No surprises

A lovely set of dark blue Russian nesting dolls

My daughter A was in a multi-car pileup—really more of a matryoshka accident, where her component was her complete stop and the car behind her’s not-quite complete stop. She did all the good things: called her mom, started the conversation with, “I’m fine; we’re all safe, but…,” did as the police officers asked, exchanged information. She concluded with, “I don’t think I’m going to mention it to my insurance company, though. It’s not that big a deal.”

“Well… I would chat with your father about that first. That’s the kind of thing he likes to know about.”

She assumed I was pushing “the dad thing,” which is not untrue. Her dad, in particular, is The Family Expert on Cars, so he’s to be checked-in-with for all things automotive. The underlying reason I pushed her to talk, though, was that I know my husband. If he found out later that she’d been in an accident, and sustained (minor) damage to the car, he would be disproportionately upset and hurt—

because he’d be surprised by it.

It’s an odd parental mental calculus. Knowing about the negative as it happens generates a certain size of response. Knowing the negative some time afterwards generates that response plus the emotional interest, compounded daily. It’s as if we have to suffer in arrears for our not-knowing, even as we realize that there is no sense (intellectual or emotional) in any of that.

Also, a surprised parent somehow always appears angry. Generally because we are angry, but still.


No surprises is a useful management tip I don’t see being taught. Certainly not in parent-management, but then the curriculum there is not well-developed, given the (lack of) expertise of the cohort involved. <wink> But oddly enough—or not?—what works for parents works equally well or better for supervisors, managers and other folk in positions of responsibility. Yet this communication cornerstone appears to drift in and out of practice in the wider world. Perhaps it seems too obvious to say? But then folks’ behavior contradicts that obviousness, with nasty fallout everywhere.

Perhaps we give “no surprises” lip service, but when the moment of confession comes, we back out. We wish to avoid staring disappointment or anger in the eyes—if I’m not here when you find out, you won’t be mad at me. We indulge in fantasies of rescue—no, really, I will be able to wrench this into the promised shape!

We tell ourselves we can control the outcome—the counter-logical outcome—in ways that defy our human reality.
And if those persons in senior positions had been flowing along in good faith, our human reality then comes crashing in on them. Those loud noises are surprising-! And surprised management is angry management. Like parents.

All that dodging around, trying to avoid an outcome that our dodging brings back upon us… with compounded interest, because of the delays. Ouch.


We play a similar script out in our lives with God as well: dodging, hedging, trying to control our outcomes. Our human reality crashes through again, and again. We flinch, and wince—we’ve delayed our confession, and the anger-interest has been compounding, right?

Um, no.

God’s not surprised, you see. That’s one benefit of omniscience: no matter how much your cherished ones hold back, you still know what’s going on. God’s response to our turns away has the same measure whether we recognize our turning immediately or weeks later, whether our response to our turning happens now or after a long, wandering time.

We expect God to be increasingly angry because we would be increasingly angry. But as we re-turn ourselves toward following Christ, God welcomes us with a big hug: “You’re back! I wasn’t sure I’d ever see you again, but you’re here now! Hallelujah!”

No surprises.



(paraphrasing from Luke 15:11-32)

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