Fascination Matters: Chasing Something that Gives You Delight

When I first started dating my husband, I had this weird fascination with the circus and old carnival things and sideshow freaks and all that. About a month after we started dating, he bought me this black-and-white photo book on the circus in the 1930s, and I started sobbing.
—Christina Hendricks

My lifelong fascination with sports is not the only fascination I’ve had. When I look back on my life, I see a long line of interests: model airplanes, baseball cards, coins, stamps, African violets, bonsai plants, books, vegetable gardening, writing, running, coffee mugs from colleges, and probably several more that I’m forgetting.

Throughout my life, I’ve discovered various and sundry things that have fascinated me and given me delight. Some of those fascinations lasted a few years and faded away; others have delighted me for a lifetime. I’ve come to believe that finding things that delight us—or, maybe better said, being found by things that delight us—keeps us from committing one of the seven deadly sins.

In the fourth century, a band of monks known as the Desert Fathers escaped to the wilderness in an attempt to live holy lives. While there, they compiled a list of the seven deadly sins that humans should avoid at all costs: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth.

The sin that fascination saves us from is the last one on that list—sloth. The most obvious symptom of sloth is a repeated shrug of the shoulders. When we succumb to sloth, nothing matters much. Cars go unwashed, beds unmade, gardens untended, books unread, children undisciplined, and love unexpressed. When sloth does its dastardly damage to our souls, life becomes a meaningless treadmill. When sloth gets in its advanced stages, we don’t see the wonder in even life’s finest treasures. Sunsets bring no awe. Good music stirs no heartstrings. Speckled puppies evoke no chuckles. And little babies leave us cold.

The medical examiner would never officially declare it, but when a person gets to that point, they are unofficially dead—killed by the silent but deadly disease of sloth. Sadly, the world is full of dead people who are still walking, talking, and pretending to be alive.

This is where fascination comes to our rescue. When we find those things that delight us, when we start caring about those things on my list or yours, we keep sloth at bay. If we start caring now—about birds, mountain climbing, marathon running, crocheting, painting, or whatever catches our fancy—we will never succumb to sloth. We’ll come to the end of our days still alive and brimming with life.

In his book Bed and Board, Robert Capon wrote,

The tinfoil collectors and the fancy ribbon savers may be absurd, but they’re not crazy. They are the ones who still retain the capacity for wonder that is the root of caring. When a little boy finds an old electric motor on a junk heap, he is pierced to the heart by the weight, the windings, and the silent turning of it. When he gets home, his mother tells him to throw it out. Most likely he will cry. It is his first and truest reaction to the affluent society. He usually forgets it, but we shouldn’t. He is sane; society isn’t. He possesses because he cares. We don’t.

There was a time in Jesus’ ministry when he brought a little child to him and used that child as an object lesson. He told the people in the crowd that they all needed to become like that little child. He said that they would never enter the kingdom of God unless they became like that child.

Jesus didn’t spell out all the implications of that statement, which leaves us wondering exactly what it was about that child that we should emulate. Several possibilities come to mind. Perhaps he was suggesting that adults need to have the trust that children have. Children are by nature trusting of adults and assume that adults will treat them fairly. So too, maybe Jesus was saying, we adults need to trust God and assume God has our best interests at heart.

Or perhaps Jesus was implying that adults need to have the humility that children have. Children know that they don’t know, that they are little people who must depend on big people. So too, we adults need to quit pretending that we know it all, readily admit our ignorance, and trust the sovereignty of God.

But it is also possible that Jesus was implying that adults need to have the wonder that children have. Children are, by nature, endlessly fascinated by things that adults take for granted. A baby is enthralled by Grandma’s glasses. A toddler can’t keep her hands off the kitten. We adults learned a long time ago that there’s nothing special about a pair of glasses and that kittens are a dime a dozen. But don’t try to convince a little child of that. No little child is afflicted with sloth. But give that baby time, let them grow up to be a jaded adult, and they might just become one of the walking dead.

Whatever Jesus was implying that day when he told the adults in his crowd to be like the child in his lap, we all know from experience that children tend to have more wonder than we do. Children are full of fascination. Us? Not so much. Over the years, sloth seeps into our souls, and our wonder fades.

That’s why spotting an adult who still has wonder is such an encouraging thing. I watched one night a human-interest story on the ten o’clock news about an older man who loves steam engine trains. This man has had a longtime love affair with these old trains and even bought one of his own some years ago. Occasionally he fires it up and chugs through his town, waving at wide-eyed children startled at the sight of an antique train huffing and puffing down their street. When the man spoke to the interviewer about steam engine trains, his whole being radiated excitement.

That television piece didn’t tell why the man was so in love with trains. Perhaps he had ridden in a steam engine train as a boy and had fond memories of it. Perhaps his father had been the engineer on a steam engine train. Perhaps he had come from a long line of people who loved those trains. But the reason really doesn’t matter. What matters is that he had found a special fascination that animated and delighted him.

And just watching that piece on the ten o’clock news animated and delighted me. My spirits rose considerably, and I later wondered why. Why would a brief TV piece about a man who loves steam engine trains so lift my spirits? The answer to that question, I realized as I thought about it later, is that delight always breeds delight. Fascination produces fascination. And wonder, almost without fail, is contagious.

So let’s hear it for all the people around us from whom we can catch joy. The farmer meticulously plowing his field. The housewife lovingly baking her cinnamon rolls. The woman in the nursing home hand-stitching her pillowcases. The little boy enthralled by the old electric motor he found on the junk heap. The carpenter handcrafting her cabinets. And last, but certainly not least, the old guy tooling around town in his train. All of these people have one thing in common: they have not succumbed to sloth, and their fascinations will probably assure that they never will.

I will try to notice these people every chance I get because they remind me of a crucial truth: sloth is both common and deadly in our world, and we should do everything in our power to avoid it. Fascination matters because it keeps sloth at bay and literally keeps us alive.

This post originally appeared in Panning for Gold: Looking Back on Life with Joy by Judson Edwards.

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