From Easter Sunday’s Service – Sarah Derbyshire
I’m super stoked I get to talk about how Jesus surprises me, and how the element of surprise coexists with my relationship with God.
For me, surprise isn’t just a lack of expectation in my faith, but it has become an integral part of my identity as a Christian, and, in some sense, a virtue I’ve both battled with and learnt to love.
Hands down the biggest surprise I’ve ever had, was the day I decided I wanted to be a Christian. I was 16 years old, I was stood at the bus stop, it was 6:30 in the morning, it was bouncing it down with rain, I had no coat and I was already going to be late for sixth form. I told myself that if the bus came within the next 30 seconds then I’d drop everything and there and then I’d start believing in God.
Long story short, the bus took 15 minutes to come; but it was that very morning I knew I wanted to get to know God, I wanted to understand why God loved me so much, why God would allow his only begotten son to be sacrificed for me, and why God would leave me stood at the bus stop in the rain for 15 minutes.
In the 4 years between then and now, and shortly after joining the Catholic Church, I began to understand why God loves me, and why he’d give Jesus as a sacrifice for the sins of the world, although I still don’t understand why he left me that rainy morning at the bus stop!
But, and to be a bit more serious about this, there’s a lot more to how surprise is central to my relationship with Jesus, than the unfortunate events of that early morning 4 years ago.
For the past year or so, it feels like God surprises me more and more, so much so that I’m equally as surprised when my day goes exactly as I planned it to be. And it’s because of this, I thought I was completely ready to take on anything God had for me, and open to Gods plans.
And then at world youth day, surrounded by 3 million young people of the Church, Pope Francis asked a simple question “are you completely open to God’s surprises?”, and at that moment, I realised I wasn’t. Surprise seems to go hand in hand with newness. Whenever I’m surprised in my Christian faith, it usually means I have to let go of the plans I had for myself, and instead, put my complete trust in God.
My ability, or lack of in some cases, to put my complete trust in God when faced with surprise, has been a huge surprise to me. As a raging extrovert, I don’t often get anxious, yet, when it comes to surprise in my faith, trusting in God and leaving my cushy comfort zone often makes me really nervous.
That simple question by Pope Francis completely tore apart everything I thought I knew about myself and my relationship with Jesus. It was at that moment, reflecting on the endless surprises God seems to throw at me, reflecting on my ‘I’m completely ready and open to every surprise God and Jesus bless me with, attitude’… that I realised I was actually doing the complete opposite.
One of the biggest surprises I think I’ll ever have, was when I realised I was called to the Anglican priesthood. I was sat in Catholic Mass when I first realised – and on that day, I was utterly convinced that this was one surprise too far.
Pope Francis gave us a few minutes more to reflect before saying “how wonderful is it to be surprised by God’s call, to embrace his word, and to walk in the footsteps of Jesus… be open to surprise… your life will become richer and more joyful each day.”
Since then, I’ve done a lot more growing and I’m still constantly surprised; I’m surprised by what God seems to have in store for me, how much Jesus loves and supports me, and I’m surprised by how far I’ve already come in my spiritual journey.
What Pope Francis said that day really challenged me; and since then I believe it has helped me to become a more active Christian, and constantly conscious of God, whom I should trust in the face of surprise.
I was surprised when I wanted to become a Christian, I was even more surprised when I wanted to become a priest, and I was especially surprised when at 17 years old I signed myself up and became a member of the religious order of the Salesians of Don Bosco.
For me, being a Salesian comes hand in hand with being surprised. Both in myself and my abilities, and also in my spirituality.
Don Bosco, the founder of the Salesians, preaches a simple message around our mission towards the young – that we must leave everything in God’s hands, who will let us know when to change course, and that we must be ready to be surprised by the young.
Pope Francis asked me a very simple question that changed the way I understood ‘surprise’ forever, and reshaped how I understood my relationship with Jesus – and I’m going to finish on just that.
“Are you completely open to God’s surprises?”