Thursday, December 4, 2014

We Need Imagination: Thoughts on Childish Desires and the Kingdom of Heaven

Most of my childhood was shrouded in fantasy rather than reality. It wasn’t escapism or a flight from a tortured home life; it was something inherent in me that couldn’t be stopped. A child has imagination, which is something not taught or learned. Out of my parents’ four children, I was the only son, which meant that I naturally discovered ways to play alone. Fortunately, for the sake of my imagination, my family lived in a part of town that enabled me to wander freely in the surrounding wooded tracts. Countless hours were spent wandering in these irresistible environs, as my imagination inevitably transformed them into different worlds.

As I grew up, the imagined world of my childhood faded into the mundanity of reality. Now, as an adult with a wife and infant son, reality has never been more pressing. Bills, appointments at the doctor, child-raising hurdles, jobs, vehicle maintenance and other responsibilities now occupy the greater part of my life. 

But nothing in reality could ever erase the things formed in my childish imagination. It’s as if part of me will always relish those youthful reveries. This make me wonder: must I abandon childhood in order to become an adult? After all, didn’t Paul say he left childish ways behind him when he became a man (1 Cor. 13:11)?

But then, didn’t Jesus associate the kingdom of heaven with childlikeness (Matthew 18:3-4; 19:14)?

So which is it? Abandon childishness or become like a child? Where’s the balance?

I believe the answer comes from those years of childish imagination. As a child, I aspired to be something great, living a great adventure that was full of meaning and purpose; I desired to be needed in a Story that was bigger than myself. I wanted a rich life, void of mundanity. Was I selfish with these aspirations and desires? Certainly not; a desire for life is not selfish if the life desired is the one that God offers.

That is the key: the desires that drive innocent, childish imaginations are the ones that God desires in all of us. Our bodies age and our spirituality may mature, but our most basic, innocent desires will always remain childlike, and thus align with God’s will. This is why Jesus says the Kingdom of God belongs to children.

We must not shy away from the things inside that beckon us back to youth. We need not put on a facade of maturity and steeled self-sufficiency to mask our childish yearnings. If we do this, we miss out on what God offers, and that is having our childish yearnings satisfied. In Christ, all that we longed for as children find their fruition and culmination.

Therefore, my childish imagination is still with me today, but in a different form. Due to Christ and the revelation of Scripture, I know that all my childish desires have always pointed to God, even if it I didn’t realize this until adulthood; the reveries of youth are evidence of our deepest thirst for God. My childhood imagination acted as a hazy lens through which I first glimpsed Heaven. It's where I first believed that our existence was more than flesh and blood. It's where I found myself in love with the Story of God, which continues to be written in the lives of believers everywhere. 

Adulthood does not mean we must abandon childhood, but see childhood in its true light. It means to use imagination as it was meant to be used: as a way to worship God, and to honor him as the great Artist and Storywriter.

This is why imagination is not an attempt to escape from reality, but to see it more fully; to see it as God sees it. Don’t be ashamed to imagine because, in Christ, it only leads to good things.