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.

A Noisy Gong

Around 54 A.D., the Apostle Paul wrote an eye-opening letter to the church in Corinth. The people were busy comparing their contributions to the church and judging each other’s value based on their gifts – the things they did to help the church and community. Paul told the Corinthians that every person’s contribution was important and emphasized the need for unity.

But then he tells them, as excellent as their contributions are, love is better. I may develop and use my gift to its fullest but what is it worth if I don’t love other people?  

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.  – I Corinthians 13:1-3

The Hebrew word for “gong” describes metal made of brass or copper mixed with tin – normally shaped into a drum that yields a hollow, echoing noise. Corinth was steeped in pagan religions and rituals. The people danced wildly under the influence of drugs and alcohol while pagan priests beat their metal drums louder and faster to increase the frenzy. When Paul compared the unloving spirit to a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal, the Corinthians could relate. They knew exactly what this empty worship sounded like because they heard the clamoring of it all day long.

Paul tells the people of Corinth, and us, that it is possible to be doing all the right things, but if our actions are void of love, those things lose their power. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul describes love in action. Most of the descriptions he uses are verbs. The noun “love” is a great word. It feels ethereal and conjures up all the good emotions, but Paul isn’t writing about lofty concepts or how love feels. The kind of love he is describing is not just talk. It is action.

Join me in studying more about Love In Action through this YouVersion study.

Index Cards

It all started with index cards.  My daughter walked into my room at 9:00 pm and said she had to have index cards for school the next day. I can’t describe what happened next any other way than this: I lost my mind. I berated her for 20 minutes about her lack of responsibility in waiting until this late the night before to ask. I made sure she understood how this request was affecting my life, my plans, my deadlines. Clearly, this request was outrageous and life-disrupting. For the first time I can remember, my child ran from me in tears.

I live in a large suburb. In the time it took me to drive my daughter to tears, I could have driven to at least five different locations to get the item she needed and it would have cost me about $1.50.

This wasn’t about index cards. This was about the pace of my life being out of control.

I’d forgotten that it was up to me to decide what kind of rhythm I wanted for my family. I had made a decision somewhere along the way to live at an exhausting, time-consuming, attitude-wrecking, family-changing pace. I was saying “yes” to everything because I believed that was what was expected of me and somehow convinced myself it was good for us. It was the urgent overtaking the important every single day.

I thought I needed some balance in my life. I wanted things to be even and steady and to work easily within my plan. But what I was missing was less about balance and more about a healthy rhythm. When I let old, bad habits about spending, activities, and my own self-care take over or when I let others dictate my time, everything became urgent and out of control. The rhythm I was living in was actually someone else’s. 

I’d been doing it for so long that it wasn’t going to be easy to change, but it was going to be so much harder not to.

I knew where I needed to start. I needed time to think and pray. I needed to talk to God about how he had created me and the decisions I’d been making. I needed wise counsel from someone who knew me well.

During this time, a friend pointed me to Galatians 5:22-25:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (ESV)

I was out of step. Its’ pretty clear from these verses what kind of rhythm God wants for me. The desire to excel, be better and grow is not always a bad thing. But it becomes harmful when I get caught up in gauging myself and everyone else by some ridiculous standard set by Pinterest, Instagram, or that spot deep inside of me that thinks your rhythm must be better than mine. The pressure to live my life like it was a competitive sport didn’t come from God.

Galatians 5:16 in The Message version says: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit.

That is the rhythm I want!

Every day there are dozens of meaningful opportunities laid out before you – opportunities in your home, community, church, school and work. Saying “yes” to them all usually means forcing your family rhythm to fit into them. But now may be the time to shift your thinking. It may be time to talk to God about your own personal rhythm and then take gutsy steps to live in it.

Making this shift creates white space. It gives you time to take the scenic route to school, room to be the ride for the friend whose car is in the shop; and space to sit with someone who needs to chat. It gives permission to turn buying index cards at 9:00 pm into an adventure instead of an attitude adjustment. Most importantly, it gives direction and purpose to your steps. It just may bring you freedom to decide what the important things are for you and your family for today, tomorrow, and the days after that.

You see, it’s hardly ever about the index cards.

The Petition

My son Cameron is an interesting and entertaining person and almost everyone who knows him has some sort of “Cam story.” When he was ten, he attended a public elementary school and, at the time, they were adding on to the back of the school. The construction equipment was sitting on the playground so their recesses were very limited until construction was finished. The year prior, the basketball goals were taken down for a short time and Cameron (unbeknownst to his parents) led a petition drive to have them put back up. It worked!

And a year later, they had beautiful basketball goals that they can’t get to because of the construction.  Their afternoon recess was only about 8 minutes long and took place in the front of the school so they couldn’t have balls to play with and they didn’t have room to race (the two main things he liked to do at recess).  They did have jump ropes to play with at first but because some of the children used the jump ropes inappropriately, they lost that privilege.

Cameron considered another petition drive but knew it wouldn’t work because there is nothing the school administration could do about the rain slowing down construction. After weeks of this shortened and uninspiring recess time, a parent called to tell me what Cameron did in the face of these playground obstacles. He formed a prayer group that prayed for the first few minutes of the short afternoon recess. When he got home from school that day, I asked him what they prayed for and he gave me the look ten year-old boys give their moms following what they believe to be a stupid question and responded, “Well, we are praying for playground equipment, of course.” 

Cameron looked at the obstacles, assessed his options, and started with prayer. It’s funny because he was only ten but taught a great leadership lesson.


On vacation several years ago, we went snorkeling.  We rode on a boat out over the reef and the guide gave excellent instructions, set our boundaries and sent us out.  It took a minute to get used to the feeling of breathing evenly through my mouth and keeping my face in the water.  While I was snorkeling, every now and then I would see someone else go by or see the hull of the boat when I got close enough but most of the time it felt like it was just me and the fish.   My youngest son was afraid at first but our patient guide talked him through it.  When he was finally brave enough to get in the water, I tried to keep an eye on him.  It was hard to keep my face in the water, my snorkel out of the water and still see his yellow flippers.  When I came up for a break at one point, the guide yelled out to me, “Hey, mama, you let me watch him.  I can see him better from here then you can from there.  My most important job right now is to watch that young snorkeler.  Don’t worry. I’ve got him covered.”  I was able to relax and enjoy the beauty of what was before me.  (At least until I saw that little shark.)

As our children get older and they venture out more on their own, we have to remind ourselves that we give instructions, set boundaries, and talk them through their fears but at some point we have to relax and know that God has a better view of them.  They matter even more to him then they do to us, so he’s got them covered.