Midnight made my black snake of a highway home the other night look inky and sleek as I drove north toward my mountain. The night sky was like a clear alpine pool, cradling that faint luminosity that comes from still water- every star diamond sharp, every point of light like a slash in the dark. A half moon wavered somewhere nearby, casting a faint halo over the foothills so that my eyes were drawn north by their march to the very last slope before the pass. And there was another star. A star burning on the side of the mountain itself, not above it. It was the Palmer Lake Star, a friend that makes a visit for just the Christmas season every year when the little mountain town illumines the foothill size star set amidst the leafless scrub oaks. My eyes kindled up to see it, I almost laughed, and felt for an instant like the little girl that I was when I first saw it ten years ago. The world seemed abruptly enchanted and I felt delightfully childlike. I was surprised by the swift, unthinking happiness of that little gift of a star, of the black, buoyant night, of the myriad small celebrations that comprise the season of Christmas. It felt good to be so easily delighted.
I’ve been thinking about that ever since. It was such an easy, happy moment. It helped me to decide that I’d like to be delighted as a habit of being, childlike in my enjoyment of the world. I’ve found though, that one of the things that makes children childlike is that they expect goodness. They reckon on a certain openhandedness in the universe, they inexplicably expect magnanimity to drop on their little heads. It’s not as if they know where it will come from or who will provide it, but children have this essential hope in their hearts that something good is coming. They haven’t yet unlearned the skill of expectancy- to live delightedly is for them a possession of that illusive ability to live as if a miracle were lurking round the corner.
I am decidedly not like that. Life trains me to just the opposite. It drills me to a muscle-tensed, nerve-wired crouch that assumes some pain or grief is seconds away from pouncing. If I’m not ready for it, then I’ll be crushed when it hits, so I live, often without being aware, in a posture of defense. Not only do I NOT expect good, I actively expect bad. My knowledge of the world and even of the nature of human relationships is that they will be hard. It’s been that way since the fall. I think of Adam and Eve, consider how they coveted knowledge of good and evil – but really, they already had knowledge of everything good. They had pure, unhindered fellowship with God, there was no good thing withheld from them. The only knowledge they could gain was a knowing of evil, of suffering, of pain. By choosing to know that instead of God’s heart, they set the stage for their descendants to live that knowledge out, to expect evil, to assume that life is hard, and God far away. My knowledge of brokenness taints and often poisons my knowledge of good, leaving me with a heart unable to assume that goodness is the ultimate force, that love and holiness are the final realities.
When Jesus said that to enter the kingdom of heaven we had to become as children, I think a huge part of what he meant was that we have to relinquish our expectation of evil, our knowledge of how bad we are, how broken the world is, and how deeply we don’t deserve God’s grace. Become a child, and choose to believe that God wants to give you every treasure and every grace in the world. Become a child and learn to live again in an assumption that the ultimate power in the world is unspeakably good, and fun, and lovely. Become a child and learn to expect blessing, help in trouble, grace in sin, strength in weakness, life in death, and mountain stars on tired nights. Expect good again. Expect love to meet you at every corner.
A difficult task indeed because every second of life in a fallen world is crafted to make you think differently. But perhaps the great work of our hearts, the great changing and recreating that takes our substance of sin and disappointment and weakness and creates a people of laughing, loving, delighted souls. This is who I want to be before God, this is the person I desire to become: His child.
These thoughts have been such a gift to me this season, as I have begun to look at life with eyes perhaps a little clearer. I suppose, like the wise men, I had a star to prick my heart to questing life. I wish the same for you. May you find a similar delight this Christmas season, a song, a sight, a person, to prick you awake to the delightedness of life, to the possibility of living in an open-handed expectation of good. May your heart be revived to hope in every possible delight.