I love certainty. Motivated by a strong need for safety and security, I am all about imagining and planning for every possibility so that my well-being is guaranteed. In the case of an unforeseen scenario, I resolve to be even more prepared the next time so that I’m not caught off guard. Give me a well-thought-out plan over a surprise any day.
As I ruminated on the prompt for this month and played around with the words in my mind, I wondered, “what if I ONLY knew?” As in, what if everything was certain, there were no unknowns, no surprises? Would I really love absolute certainty; would I be my best self if I could anticipate and control everything? I suspect my head, ruled by self-preservation and memory, moves me to choose certainty, while my heart reminds me that there is something enticing and essential about mystery and the unknown.
In anticipation of my 50th birthday last year, I told my husband, Chris, that I wanted the celebration to be special. Naming my desire felt vulnerable. If it didn’t happen, how would I handle the disappointment? Honestly, I would rather cling to the fantasy that Chris can read my mind and anticipate my desires.
A few weeks before my birthday, I hadn’t heard about any plans, so I asked if he had one. “Yep, I have it covered,” he said. I waited, hoping for a few details, but he offered none. “So, I told you how important this was to me, right?” I implored. “Yes, I know,” he assured me. “Trust me.”
With those two words, he highlighted my most familiar and frustrating struggle. Internally, I started reciting a litany of experiences that ended badly, reinforcing how foolish it was to trust. No wonder I crave certainty. With the likelihood of disappointment looming, I risked asking one more time if he really was planning something special. He was remarkably patient as he informed me that he and our son, Matt, were going to cook birthday dinner for us and our good friends. Reading my less-than-wowed expression, he concluded, “And there may be more…please trust me, Janet.”
I wiped away the tears threatening to spill out of the corners of my eyes. I knew the significance of Chris’ words. I knew I was being invited to step out of certainty and into mystery. I also knew how much Chris loved me, and I didn’t want to risk missing the goodness he had planned with my anxious need to know. I stopped asking questions, choosing instead to watch and wait with hopeful anticipation.
I walked into our house the night of my birthday to shouts of “Surprise!” and tried to take in the faces of so many people I love. The party was extravagant and meticulously planned, the evening held deeply meaningful moments as well as spontaneous hilarity. The entire night was magical, and I resolved to practice more hopeful anticipation, trusting that the unknown may hold more goodness than I can imagine.
I feel like a trust-toddler, taking a few shaky steps with a big grin on my face, eyes locked on the one I love and am moving toward.
Inevitably, I will trip and fall, needing reassurance that falling isn’t evidence of my foolishness. It’s simply a reminder that I can survive the unanticipated and unknown. I’ve started a trust list—a list of unknowns, hoped-for goodness, and wondering what could be.
I wonder if each of my kids will marry, how many grandkids we will have, and what will their personalities be like?
I wonder what foreign country I might travel to next, what people will I meet who expand my view of what it is to be human?
I wonder what vegetables I might someday still learn to enjoy? (I am fairly certain beets will never be on that list.)
I wonder if Chris and I will grow old together, tottering side-by-side around a nursing home?
I wonder if Jetson-like hover cars will really be a thing, if humans will ever populate other planets?
I wonder if racial and socio-economic and gender equality will ever be the status quo?
I want my list of wondering to be infinite, my curiosity a well-honed practice. I will no doubt continue to make plans and seek certainty, but I hope there are more moments that leave me saying “Well, I sure didn’t see that coming!”
Janet Stark is a woman learning to bless her depth and sensitivity. She is grateful for the deep love she shares with her husband, Chris, and their kids and grandkids. Janet loves curling up with a good book, trying new recipes on her friends and family, and enjoying long conversations with friends over a cup of really good coffee. She is a life-long lover of words and writes about her experiences here.