By Teresa Sayles, Children’s Creative Arts Director
Woodland Hills Church
You’ve probably seen it a thousand times: your child is utterly lost in his or her imagination. It might be while playing with a Lego Star Wars set as an obvious battle of good versus evil takes place on the basement floor complete with laser blast sounds and droid beeps. Perhaps it’s the giggly voices you hear coming from your child’s room as she and her friend play “house” or “school” with their dolls. You’ve seen a towel becomes a superhero cape, a stick become a knight’s sword, and a plastic crown with its stickers missing become the precious tiara of a princess. You’ve read the same story to them over and over till you’ve got the whole thing memorized and, yet, they beg to hear it again. Your child’s imagination is in full gear. And it’s beautiful.
Our imaginations are one of God’s greatest and most profound gifts, and I’m convinced it’s one of the things that Jesus is referring to when he tells his disciples, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it (Mark 10:14-15).” What exactly does he mean here? Does he want them to be more immature and childish? Is he calling them to revert to a child-like state of being where they refuse to eat vegetables, hate sharing their toys, and want to sleep with the light on? Of course not. But what I believe Jesus is getting at here is his desire for his followers to have a child-like trust and state of mind when it comes to their faith in him.
Kids have the amazing ability to believe in things that adults find difficult to grasp. A child has no trouble believing in his or her imaginary friend, a monster in the closet, that he or she really can one day become a superhero, or that unicorns truly exist. And, because of this, they can believe whole-heartedly in a God they can’t see with their eyes. They can see him with the eyes of their imagination, and that enables them to trust him with fewer holdbacks than we adults tend to have. Where we wonder scientifically how Jesus could possibly make five loaves of bread and two fish feed thousands of people, a child simply smiles and believes that Jesus can do anything, so why not? Where we struggle with the idea of how much God loves us despite our sins, a child – whose whole existence has been wrapped in love and encouragement from family and friends – has no trouble believing he or she is loved unconditionally by God. And where we find it hard to believe that we can make a difference in the world, kids know they can make a difference.
It’s something author C.S. Lewis understood well. In the dedication to what is, arguably, his most famous novel – The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe – he wrote:
“My Dear Lucy, I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand a word you say, but I shall still be your affectionate Godfather, C. S. Lewis.”
We seem to have this idea that, at some point, the use of one’s imagination should dwindle and be replaced by “real life.” And there is some truth to that, for Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:11, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” But whereas Paul here is referencing our spiritual maturity (meaning our progress in following Christ), Jesus was speaking to his disciples about our spiritual imagination. For, as Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” A child has faith and confidence in what he or she cannot see, and from that faith springs hope. Good will conquer evil. The hero will win the fight. We can make a difference in our world.
Therefore, one of the best ways to engage your child’s faith is to go through his or her imagination. By telling him or her stories filled with truths, playing pretend, enjoying movies together, and creating art, you can help your child build his or her faith. Engaging a child’s imagination draws him or her in, puts things in a language he or she can grasp, and connects him or her to the larger story of the world – God’s story.
So the next time your child wants to prance about the kitchen in your shoes and pretend to be “Elsa” or “Olaf” from Frozen, just “let it go.” Your child is exercising the gift of imagination. May it inspire you to follow his or her example and engage your imagination and help you grow in faith, as well.