What better time than Advent and Christmas to consider what children have to teach us about the world around us. Today Margaret Philbrick offers some reflections for our "Small Talk" series as she reflects upon what her children have taught her about wonder and waiting:
Signs and wonders. A phrase so common in the Bible that the word “wonder” appears 109 times. According to the dictionary, wonder:
The feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable.
Children own wonder. It’s engrained in the purity of their hearts and expressed through their senses. How often I’ve watched my own children see and interact with the created world differently. While sitting in church, I remember a fat, sticky hand caressing my face with such intimacy and adoration that I flinched. The gesture was borderline embarrassing. Our toddler son once exclaimed, “Mommy, I have a sunset on my mouth,” as he caught a glimpse of his grape juice moustache in the mirror.
What would it take for me to walk out this Advent season of preparation in a state of unencumbered wonder?
“In pursuit of truth and beauty we must remain children all our lives,” wrote Albert Einstein. He recognized the need for us to seek after the true and the beautiful as children. Seeking takes time and focus, the ability to slow down and see the world both at ground level and in the expanse of the heavens, to stand in front of the unopened box and wonder what’s inside. Children have the capacity to do both these things simultaneously. I’ve watched countless little league t-ball games freeze as the commercial jet flies overhead. One minute they’re missing the drive to second base because of ants in the grass and the next, dropping the ball out in right field because of American Airlines. Children see the wonder of creation down low, in the individual blade of grass and then they roll over and see the majesty of the sky. They do not rush to get up and get on to the next thing. They gaze.
I have to retrain myself to experience the world anew, to open my eyes and see, taste and touch for the first time.
I’m learning that the key to experiencing Advent with the wonder of a child is found in seeing Jesus. He is the source of beauty, truth and wonder: “As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him” (Mark 9:15). These words offer comfort and hope for the weary commuter and the exhausted, nose-wiping mother. It says “all the people.” We who are waiting and watching for him are part of that glorious group of “all.” We are in the crowd and the children are with us. And we too, can be overwhelmed with wonder.
Still, in Advent what do I usually wonder about? Finding the right Christmas gift, paying the bills, year-end giving choices, gaining weight, projects that were New Year’s resolutions that I probably won’t get to? Instead of worrying about these earthly realities, I’m shifting my focus this Advent to waiting on him.
I grew up with a simple countdown to Christmas peppermint rope that my mother grabbed at a church bazaar. My brother and I read a little poem as we took turns untying the peppermint candy from its red yarn bow. Like an Advent calendar, this colorful tool made bedtime tasty, but the waiting was endless. Our three-year old daughter learned about the pain of waiting while watching the Nutcracker ballet for the first time. She reveled in the opening battle scene and Clara’s escape to the Kingdom of Sweets. As the second act journey took us to tea parties in Arabia, she grew fidgety and bored. For her, it was all about seeing the Sugar Plum Fairy dance to her celestial music. In a whining whisper she leaned into me, “WHEN is the plum sugar going to come out?” Impatience, almost tears, consumed her.
What if we felt this way about waiting for the Lord’s return? Would a single experience of wonder make us wait differently?
I have a habit of praying before getting out of bed in the morning. It starts out with a simple prayer our children learned in Sunday school, “Good morning Lord, this is your day. I am your child, please show me your way.” This Advent, I’m adding to the prayer. “Give me eyes of wonder and a heart of love to see what you have in front of me today.” Come Lord Jesus. Give us your heart, Lord. Give us your eyes.
Margaret Philbrick is the author of the Christmas book, Back to the Manger, and the critically acclaimed novel, A Minor – A Novel of Love, Music and Memory. Find out more and connect with her at www.margaretphilbrick.com