I’ve been noticing lately how often I discuss imagination as a mother when teaching my children about God. I’ve also been thinking about the value of deliberately thinking of the imagination.
We use the imagination to understand God’s Word:
- I draw on their imagination when I ask them to apply a Scripture to their life: What does it look like to be slow to anger? How can you love your sister right now? If you were to let others go first, what would it look like? In each question, the child must construct a reality that hasn’t happened yet.
- When we talk about who God is, and what he is like, we use the imagination. King David uses metaphor all the time– He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most high abideth under the shadow of the almighty. So does Jesus. I ask, How is Jesus like a vine? How is he like a door? For any metaphor in the Bible, we must use our imagination to understand how two things are alike.
- We use imagination to give them a vision for a life of godliness. I want my children to see themselves through the lens of Scripture. I want them to identify with King David and Queen Esther, with Priscilla and Aquilla. In each case, I’m helping them see possibilities in their minds’ eyes, to ask themselves, Can I be like Daniel? What would it look like? In many ways, imagination carries us from Scripture to Prayer: “Oh, Lord. This is what I want to be true in my life!”
In fact, in order to be of great value, the imagination has to be firmly rooted in God’s truth, but not all of imagination building is directly related to a Bible verse. In many cases, we use the imagination to shape reality in light of God’s truth. We teach that actions have consequences. We teach them who they are, who they were created to be, how God works in our world today.
With imagination, I shape their expectations about life. You’re going to be a great dad, some day. Maybe God wants you to be an ornithologist. Think about how fun it will be to make these cookies for your children. You might like to be a missionary in a coastal town if you like fish so much. When you learn to read, you’ll be able to read the Bible. I’m praying that you will grow up to be a man after God’s own heart, virtuous women. In all of these examples, I’m giving them ideas of what God might do in their lives. I’m defining normal life for them. To someone who has not grown up in a Christian home, this is starkly different from how reality is typically defined. Public school, television, novels, friends). Moreover, instead of giving them an identity of the present (You’re so lazy. You’re a pest. You’re so disobedient.), I’m looking to the future. What might God do in their lives? I’m giving myself hope as well as them. Jesus did this with Peter, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
I have been thinking specifically how my words help shape their understanding of their role and gender. Complementarians seem to deny that gender identity is (in part) defined culturally. It has been a surprise to me that children benefit from our defining gender roles and cultural expectations. This used to make me uncomfortable, as though I were rejecting the idea that God made men and women naturally distinct with different roles. Now I understand that I’m helping our children sort out how their particular personality functions within their gender. For example, I deliberately include my son as “one of the men.” On a regular basis, I make statements like, “Men like to protect. It’s hard work, but it’s a good thing.” Or I talk about how women find great contentment sourcing their lives out of the home– the great opportunities I have to use my mind and body for God. I tell Bethel that if God doesn’t lead her to be married, that it’s okay. There is much to do in God’s kingdom, and if you can do it better without a husband, you’ll be quite satisfied without one. I tell them how wonderful God’s plans are. These aren’t ideas that come automatically. I’m putting them in my children’s minds deliberately, because they are vulnerable to empty and untrue imaginations.
When we’re doing school, I tap into their imagination of the past and future: Remember how hard this was last year? So this chapter might be hard too, at first. But you’ll get it soon. We make the connection between their effort and the academic growth they see. (Some children understand this intuitively; others don’t learn it until much later, and some, not at all.) Spiritual lessons work the same way, “Remember when you had a hard time sharing your tea set? God taught you how to share then, and he can teach you how to share your time today.” Remember how God sent us to Texas? We didn’t know where we would live, or where we would go to church. He helped us then, and he will help us as we plan our next place.
Thinking about imagination as it relates to sanctification has helped me appreciate a child who likes to pretend, who may well be gifted at applying Scripture, too. It has helped me consider how to help our children bring every thought into captivity. It has helped me deliberately think about how I am shaping my children’s identity by guiding their imaginations. It has helped me as I consider what it means to apply Scripture to my life and theirs. And as I was writing, I was reminded that others are thinking far more precisely and deeply than I have on this very topic. Kevin Bauder wrote a series of articles on the imagination. It’s not light reading for mommies, but if you are interested, start with part ten, and then start at the beginning. I think these articles started me thinking on this topic in the first place, so I am thankful for his introduction.