Whatever our age, we owe it to ourselves to give praise for Creation and grow in our capacity to see the world as a gift from God.
Every day, newspapers, the radio, television pour out waves of lamentations about various catastrophes, to the point that we risk forgetting to stand in wonder. It is said that “happy stories don’t sell newspapers,” and that’s no doubt why true love, faithfulness, beauty, the gift of self, and joy don’t make the front page … and don’t fill most conversations, either. And yet, wonder is one of those childlike qualities that prompted Jesus to say: “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike” (Mt 11:25).
Wonder is not some wide-eyed, dreamy, unrealistic optimism. On the contrary, it is an attitude that consists of contemplating reality in all its plenitude, in seeing beyond appearances marred by evil. To know how to wonder is to make oneself open to the loving presence of God in all that we experience. It is to look at things and people with an ever-fresh heart, without being blasé or bored. It’s knowing how to be astonished, to welcome every new day as a gift. It’s remaining pure from all covetousness, from all desire to appropriate or dominate. It is important that we forge our children’s judgment by teaching them to discern evil. It’s vital to open their eyes and their hearts to the suffering of others, to teach them compassion. But it’s just as important to be careful not to undermine that innate capacity of children for wonder.
The art of cultivating admiration for the everyday
First, we should learn how to share our wonder. This implies being truly attentive, for wonder is not always about making gushing exclamations; it’s often the contrary. To share wonder with our children is certainly not about grand pronouncements: wonder doesn’t sit well with noise. It’s rather a form of contemplation to be experienced within our deepest being, in that secret garden to which God alone has access.
Let’s wonder along with and in front of our children. If wonderment is profoundly intimate and silent, there are still words and attitudes that can either foster or stifle their capacity for it. Without hushing up things that go wrong, we must also know how to highlight what is beautiful, what is good.
Take the example of the family: we bemoan, with reams of statistics at the ready, the increase in the number of divorces, but nothing is ever said about all the profoundly loving and faithful couples. We happily air the many worries children cause, but much less is said about the immense joy they give us. Why is there the saying “little children, little worries; big children, big worries” while we so rarely hear “children, big and small, equal great joy”? We could list hundreds of other examples of the same type.
The presence of God at the heart of our life
When you ask a child, and even more so an adolescent, what their main qualities are, they will generally reply by … listing their faults! That’s symptomatic of a lack of confidence, of a negative outlook. It is very wrong to continually praise a child and vaunt his innumerable qualities to anyone who’ll listen. But it’s no better to endlessly run him down, to inflict him with derogatory or ironic remarks about his bad nature, his nose that’s too long, or his slowness. One never helps a child grow by humiliating or denigrating him. That doesn’t mean that we don’t need to teach him to recognize his faults and his limits, or to face failures and humiliations with serenity. But it’s our job to help him develop all the talents the Lord has blessed him with, and thus to discern those talents, very simply and humbly.
Often, when we tell them about the miracles of Jesus, children say, “What a shame we weren’t there! How great it would be to see a miracle.” Let’s teach them to see what is greater than any miracle: the presence of God in our life. It is wonderful that Jesus changed water into wine, or that he cured the sick; but it’s much more extraordinary that he died and rose again for each one of us. God is of unimaginable beauty and goodness, and evil has no hold over him. God loves us beyond all words, in the here and now, wherever all our sins and infidelities may have led us. God watches over each of us with infinite solicitude. He calls us, today, to live as risen ones. Before such wonders that are given us each day, at every instant, with the eyes of a child, we must never cease our wonderment.