From the first moments my kids strung together sentences that revealed their inner worlds, I’ve delighted in the whimsy and richness of their imaginations. First, characters from picture books would become their imaginary friends. Then, I’d walk by their rooms and smile when I glimpsed them holding court over a crowd of stuffed animals, a dozen pairs of shiny plastic eyes gazing at them as they acted out elaborate scenarios. Even today, although my kids have crept out of the littlest years, I hear them discussing their “mythology” before breakfast, weaving together storylines from disparate books that you’d have no idea fit together (did you know that the squirrels from The Mistmantle Chronicles were also marooned on Treasure Island?)
There’s magic in the stories that pepper our kids’ days. We’ve all tasted of it, that burst of joy that breaks through the mundanity of life when we hear characters and stories come alive for them. Such moments recall our own meanderings through imagination, the times when we journeyed through our minds on long car rides, or lost ourselves in a book by flashlight, or dreamed up new characters when we should have been learning long division (Oops. Apologies to my third-grade teacher). These nuggets of inspiration reflect the potential of stories not only to thrill, but also, in enlivening the imagination, to point kids to the greatest Story of all: the truth of Christ, toward which all the best narratives flow. Great stories point us to the hope for which all our hearts pine.
For all these reasons and more, I’ve always delighted in glimpses into my kids’ imaginations. I wasn’t prepared, however, for the joy I’d experience when the characters illuminating their playtime were my own.
We read my first novel cozied together on the couch over goldfish crackers, like always. I’ll admit I was apprehensive. I didn’t want to push the book on my kids, or to make them feel compelled to offer false praise. To make the experience as ordinary as possible we read it as one of our usual stack, a chapter a day, sandwiched between Winnie-the-Pooh and The Way of the Wilderking. They seemed to enjoy it, but I tried to stay nonchalant.
Then, after several chapters, I overheard my son mention my character Flint during one of his “mythology” sessions. On the way to rock-climbing lessons, my daughter dubbed a nearby field the Desert of the Forgotten, also from the book, and my heart skipped a beat. As they adopted the characters I loved, we talked about how these characters strived, and failed; how they struggled and overcame; and how their true hope resided in One who was faithful, even when they couldn’t be. As more such instances tallied up, I fought tears, and struggled to grasp the gift the Lord had dropped into my lap: the stirrings of my imagination had become their own. In this beautiful, bumbling, confusing business of creating and shepherding, my stories and theirs had collided.
As image-bearers of God, we’re born to create. For sub-creators (to borrow a phrase from Tolkien) who follow Christ, the business of creating is often caught up in worship. We write, or draw, or compose, because we must. We weave stories, because to do so is to pay attention, to notice God’s work, and to glorify it. The work we create, no matter how rudimentary, shabby, or amateurish, is an offering to the One who formed us from the dust, breathed life into us, and renews us with His Spirit.
It is a gracious gift, and a wellspring of deep-seated joy, to watch those flimsy offerings spark imagination in the kids whom God’s given us to shepherd. When we share our own imaginations and create for and with our kids, we’re inviting them into our worship. We’re creating a space where they can explore, grow, and wonder, all while we guide them to the true source of wonder. We’re adoring the One who created us, pointing to Him, and inviting our kids to also come and see, and to know that He’s good.
As much as I’ve reveled in my kids’ response to my book, I wish I had contributed to their stories long ago, when those stuffed animals with the beady eyes awaited orders on my son’s bedroom floor. The truth is that while my heart races when they evoke a character from my book, shepherding imaginations requires no publishing contract or advanced degree. It needs no platform or following. It demands only that we create, and share. It requires that when we dream up stories, we let them pour out freely, not just on the page, but at bedtime, and in the car, and on that walk after dinner. It demands that we nourish our imaginations, and come alongside them so that they, too, can drink in the wonders we see. To let the fancies of our own imagination spill over to encourage life and growth in theirs. To coax the supple shoots in their minds toward the light.
Creativity is a gift to steward. Children are blessings to shepherd. That the Lord allows these two joys to intertwine, reflects who He is. His steadfast love endures forever. His mercies never come to an end.
Featured photo by tawatchai07