Sonder: A Simple Concept with Profound Spiritual Implications

Jesus was a master at maximizing sonder moments

Delbert W. Baker
Sonder: A Simple Concept with Profound Spiritual Implications

About 10 years ago, a new word sonder appeared on the literary horizon. It is a strong, practical word that has great agency. If you look it up in Wiktionary, you’ll find it means the profound realization that everyone, including strangers passing in the street, has a life as complex as your own, which they are constantly living despite your personal lack of awareness of it.

Defining Sonder

John Koenig, the originator of the definition, says that sonder intimates that each person has an epic story that continues invisibly like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed. Often each life or person may appear only once, as an extra figure in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.

Sonder is related to people awareness, like the experience at an airport, busy mall, or a bustling street in a foreign country. We are there, see faces, people, encounter them and then they’re gone. We never know what’s behind the mask or exterior. While sonder is a life reality, it can also be a helpful tool to positively relate and empathize with people.

Sonder Moments

Jesus was a master at maximizing sonder moments. He did more than see people, He connected with them. He felt and related to them. Visualize for a moment Jesus and blind Bartimaeus; the hemorrhaging woman; the healing of the lepers; the woman caught in adultery; Zacchaeus in a tree; and the woman at the well. Each was a sonder meeting that could have simply been a chance encounter, a passing in the night and no more. But Jesus masterfully made each of these sonder moments into a transformational exemplary encounter.

Can we make our sonder encounters, our daily chance meetings, transformational moments? At home, on the job, places of recreation, or happenstance meetings, can we infuse these encounters with constructive consequence, maybe even with eternal significance? Can we sensitively cooperate with the Holy Spirit and make our sonder moments into an orchestrated confluence of providence? Yes, we can. It can happen. God can, and no doubt, has used you in a similar manner. But there are deeper depths you can go with being used of God as you cooperate with the “I will go!” attitude.

When used with a sensitive mindset, the sonder concept can open-up new life-changing possibilities. With a heightened awareness of sonder moments, you can start and end each day with an alertness of spiritual opportunities to do good, reflect the love of Christ and to be an agent of kindness and mercy.

Maximizing Sonder

Here are four simple approaches to maximize your sonder moments: 1. Remember that you, and everyone, is simultaneously grappling with the challenges of life. 2. Reflect the compassionate attitude of Jesus by consciously valuing every person you meet, knowing the Holy Spirit can work through each encounter. 3. Respond by genuinely, prayerfully looking, listening, and leaning into the discerned need with a sensitive word, deed or even glance. 4. Reject every attitude of superiority, prejudice, or disdain for people you don’t know. Instead radiate an attitude of grace, mercy and love, spontaneously and indiscriminately. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, you can convert a simple sonder moment into a transformational one. Daily encounters will have the potential to positively impact lives, model the love of Christ and result in far-reaching good. Try it!

Delbert W. Baker

Delbert W. Baker, Ph.D., resides in Laurel, Maryland. He is director of Research and Development for the Regional Conference Retirement Plan/Office of Regional Conference Ministries. His wife, Dr. Susan Baker, is an educator and practicing physical therapist.