I sat there staring at my daughter. She was now 9 months old and just learning to stand and interact with her environment. She was playing with a small green wire container that had a ball in it and would slowly lift up a side of the container to watch the ball roll to the other side. A soft “clack, clack, clack” would sound as the ball rolled over the parallel wire tines. As soon as it reached the other side she would switch and pick up that side so it would roll back. This interaction with her environment amazed her. She continued the action for 10 minutes in astounded wonder. I sat there and stared, a huge smile across my face listening to her laugh at the sounds she was producing. She was full of wonder, amazement and whimsy. How and when had I lost this?
A quick inventory revealed that there was little wonder in my life. Somewhere along the way when responsibility and worry entered, the fragile whimsical wonder of a toddler had been shattered. It probably started early with worry about school assignments and getting good grades. Later, responsibility wound enter with a paper route in high school and then being on my own as I went off to college. Taking time to watch the sunset, walk barefoot through the grass and talk about deep spiritual issues faded and gave way to studying, paying bills and trying to be “cool.”
There were a few things along the way that erupted a sense of wonder within me: holding hands with my wife, watching her walk down the aisle at our wedding, witnessing my children’s births. But I had lost the wonder that comes with the simple things. I didn’t stop and watch the rustling of oak leaves as the wind picked up. I didn’t float a boat down a stream just to see what happened. I didn’t run out in the rain without a coat just to feel the soft droplets pelt my skin. I had become numb to the simple things in life.
Looking at my older children, I saw that some of it had already slipped in the oldest. My second, who is 4, was completely amazed when he found out that we could make our own bagels. “And we could add blueberries to make blueberry bagels!” he exclaimed with an ecstatic look on his face. He quickly ran to tell his older brother who is 6 of his newfound discovery. “I already knew that,” my oldest somberly claimed. No! I thought as I wanted to grab his head and shake it. Don’t lose it; keep your sense of wonder!
Having children has helped reignite some of the wonder. At times it can be like discovering things again. Just recently we went on a rollercoaster with the boys, their first time doing so. It was a worn out experience for me but seeing my boys feel the joy and fear that come the first time on a roller coaster was amazing. Their wide-eyed wonderment was priceless. Other things come to mind: watching them eat ice cream or catch a ball for the first time and learn to ride a bike.
I think this is what Jesus was referring to when he said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” He was referring to their child-like faith, their wonder. So how do we find this? Through life we get exposed to so much that slowly erodes away the sense of wonder we had as a toddler. We become calloused, cynical and skeptical. Worry and distrust become natural. I want to focus on two areas that have recently been unearthed in my life that affect this.
The first is technology. I must say that I enjoy being on the cutting edge of new technology. While this can convey convenience and connectedness, it actually breeds a shallow life of distraction and discontent. The constant barrage of push notifications invades our life and removes the ability to focus and do something meaningful. We are unable to stop and take a moment (or much longer) to enjoy the wonder of the small things in life. It’s impossible to sit and pray or meditate uninterrupted. We are unable to focus on deep work that may produce something we never thought imaginable.
The second is the need for “stuff.” In America, our consumerist culture is like a virus infecting our lifestyles, manifesting with symptoms of discontent and envy. We need to keep up. We are constantly getting the newest iphone or biggest house or in-style clothes. This preoccupies our mind looking for the next dopamine hit to give us a high after a purchase. It quickly fades and we are left feening for more. Often we can find more wonder in living a more simple life. This pushes us to be more creative. We can spend our money on more meaningful tasks like trips and paying off debt (yes even this). We can save to free up time to take a break from work and spend time with people we care about.
We don’t have to give in. We can control what we let affect our life. Join me in regaining the wonder. So what’s my prescription? First, take some undistracted time to pray or meditate. Turn off all forms of communication for 30 minutes and focus on something that brings you wonder. This can be prayer focused on God. It can be meditation or mindfulness to become more aware of your surroundings or inner thoughts. The biggest thing is it must be uninterrupted. Second, be more intentional about buying “stuff.” Ask yourself if it is a need or a want. If it is a want, ask yourself if it will serve a specific purpose and if it will bring your life more joy (Notice I wrote joy here and not happiness. Happiness is fleeting; joy is more lasting).
Another way is to look for and participate in the wonder around you. If you have children or grandchildren this is easy. Children are constantly finding joy in the little things and discovering something new. Just today I decided to put this into action and I have already joined my 9 month old in chasing a balloon around the house and had a race with my two boys to see who could drink the most milk from the same cup. If you do not have children, I would suggest taking time for a long walk. Walk slowly and be more keenly aware of your surroundings. Look, listen, smell and feel. You will be amazed of the small things you normally miss out on. Lastly, give! Give time. Give money. Give “stuff.” Find a charity or person in need and fill the void in their life. By doing these things you will see beyond yourself to a world that has been here the whole time. One that is full of beauty and whimsy.