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Wonder By Alec Hill

“How do I not become a hallow soul? Never lose the wonder.” Margaret Feinberg

We all need wonder in our lives.

Wonder makes us gasp, causing us to say, “oh my.” It may be experienced while walking on a shoreline, watching a newborn enter the world, or listening to incredible music.  

As ministry leaders, we sense wonder when our mission is fleshed out before our eyes. This may involve the look on a homeless person’s face when she is securely housed. Or a child’s joyful reaction when grasping a new concept. Or a refugee’s simple smile of appreciation.  

For near-death survivors like me, wonder has expanded to includes experiences once considered “normal.” Simple things – like being allowed to pet dogs, touch the grass, and hold babies – now fill me with awe post-bone marrow transplant.  

Barriers to Wonder

Leaders face two major barriers to experiencing wonder. The first is pace. With our pell-mell professional lives, we charge up the next hill before savoring the current moment. Living so much in the future, we too often miss special moments. By priding ourselves as multi-tasking jugglers, we rob ourselves of wonder in the now.

A second hurdle is imagination. Far too often, we allow our creative sides to atrophy as we practice the (necessary) tasks of raising funds, building teams, and managing projects. Only when we reflectively look at life through the eyes of our childhood selves do we appreciate just how much we’ve lost.

Cultivating Wonder

The idea that wonder can be cultivated seems oxymoronic. Is it possible to capture the elusive? To organize the wild? The short answer is no. We don’t catch wonder. It catches us. That said, I believe that it is possible to put ourselves in wonder’s way. Here are four on-ramps.

Take Three Week Vacations  

A friend once gave me a great piece of advice: “You need the first week of vacation to collapse, the second to recover, and the third to regain your inspiration.” And I might add to experience wonder. When relaxed and refreshed, our souls re-open to astonishment. As our capacity is replenished, we have more room for sublimity to re-enter our lives.

Along these lines, I embrace a nascent movement know as a “technology sabbath” launched by a group of Jewish professionals. Highlighted in the Harvard Business Review, they recommend a weekly 24 hour break from email, computers, and the internet (some add phones and TV). By shutting out noise and clutter, wonder has a better way of finding us.     

Encounter Nature

A ferry ride from my home near Seattle, the Olympic Peninsula is an incredibly diverse ecosystem of mountains, seashores, and rain forests. To say that I love this place would be a gross understatement. My wife and I regularly skip over to hike, camp, and bike.

Nature points to our Creator. The psalmist urges us to “stop and consider God’s wonders” and to be “stunned and amazed.” Researchers have found that spending even a single minute in a grove of trees is enough to elicit awe. I encourage you to identify a nearby greenspace to which you can regularly escape – even if only for a short time.

Be with Children

Kids live in a world of constant wonder. Everything is novel and exciting. Brimming with vivid imaginations, they are creative, fun, and full of life. Seeing life through fresh eyes, they observe the unexpected and beautiful. When I was a young dad, my eldest daughter accused me of living a second childhood through her. Guilty as charged!

If you don’t have children (or grandchildren) nearby, I recommend volunteering at your church or local elementary school. An octogenarian friend of mine – after the near-simultaneous deaths of his wife and adult daughter – finds wonder by being with pre-school age kids every Sunday morning. Bless him. And bless them.

Pursue God

Post-transplant, I’ve experienced God’s presence in new and profound ways. When I reflect on all the wonder I’ve missed in my lifetime due to hubris and hurriedness, I cringe. Only by creating sufficient space can we dwell in liminal space. Such wonder is not meant only for one-off mountain-top experiences but for the day-to-day. Transcendence is readily available to each of us.  

Wonder is one of God’s greatest gifts. Let’s do all we can to cultivate it. 


Alec Hill is president emeritus of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship USA. This essay is exerted from his book, Living in Bonus Time: Surviving Cancer, Finding New Purpose.

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