So much about daily parenting in the early years is dealing with little humans who dip in and out of streams of consciousness at random and sometimes crucial moments.
We were towards the tail-end of the pandemic. My then five-year-old son had spent far too many months baking banana bread, crafting with Amazon cardboard boxes, and attending awkward zoom play dates. So, it felt wonderful to finally venture out again.
On one of our evening walks, he suddenly stopped and curiously pointed to a basketball court where a few teenagers were playing a match.
“What are those?” he asked.
“Teenagers playing basketball,” I dryly answered.
We stood there for a few seconds. I could tell his little activated brain was busy playing out the scene in slow-motion.
“Woah!” he said in amazement, as if he was looking at characters in a painting come to life.
“They have bodies of grown-ups but faces of children.”
I stared back at the scene and began to see it too. Bodies of grown-ups but faces of children. We both stood there in silence for a few moments, taking it in. His face was full of awe of these strange and wondrous creatures called teenagers, while I absorbed this magical definition of something decidedly commonplace.
“At moments of wonder, it is easy to avoid small thinking, to entertain thoughts that span the universe, that capture both thunder and tinkle, thick and thin, the near and the far,” says Yann Martel in the book, The Life of Pi.
An Invitation to Wonder
We have all had experiences where we encounter something powerful that we cannot easily explain. It makes us feel small in an appeasing kind of way, as if it is what we have unknowingly longed for all along.
Furthermore, studies of the brain show that this feeling of smallness from moments of wonder, decreases the influence of the part of our brain that is associated with self-focus and rumination.
As parents we are invited daily into moments of wonder. An observation or a question of wonder by our child can suddenly make the ordinary seem intricate or the complex straightforward.
However, as much as I love my children, I often find their daily musings to be exhausting. Nearly always, they are poorly timed. I struggle to be blown away by an oddly shaped stone or a snake-like stick.
As parents we are invited daily into moments of wonder.
My expressions of wonder are rushed and laced with patronising affirmations. But there is something particular to the way a child receives the vast or even ordinary that Jesus is inviting us to behold.
“‘Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.’ And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them” (Mark 10:13-16).
A sense of wonder seems to be the default mode of children. But how can parents and caregivers adopt it as a practice in the way we connect with children? How can we meet them in their moments of wonder and share their curiosity and joy?
Finding Wonder Comes From Humility
In his book on humility, Gavin Ortlund describes it as a sort of self-forgetfulness. It minimises our ego and makes room for us to find wonder in our children.
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4).
I take great pride in the structures and systems I have created in our household. They help me manage the chaos of parenting young children. Coming from a teaching background, I know how to set-up activities that give the illusion of being explorative and open-ended, but are gently guiding children to a target-lesson or discovery.
This is all very good on paper, but it subtly positions me as the all-knowing one and my children as the ones who need to do all the learning.
Jesus flips this hierarchy around in the bible and positions children above the scholars and priests of that time in the way they learn and make discoveries. He says, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” Matt. 19:14.
It is humbling to accept that ‘the least of us’ have insightful things to offer.
He also says, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mark 13:15).
As I reflect on that moment of wonder I shared with my son and the teenagers, I begin to understand how contributions from “the least of us” can broaden our frames of reference and even close gaps in our understanding of things.
Through the lens of child-like wonder, his innocent remarks unknowingly captured some of the duality of teenage life.
It is humbling to accept that ‘the least of us’ have insightful things to offer. But as we begin to recognise the limits of our knowledge and power, it opens us up to experiencing wonder in our children and perhaps even seeking it out.
Finding Wonder and Our Interaction with Children
Though finding wonder often takes place in solitude, it draws us out of ourselves and towards the other person. It fosters connectedness and helps us build deeper relationships. We see this playing out in the Psalms in the way David relates with God.
He expresses wonder at God, in his quest for an intimate relationship with him. A lot of the quality time he spends in God’s presence involves him reflecting and marvelling at God and his creation.
“Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”
May we first become aware of the way our heavenly Father delights in us.
The more we learn to find wonder in our relationship with God, the more it becomes our natural way of seeing others.
I have found that the deepest moments of connection with my children happen when I have had the time to stop and engage with what matters to them.
The gold that lies in the conversations about Lego moon-landers or glitter slime is not just to indulge them or us. In fact, it models the interest God takes in us, his children, and the seemingly insignificant parts of our lives.
Finding Wonder in Being Children of God
Ultimately, finding wonder in our children points us to the glory of God and the beauty of his creation. It is a reminder of the innocence and purity that God calls us to cultivate in our own lives.
May we first become aware of the way our heavenly Father delights in us. “For the Lord takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with salvation” (Ps. 149:4). He is moved by our thoughts and actions (Matt. 8:5-13). He knows us fully and yet seeks to discover us. Our relationship with him helps us seek out the wonder in our children.