I’m a late bloomer in a lot of ways. I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I grew up until I was in my early forties. At which point I dived into college and spent most of the next decade in pursuit of my master’s in marriage & family therapy. Not only did I not see the inside of a university til later in life, I also never saw Disney World until the ripe ol’ age of forty-four. As you can see, my forties were an exciting time for me!
I’d seen all the commercials for the Disney experience. I knew I could expect to see my childhood fantasies of princesses and pirates all come to life before me and they did. It was great. But there was something else happening inside me that I’d never felt before that visit. I was struggling to identify it. I needed to know what it was so I could capture it and feel it again whenever I wanted to.
Perhaps if I describe the sensation to you, you’ll recognize it and be able to name it yourself. First of all, I can tell you that I did not feel it on the classic It’s a Small World ride with that song droning on over and over again! That ride is enough to make a scarecrow crazy. No, I’d say it first crept up on me the moment I stepped off the Becky Thatcher riverboat onto Tom Sawyer’s island, where I was transported visually to a place I’d only seen in my imagination. I found myself giddy with delight as my little girl and I explored with abandon Tom & Huck’s secret hiding places.
As we began our journey through the Haunted Mansion, I felt a heightened sense of expectation and the holograms were amazing. I felt it again as we soared over Wendy’s house in Peter Pan’s magic ride. I can still conjure up that feeling when I see it in my mind’s eye. It was a feeling I had a few times as a kid when I was living in the moment as kids are apt to do. C.S. Lewis called it joy. That trip introduced me to experiences that filled me with jaw-dropping-awe at what the human imagination can conceive .I was conscious with the knowledge that I was seeing something I could never have imagined and would never have adequate words to describe. If the exhileration I felt were to be put into words, it could only be something like “yippeeeee!” I know, who uses that word but my experience was beyond any other words I could find. I was in touch with something inside of me so extraordinarily powerful that I wanted more.
OK, so here are all the clues to my magical visitation of euphoria: giddy with delight; expectation; amazement; joy; awe; living in the moment; seeing something beyond my wildest imagination; and yippeee. What is it? Yeah, that’s right! This perfectly describes WONDER!! My Disney experience was wonderful. Wonder is wow and yippee and supercalifragilisticexpealidocious all rolled into one. It was that night that I realized what my heart was thirsting for and never knew. I was living in a desert, parched from my wonder-drought.
In our society points are given for giving answers not for having questions. Living with mystery is simply not allowed. We know so many facts but so little about our selves and our deepest yearnings. The unseen is cloaked in the material and mystery explained away; every aspect of wonder choked from our souls by materialist dogma and pragmatism. Even God himself has been explained away until He’s nothing more than a thinly disguised version of ourselves—incapable of affecting our lives, unwilling to engage our questions. Is it any wonder that we are anxious, sad, and hopelessly disconnected from our own souls?
We’ve been trained since birth to memorize information and call it knowledge. But understanding comes after wondering—having our imagination captivated such that we cannot look away. Jesus introduced a lot of folks to wonder. He was followed by ordinary people; shepherds, farmers, merchants, fishermen, tax collectors, prostitutes, and moms with their little ones on their hips. People just like you and me. But he was also followed by the religious elite of his time, the Pharisees and Sadducees. These were the ones who memorized and copied the Hebrew scriptures and called it knowledge of God.
The first four books of the New Testament, also known as the gospels, depict Jesus performing signs and wonders. The regular folks were star struck by Jesus because he encouraged their wonder. They followed him because, like me, they craved that sensation. Their hearts were thirsty for something that pulled their gaze upward to the impossible. The only folks who weren’t about it were the religious elite who’d devoted themselves to having all the answers. If they didn’t know it or couldn’t explain it, it wasn’t real or true. They had starved their wonder to death.
Jesus said the capacity for wonder is within us all and the way back to our abandoned wonder is to become like little children living in the moment. He said the way to really know the Father and to step into his kingdom rule is to give up our need to understand everything, our compulsion to explain everything before we’ll participate, to allow ourselves the grace of wondering in awe at our Heavenly Father’s works and his creation. This leads to wondering about his great heart and limitless love for little ol’ us.
David, the famous poet-king of the Old Testament knew wonder. He used the word ‘wonderful’ to describe God’s works, his plans, his creatures, and most mysterious of all, his love for people. He said, “I am awesomely and wonderfully made” and “how wonderful are your thoughts about me, O Lord.” We hear it in song after song of his. David is a guy who made wonder a priority in his life! Why did he do that? Why should you and I do that? Because wonder is the great re-set button. It makes God bigger and me smaller and aware of my limitations. What’s so great about knowing my limitations? Well, they’re always with me but I forget them so easily. In my forgetting I heap upon myself unreasonable demands. I forget I am only human. I think I can be all things to all people at all times. I call that a recipe for disappointment, characterized by anxiety, sadness, and stress. Anybody been there? I have.
So what will you do to introduce wonder back into your life? Climb a mountain? Hear a symphony live? Wander in a lush garden? Take in a show by an adept illusionist? Have a water balloon fight? Count stars in the night sky through a telescope?
One thing about wonder I learned on my second visit to Disney: it cannot be recaptured through mere repeated experience of previous wonders. In fact, it diminishes a little for me with each successive return. It can still be good but not wondrous. But wonder can be birthed anew each time we place our heart in a state of expectancy. It can be renewed daily even in the mundane because it’s a state of the soul that wherever we go, we’re looking for the wonder.
Perhaps we could increase our daily doseage of wonder by praying big prayers and watching expectantly for God to answer them. Ask for something wonderful because Jesus said this is the kind of work his Father does all the time.
Now all glory to God, who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us. Ephesians 3:20