Another year in the books. A new one begins. Have I learned anything?
Maybe. I think I’m learning a new appreciation for miracles. And 2016 was full of them.
No, I didn’t get hit by a runaway cement truck and survive (and to be absolutely clear, I didn’t get hit by a truck at all, cement or otherwise). I’m talking about the more everyday miracles we might take for granted.
Brain researchers will tell you that our minds are attuned to noticing things that are out of the ordinary. We naturally pay attention when things don’t happen the way we’d expect — and if the circumstances seem unlikely enough, we get that mystical feeling that pushes us toward the language of miracle.
Here’s a homely example. We still buy strike-on-the-box matches, which we use to light candles. We have two brands of these in the house; one brand has the familiar red match-heads, the other has green (they’re supposed to be eco-friendly).
The week before Christmas, I opened a new box of matches — then stood there staring at it, dumbfounded. All of the matches should have been green, but some were red. I checked the other matchboxes, and they were all appropriately one color or the other. The box I held in my hand was the only one that was different.
If some of the matches had been green and some white, I would have just scratched my head, shrugged my shoulders, and gone on with my day. If it hadn’t been the week before Christmas, I wouldn’t have paid much attention. But come on: we bought these matches months ago, we only open a new box once in a while, and just a few days before Christmas I end up getting the one box in the drawer with the Christmas-colored red-green mix? What are the odds?
Maybe it’s a Christmas miracle!
I know. Some of you are thinking: Brother, you need to get out of the house more often.
I don’t really believe that this was God’s personal Merry Christmas! designed just for me. Improbable and inexplicable things happen all the time, and just because we can’t explain something doesn’t mean that it’s directly from the hand of God. One of the many hats I wear is social scientist, and take it from me, “And then a miracle happened” is not generally considered a sound scientific principle.
I don’t want to lose my sense of wonder. After all, being able to explain an event is often a way of locating it comfortably in the realm of Things We Don’t Have to Think About. We don’t just explain; we explain away, and cease paying attention. And when we stop paying attention, we miss opportunities for wonderment and gratitude.
It’s okay to smile and say thank you to God for multicolored matches, regardless of how they ended up in my hand.
So much of what we claim to believe in the Christian life is indeed miraculous in itself — including the astonishing claim that the Spirit of God takes up residence in those who believe. When did we lose the sense of wonder that sinful people are sometimes capable of being like Christ? What prayers of gratitude go unspoken because we only notice what’s wrong, and not what by the grace of God is right?
The year 2016 was full of miracles. Sorry to say, I missed most of them. And I want 2017 to be different.
I’m going to have to pay more attention.