the southern United States, but more often than not surprise is the source of our joy and delight occurring in small ways as the taste of food, the refreshment of the morning air, the laughter of children, or casual conversation with a friend. The late Oswald Chambers explained it this way: “. . . we do not know what a day may bring forth. This is generally said with a sigh of sadness, it should be rather an expression of breathless expectation.”
Perhaps our fear of surprise is because our best laid plans are so often disrupted by it. The great Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759-1796) mused about this in his poem “To a Mouse”. Written as an apology to a mouse who had built her nest beneath some stalks in the middle of a cornfield, only to have it demolished by the blade of the farmer’s plow while plowing the field, the farmer/narrator attempts to tell the little mouse that he meant her no harm. He goes to great lengths in describing the imagined plight of the poor mouse, how she had toiled to build a safe dwelling for her family that would protect them against the approaching bitter cold of winter, only to have her plans go awry. Then, after a lengthy apology the narrator shifts gears a bit and becomes philosophical, and that is where we pick up the familiar line:
“The best laid schemes of mice and men / Go often askew, / And leave us nothing but grief and pain, / For promised joy! Still you are blest, compared with me! / The present only touches you: / But oh! I backward cast my eye, / On prospects dreary! / And forward, though I cannot see, / I guess and fear!”
Poor little mouse! Yet, victim that she was, she is to be envied; for she lives with no preconceived notions of what each day might bring, but in good faith diligently does, in Oswald Chambers’ words, “the duty that is nearest”. We do not know what a day may bring forth. If we could only learn to accept that with “breathless expectation”!