Awe and Wonder

You have seen wonder – you see it in your child. That moment their eyes get wide when they see something they’ve never seen before, the time they hear something new and ask “What’s that noise?” The time they point and whisper, “WOW.”

Several years ago, I was walking into our church on a week day morning. We have a preschool that meets in the building and so there are always children and parents coming in and out, but this was no ordinary preschool day. This was the first day of preschool for the year. In front of me was a little boy who was coming to preschool for the very first time. He had a backpack and was carrying a lunch box and holding his mom’s hand. Then he saw the corner of the playground. The playground is enclosed by concrete columns every 6 feet or so with tall fencing in between. This boy stopped at the first pillar and said, “Wow, mom. I hope I get to play on those swings!” Then he skipped to the next pillar and jumped around to see what was beyond it. He squealed and said, “Oh mom. I hope I get to play in that playhouse.” He tiptoed to the next pillar, peeked around it and just whispered, ‘Oh mom. It’s awesome.” Once we got in the building, he hopped down the ramp to his hallway – painted in bright, playful colors. He put his arms out to his side and said, “Stop. Let’s just look at it.”

Our children are naturally awestruck by things because there are so many new things being introduced every day. But as adults, we often have to look for the wonder-filled moments.

I was studying up on wonder and awe a little bit – which sounds strange, I know. But I found an interesting article by some researchers in California.

First, they said: “People increasingly report feeling time-starved, which exacts a toll on health and well-being.”  Would you agree? Would you define your life as time-starved sometimes?

They found participants in the study who consistently had moments of awe felt “they had more time available, were less impatient, were more willing to volunteer their time to help others and more strongly preferred experiences over material goods.”

As they were studying awe, they found it hard to generalize what causes awe, but they did narrow it down to four categories:

  1. Travel (new places)
  2. Staring at the cosmos
  3. Sensational film (This is different for everyone, but it’s about immersing yourself in another’s experiences.)
  4. Things in massive quantities (like a field of tulips, a school of fish, or a mass people).  

This is how they wrapped up their study:

People mostly walk around with a sense of knowing what is going on in the world. They have hypotheses about the way people behave and what might happen. We are always walking around trying to confirm the things we already think. When you are in a state of awe, it puts you off balance and, therefore, you become ready to learn new things

As adults, we think off-balance is always bad.  Because of that, we often chose to live in the mundane. Because of that, sometimes we just plain miss the wonder of it all. Small doses of awe in the everyday boosts life satisfaction. It helps us focus us on our present moment.

So how do we try not to miss the wonder in our every day?

This is what we can learn from the sweet little boy on his way to preschool:

  • We should always anticipate what is around the corner. And I mean “anticipate” in the excited, just can’t way to see it kind of way.
  • Take a minute to absorb what is right in front of you before you head to the next corner.
  • Do new things every now and then that just make you want to whisper, “Wow.” Set aside what you think you know so you can experience something new.  Allow yourself to be curious. As we get older, we tend to learn with purpose rather than just learn for fun or wonder.
  • Lastly, this boy’s mom was amazing. She didn’t rush him. She just walked with him and agreed. “That would be so fun. I hope so too!”  “If not today, then maybe another day!”

Start to face everyday life with wonder – What don’t I know? What can I learn? What can I see? Allow a little bit of un-balance in your day.

Be Unoffendable

                If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Romans 12:18

Did Paul really mean we should live at peace with everyone? Yes! As much as possible and as far as it depends on us.  Paul is not saying to just roll over and allow other people to walk all over you, or take advantage of you. Ultimately, the way we handle conflict says a lot about how we feel about God and the people he created. 

As far as it depends on you …

There are not a lot of things we can control in life. Other people are definitely not one of those things. Paul was talking to believers living under Roman oppression and encouraging them to live their lives like Jesus did, at peace with each other – even when it’s hard.  He knew how hard it was to live at peace. He had people following him around constantly arguing and contradicting him.

Live at peace with everyone.

But what about when someone hurts our feelings? The verses before and after Romans 12:18 state:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord (Romans 12:17-19).

When we are tempted to hurt someone because they hurt us, or when we work to make things “fair,” it is the opposite of establishing peace.  Let’s be honest, when we are in the midst of an argument, very often our desire is to be right. We want to fight and talk until the other admits that we were right all along. It is possible to disagree with others on some issues and still be friends. It is not my place to change someone else’s opinion. And, most of the time, I’m not going to be able to do it anyway. But we can encourage peace with our words, actions and even just the tone of our voice. We must be willing to admit our wrongs, apologize, make things right, and forgive. Our own ego, pride, and prejudices should never get in the way of loving others like Jesus does.

Our job is to love people and give them a chance to see Jesus at work in our life. Only God can change another person’s life, and they are rarely argued into the Kingdom. Once I realize where my responsibility lies in the promise of loving and living peacefully with others, it empowers me to love them the way Jesus wants me to. 

Notice the People in Your Story

We teach our children to say thank you to someone for a quick favor or a helping hand; but it takes a lot of intention and a little humility to acknowledge those who have truly made a significant difference in our life. 

When I was a young mother, new to leadership, a woman took an interest in me. She whispered helpful hints into my ear, applauded my efforts in front of others and spoke positive words over my children and my marriage. She looked me in the eye and said, “You’re good at this. You made the right choice. You are making a difference.” She drowned out the negative words I would say to myself, generously and graciously heaping valuable time and loving words all around me.

Your life story, like mine, includes characters who have molded your ideas and morals, fostered your mothering style, and inspired your leadership. Who are the people who have spoken into your life? 

  • Who believes in you? Sometimes all you need to keep going is to hear someone say, “You are brave. I know you can do this.”
  • Who inspires you to love or do more? Think about someone whose actions or attitudes make you lean forward and say, “I need more of THAT in my life.” 
  • Who taught you to do something new? Has someone along the way given you a new idea, taught you a skill or helped you understand the world better? 
  • Who has supported you or your family? Whose practical help has provided the foundation you needed to follow your passion? There may be someone who has invested time and energy in your children or husband; or may have helped you carry a load so you could step into something big. 

You have people all around you who have contributed to your life. Make sure they know the impact they’ve had on you.

The Posture of Hospitality

For a long time, when I heard the word “hospitality,” I thought about all the wrong things. I thought about beautiful table-settings, impressive chef-prepared dinners and the delectable desserts featured in magazines. I imagined elaborate gatherings filled with smiling people and hostesses floating through the room. But, that is not what real hospitality is. I was confusing hospitality with entertaining.  We miss something significant when we equate hospitality with entertaining. We get caught up in our culture’s false definition of hospitality, and we begin to think it is all about dinner invitations and etiquette, clean homes and casseroles, or dazzling displays of flowers and desserts.  

The Greek word for hospitality is philoxenos. Phileo meaning “brotherly love,” and xenos for “strangers.” God’s original design for hospitality is extending ourselves in love to strangers.  It is not just about hosting dinner parties on special occasions with people we know, or hosting a small group with just our friends. We need to be thinking about the person who is not there yet. How can we prepare for her? How can we invite her? How can we welcome her when she is brave enough to come?  

I work with an organization called MOPS – Mothers of Preschoolers. We are committed to creating safe, welcoming spaces for moms. This is what hospitality looks like at MOPS:  We extend an invitation and then greet each woman with a smile that lets her know we have been waiting for her. We get to know her and give her a place where she belongs. We meet her immediate needs and after getting to know her and building trust, we have the opportunity to show her that her greatest need is Jesus – either more of him if she already knows him, or to meet him for the first time. 

Creating a hospitable space doesn’t just happen without some thought and planning. But, as we plan for all the practical pieces, we must embrace a hospitable posture that welcomes the woman we don’t know yet. Consider these questions to get you started:  

  1. What is their first impression? What does each person see, hear, and feel when she walks in? Many will make a decision about whether they will return to your group in the first seven minutes of their time there. They decide based on how they felt when they walked through the door.  
  1. What are their points of connection? If you can make four points of connection with each person that comes through the door, she is more likely to return. Can you connect twice in the first seven minutes, once during the discussion part of your small group and once between meetings? If you can, she is far more likely to return, and invite a friend.  

We still have to consider the “entertainment” elements of the meeting because the table we set for others tells them we’ve planned for them and we’re excited to see them. But the table without your heart of hospitality is useless. Hospitality is about the people at the table. It’s about the conversation and the connections. Let’s not just invite people to the table. Let’s invite them to relationships. If everything we do is rooted in this kind of hospitality, then it will be enough – it will be more than enough. 

Being a Curious Leader

Leadership experts say that curiosity is one of the most important leadership qualities – its right up there with integrity and vision. Showing genuine curiosity about other people is the best way to strengthen relationships, whether it’s the relationship with your husband, others that live in your house or people in your neighborhood.

We are curious for several reasons:

  • We want to learn more. We like the trivia of life.
  • We want to improve something.
  • We want to connect with other people.

Curious leaders will:

Set aside what they think they know. Every now and then what we think we know gets in the way of our productivity and personal growth. A curious leader sincerely cares about where others have been and what they know. She knows that learning something new may challenge her beliefs or assumptions, and she’s willing to let that happen.

Foster a curious environment. Encourage those around you to ask questions and share their own ideas. Allow others the opportunity to get curious and search for solutions.

Be inwardly curious. Being externally curious makes you a good leader. You spend time focusing on those you serve alongside and the people you are serving together. But it is important to turn your curiosity inward every now and then. Be curious enough to answer a few questions about yourself.

  1. How curious are you? Rate yourself.
  2. Am I making a difference? Not “are you changing the world?” But are your actions, in your home and community, contributing to the betterment of those around you? If not, then you need to become curious about how to make some meaningful changes.
  3. Is my curiosity starting conversations? Is my lack or curiosity shutting them down?

Albert Einstein said, “I have no special talents, I am only passionately curious.” Passionate curiosity fosters collaboration, allows us to see alternatives and be fascinated by all the possibilities.