As a little girl, I often ventured to the backyard to create a world of my own, crafting storylines filled with characters and garden creation props. These stories stayed on the backburner of my mind even when the streetlamp turned on, signaling it was time to go inside. I longed all night to go back to that world as soon as I could. I loved the escape to the backyard, the development of the story in my mind, and twigs of potential in my hands. At some point, the land of imagination in the backyard fizzled, and it was off to a land of practicality filled with music lessons, school work, and little time for even a good book. These were all good things, which I continue to be thankful for, but I had no idea that during these years, I was letting my imagination get squelched by a life of hurry.
Fast forward a few years and I found myself in a church community with a heap of artists, fantasy-loving folk, and most of all, a gaggle of many children. My recently graduated self became a high demand babysitter, and I was suddenly spending weekly time with precious kids begging me to read them stories and play in magical make believe lands with them. I started reading stories I had never read before, even classics like The Chronicles of Narnia, and playing games of searching for hobbit holes in the backyard (still a bit bummed the kids never seemed to find a hobbit hole large enough for my adult height self). As quickly as we’d enter these imaginative places, we’d dissolve right back to realities of scraped knees and pleas for a seventh snack before lunch. The more I allowed these young ones to pull me into their imaginative worlds, the more I found my own imagination awakening. At first, that looked more like daydreams with reality-bound circumstances, but soon enough, the imaginative stories did their work on my imagination – waking it up and giving it legs of its own to wonder and wander.
My imagination muscle took some exercise to thrive, especially amidst realities like work, bills, and an overflowing schedule. I had not learned to place my adult self in a posture where my imagination could be captivated, like I was as a child in my backyard. Awakening my imagination required a sanctification of my mind, a learning to see my story as God’s story and to get over myself. By the grace of the Lord though, a common occurrence in my overflowing schedule has still been babysitting. Though kids abound in empathy and compassion, they don’t care much about the pressures and specifics that often fill my brain. They care instead that I am there to be with them, in whatever joy or sorrow they may experience, and they are eager to invite me into the worlds of play they create. They help me place the undone tasks of the day on the backburner and be present to the moment of life around and within us. That presence is not an escape or avoidance, but rather a worthwhile adventure into more fully knowing my Maker.
The life of imagination can be like a game of hide and seek – sometimes your imagination needs to be found and other times needs to seek out another in hiding. My imagination is so quickly hidden deep within me by the hurry of life, and most often, the only one to find it, is a child. Theirs truly is the kingdom. These children have taught me that imagination is fostered often through sharing and invitation. Imagination is one of the tools God gives us to live a life on mission and inviting others to revel in the mystery of being God’s child. When we invoke our imaginations together, especially with children, we enter into one of the truest realities: the Creator of the universe that has created us is making all things new in and around us. As a spiritual mother without my own kids in the home, I long to foster the imaginations of the dear little ones I know, and sometimes the best way I know to do that is to let them take the lead, to let them invite me into their imagination landscape. I’ve seen older siblings who think they are beyond the years of playing pretend or reading magical books get captivated as they witness the joy unfolding.
The Lord has been redeeming my imagination from the day I came to being, and he never once intended for it to be buried in the dirt. Much like a flower needs watered and weeded to flourish, so too my imagination needs to be cultivated and cleansed. Praise the Lord for the children in my life that have co-gardened with the Lord to water and weed my imagination. So to the weary parents and spiritual parents burdened by the realities of life that make their imaginations feel a bit hidden, may you let the work of another’s imagination come find you – in stories, your kids, slowing down, play dates, babysitters, and creation. May we see the children we love dearly sharing freely with others their worlds of imagination and joining in the mission of inviting others into the Kingdom by their story and play.
Featured image by freepik