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Wonder: Rediscovering What You’ve Lost

Nov 29, 2016

Have you lost your sense of wonder?

In 2000, country singer Lee Ann Womack released her biggest album ever, headlined by the title track, “I Hope You Dance.” The first line of this hit song was “I hope you never lose your sense of wonder.”

Womack’s hit song touches on a variety of common human experiences, albeit using as many cliches as possible.

“I hope you never lose your sense of wonder,
You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger,
May you never take one single breath for granted,
God forbid love ever leave you empty handed,
I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean,
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens,
Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance,
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance.
I hope you dance….I hope you dance.”

Any of that sound familiar to you? Me too.

wonder Christmas holiday season disillusioned christmas tree garbage can

It’s The Most Wonderful Time of Year…or Is it?

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. That is according to the popular Christmas song, originally recorded by Andy Williams. Listening to the lyrics, we learn Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year AND the happiest season of all. For many people, this is true.

But after serving as a pastor for ten years, I’ve met plenty of other people who would disagree. For them, this season is far from wonderful and not happy at all. These people would list a host of reasons.

  • grief over loved ones who passed
  • stress from a frantic schedule
  • pressure from massive, unmeetable expectations
  • cynicism and bitterness
  • loneliness and depression

Does that list hit where you live? Or would you add something else to it?

Sadly, many of us live during the Christmas season with a sense of quiet desperation. We’re confused and disappointed.

The Most WonderFULL Season Becomes WonderLESS

Can I make a confession?

As a pastor, I battle with wonder during the Christmas season each year. Because it’s the same story. I mean, the Christmas story has the same characters, same plot twists and same ending. And yet, many people who attend church expect to hear something “new” and “exciting” from sermons in this season. Maybe you’re surprised to hear a pastor say that we struggle with wonder too, but it’s true. I’ve talked to other pastors who share the same feelings.

In the past, I’ve done my best to find a new angle or a new insight or something fresh to help me be excited. Sometimes, though, I wonder (ha ha) where I’ll find the wonder I need to fuel my passion in the pulpit. That’s part of why I think this post is being written. This is my 11th year preaching and teaching thru the Advent season. I started thinking about this subject of wonder as our team began preparing for the Christmas season this year. I started processing how I could move through this season with wonder and awe. A wonderless Christmas season wasn’t acceptable for me.

How We Lose Our Wonder

I doubt any of us set out to lose our wonder. It’s kind of like losing our keys, wallet or phone. We didn’t try to lose this important thing, but we did anyway.

Loss of wonder often comes at the hands of some common culprits.

Eliminating Mystery

We live in a world which seeks to eliminate mystery at all corners. In the world of spoiler-alerts, leaks, advance screenings, inside scoops, and hacks, are there any secrets anymore? What was mysterious has been deconstructed and debunked by Mythbusters, SportsScience and a few Google searches. While I think it is possible to maintain wonder in our information age, I do think it is more difficult.

Familiarity

There’s an old cliche about how familiarity breeds contempt. It’s true. When we’ve had ongoing experience, the growing familiarity tends to erode the novelty or awe we once felt. The opportunities we once pinched ourselves during, asking “is this real?!”, quickly become worn and comfortable. If we don’t look at them with contempt, we at least struggle with complacency. While traditions and routines can hold great power, they can come at the cost of wonder.

Disappointment

All of us know disappointment. We know what it’s like to set expectations (consciously or not) and experience the shortfall. Our disappointment can be with a system, institution, program or a person. The shortfall creates cracks in our wonder, leading to a sense of disillusionment. We have a lot of language for this kind of disappointment. We talk about disappointment as a bitter pill, blow, defeat, setback, bummer, downer, drag, dud, fiasco, fizzle, or a lemon. Simply put, disappointment erodes wonder.

Fear

Wonder often comes in a new place, a risky experience, or a moment outside of our control. When fear takes over our lives, we stop seeking new, risky or uncontrollable experiences. We settle for less, convincing ourselves that a wonderless life isn’t so bad. Sure, we might be overwhelmed with wonder, but we could also get hurt or taken advantage of. It’s no coincidence we often call those who live with wonder “fearless.”

rediscovering wonder winter scene tree branch snow

Witness the Power of Wonder

While we might convince ourselves we can life full, meaningful, and thriving lives without wonder, we’re lying. Wonder is essential to flourishing, along with the byproducts of wonder. Wonder leads to feelings of joy, awe, gratitude, peace, connection, wholeness and fulfillment.

What seems ordinary, boring and ho-hum to one person can be amazing, inspiring and overwhelming to another. Wonder often separates those appreciate the blessings of this life from those who walk right past them.

A prime example is a man named Otis. In this video, Otis tells his story of wonder. He was imprisoned for 44 years and then recently released in the middle of Times Square. His sense of wonder and perspective on our modern world is fascinating. I promise you these 6 minutes will change the way you experience life today. You can watch the video here.

Did you watch it? Isn’t that incredible?! Can you imagine what it would be like if you were in Otis’ shoes? Many things we find normal or unremarkable were amazing and wonderful to Otis.

Preparing to Be Surprised by Wonder

As I write this post, churches across the world have begun a season known as Advent. Drawn from the Latin word which means “arrival,” Advent is the season within the church calendar where followers of Jesus prepare to celebrate His birth. Advent is all about preparation.

American culture does certain kinds of preparation really well this time of year. My city has just received its first snow of the year. Everyone on my street has their Christmas decorations up. Our calendars are nearly overflowing with parties, activities and celebrations. We’re preparing to celebrate Christmas. (For more thoughts on how to prepare for Christmas on a deeper level, listen to my talk on grace, gratitude and generosity).

And, for the record, I think Christmas is worth preparing for. But I also believe, whatever time of year you’re reading this, it is also worth building or rebuilding a sense of awe and wonder.

Have you lost your sense of wonder? Was it because the mystery is gone? Did you lose it because you were disappointed or hurt? Are you just too familiar to still have fresh eyes? Or are you afraid of what might happen if you opened up and believed again?

What if you were able to rediscover your sense of wonder? Wouldn’t that be worth it? Wouldn’t that change how you experience life – at Christmas and all year long? I think it would be worth the risk.

wonder rediscovering wonder dark house christmas lights watching a movie

5 Steps We Can Take to Rediscover Our Wonder

To be completely honest, this is complicated. Losing our wonder is rarely quick and often messy. Wonder doesn’t grow back like the Chia pet you owned as a child, quickly and in abundance.  However, we can take some simple steps which help us get at wonder indirectly.

We can all take the following 5 steps today as we seek to rediscover our wonder.

1. Reconnect with what it felt like before you lost your wonder.

I want you to close your eyes. (Well, read this paragraph and THEN close your eyes, snarky reader.) Once you close your eyes, I want you to imagine yourself before you lost your wonder. What did you look like? What do you notice about yourself? Did you use to notice things about the world which you gloss over and ignore now? What made you excited that doesn’t even register today? How did you feel in those moments? Take those feelings in, marinate in them.

Now open your eyes. What was that like for you? Why do you think you used to notice those things? Why did you get so excited?

This may seem like a silly exercise, but I think we often discard the “us” who had wonder too quickly. We leave too many clues on the table which could help us rediscover wonder today. Reigniting our imagination, often abandoned during childhood, can hold the key to rediscovering our sense of wonder.

2. Spend time with someone who still has wonder.

Once we lose our wonder, we tend to gravitate to others like us. We connect with other wonder-deprived people through our familiarity, mystery-deficiency, fear, and disappointment. We reinforce each other’s choices and our responses.

But, when we pursue and connect with people who still have wonder, our experience is much different. At first uncomfortable, we can also become fascinated as we see the world through their eyes. We “borrow” their wonder while we keep searching for ours.

When I think about someone who has wonder, my mind goes to my kids. Children still have wonder. Whether they believe in Santa or not, seeing the holiday season through a child’s eyes often reintroduces us to wonder.

My son yelled in ecstasy earlier this month as we pulled out the Christmas tree to assemble and set it up. All three of my kids laughed and danced when we ran outside last evening, so they could experience their first snow. While both experiences are not new for my wife and I, participating with the kids changed our perspective.

We know what it’s like to be around those without wonder. Connecting with those who have it might enable us to see something we’ve allowed ourselves to become blind to and ignored.

3. Slow down, pay attention and be observant.

The fast pace of our lives makes it difficult for us to notice what’s most important. It’s not until we consciously choose to slow down, pay attention and be more observant that we see what we’ve been missing. One of my favorite quotes from author Mark Batterson is “Change of pace + change of place = change of perspective.”

Well, we can’t always change our place. But this practice of slowing down allows us to pretend to be new, even when and where we’re not. This could include watching people, noticing their actions and interactions. It could also mean intentionally connecting, putting your phone away at the store and smiling at the clerk as they scan your items. Beware the temptation to stay busy and distracted as a way to avoid silence and stillness.

We rarely have time for anything new and surprising when we’re stressed out because we’ve overbooked our lives and are frantically playing catch up. Neither God nor life worships at the altar of our mighty to-do lists and calendars. So, expect the unexpected and keep your eyes peeled for surprises.

4. Practice gratitude.

Gratitude is truly my Swiss-army knife of practices. It serves many purposes, meets many needs and solves many problems. Gratitude is intentional appreciation, even amidst underappreciated or thankless circumstances. When we seek to give thanks, we’re choosing to believe good exists within this present moment.

One of the funny things my kids do during their evening prayers is thank God for things in advance. These are often things they want, which they’ve already asked their mom and me for and been turned down. They figure, “why not go over their heads and ask God? Couldn’t hurt!”

But one day I started thinking, shouldn’t we thank God in advance and not just after the fact? Isn’t gratitude something we can live forward with, not just experience looking back? When we practice “anticipatory gratitude,” we begin living with expectation, looking for something good even when we know things might be rough.

You can learn more about developing your gratitude superpower here, but I want to encourage you to begin practicing gratitude in an expectant way.

5. Start new (or restart discarded) habits.

During the holidays, many families develop traditions. These yearly rituals become meaningful moments which ensure the survival of important memories and values. In the Scriptures, we see God leveraging these kinds of habits in the seven festivals instituted with the Hebrew people. We also see men and women in the Scriptures building monuments to remember sacred spaces and moments, in order for future generations to remember the faithfulness of God to their ancestors.

We need to learn what they knew – the secret to sustaining wonder is found in our habits. Sometimes, in order to get back what we once had, we have to go back and do what we once did. We often discard meaningful habits because they seem to lose their value over time. Restarting the habit anew could refresh an experience of wonder. What old habit have you abandoned which still holds power to adjust your perspective or transform your character?

Starting a new habit could also begin a new experience of wonder. Think about this question. When’s the last time you learned something new? Far too many of us stop learning new habits or trying new experiences as we get older. We settle for what we know and what we’ve always done. Yet, when all we do is what we’ve always done, should we be surprised when wonder seems like a distant memory or worse, a myth? Being a newbie again could help us rediscover a fresh sense of wonder.

Do What You Can Now, So You Can Experience Later What You Cannot Now

These five steps begin to unravel the work of the four culprits we explored earlier, but they do so indirectly. We cannot forget what we learned after we solved the mystery but we can spend time with those who are in awe. We cannot undo the disappointment and pain of unmet expectations but we reconnect with what we lost before those moments.

In taking these actions, we are doing what we can do now so we can experience later what we cannot now. We cannot experience wonder now by snapping our fingers. But these steps can make possible in the future what seems impossible in the present. By acting with intentionality, patience and openness today, we unlock possibilities we had previously written off.

Life is a gift. It is too short and precious to live without any wonder, joy, awe or surprise. I’m praying this Christmas season (or whenever you read this post in the future), you’ll rediscover what you once had and appreciate it like never before.

 

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