by Annette Bridges. ©2009. All rights reserved.

I love surprises — the pleasant kind! I can’t get enough of them. This may surprise some folks who think of me as the ultimate planner. And it is true that I tend to always have a plan and a “to-do” list in hand. But what most don’t realize is that I would also happily throw away a well-thought out plan for a nice surprise.

My husband surprised me last night. We were at a community outdoor concert and I was longing to dance. But no one else was dancing. Suddenly, my husband was standing in front of me offering his hand.

Did I take his hand? You bet I did! And I delighted all the more in my dance with him because of the joy of surprise I was feeling.

But why was I surprised by his gesture?

I wonder if my surprise had more to do with my low expectations than it did in his action. Of course, sometimes low expectations are the result of a history of behavior in similar situations. I can certainly recall attending many community dances where I didn’t get his invitation to dance, which is perhaps why I wasn’t expecting to dance with him last night.

I’m intrigued that my low expectations may have resulted in my surprise. The element of surprise seemed to make our dance all the more special.

There was a research study a few years ago that was trying to discover why the citizens of Denmark scored higher than any other Western country on measures of life satisfaction. The conclusion cited Denmark’s secret was a culture of low expectations. In short, the study indicated that citizens of Denmark had low expectations each year and reported they were pleasantly surprised year after year when their year turned out better than expected.

Even though I admit a possible correlation between my low expectations and pleasant surprise, I’m not convinced low expectations are a good thing.

No one rises to low expectations. And low expectations can become self-fulfilling prophecies that keep us from seizing a good and viable opportunity. And yet I understand the fear that high expectations may never be attained. No big dreams equal no big disappointment, some might say.

I can’t help but wonder if our surprise is sometimes something of a fault. Do we impose our own expectations upon others — often without their knowledge — and if they fail to meet them, they have failed to please us. And yet, we are surprised when they meet them because we didn’t expect they would.

I don’t think the secret to life satisfaction is found in low expectations but rather in living one’s life with the smallest expectations. By smallest I mean humble, modest, simple, unpretentious, honest and unpompous expectations for yourself and others. This would mean passing no judgment, making no assumptions or comparisons. There would be nothing or no one to criticize, condemn or complain about. No one or nothing could offend or disappoint us.

We would move along our life journey — learning, growing, loving and living. And we would recognize others are doing the same. We would be patient with ourselves and with others as we all strive to progress.

This is not life without lofty goals. On the contrary, we make goals and aim to reach them. We just don’t complicate our goals with self-imposed limitations or conditions that define our success or failure. Do we expect progress? Of course we do. Do we expect good? Of course we do, because our faith assures us that God is good and He loves us and only wants good for His precious children.

As we do this, I suspect we will all learn that we’ve been entertaining “angels unawares” all along the way. (Hebrews 13:2) In other words, God has been — and remains — in our corner giving His loving support and encouragement.

Perhaps our prayer to God should be, “Surprise me, dear Lord!” And we get our own frail, human sense of what is right or good for us out of the picture and trust God to direct us to what we need at every moment.

So I will continue to love surprises, especially when the surprise is a dance with my husband! Indeed, we can allow each day to surprise us with its discoveries and lessons. We can relish in the joy of each surprising twist and turn of our life journey. And our expectations can be for the joy of each surprise.