As a child, I had a naturally active imagination. I recall long hours pretending. At night, I’d tenderly tuck each of my dogs and bears around me in my bed. They must have the best night’s sleep so that they could be rested and ready to play tomorrow. Never did I consider that they weren’t really alive until I grew older. Preadolescence found me resentfully leaving this world of my vivid imagination for the world of Teen Magazine and the Beatles. I recall the aching tug of my heart as I fought an inner battle to leave my secret world of imagination and play behind.
I didn’t grow up in a Christian home. Jesus was someone whose name I had heard from my Nana, but whom I had never really met. On occasional Sundays, my father would drop my sister and me off at a tiny neighborhood Church of God. I recall sitting on the hard, wooden, child-sized chairs in the Sunday School class. I also recall leaving church and hearing my sister wail with horror that God was going to smite us and send us straight to hell because we weren’t baptized. There was no way I desired to get close to this kind of a god!
As an adult, I decided it was time to give up this scary image of God. He created me as a person who learns and experiences through sight and touch. So, how was I to respond to a God I couldn’t see or touch? How was I to know that He really is here with me as my Abba Daddy? G.K. Chesterton writes that, “Imagination demands an image.” I needed more than just the head knowledge of God. I needed a picture of God that I could treasure in my heart.
One day, I began eagerly surfing the Internet looking for just the right picture of Jesus that would fill this need. After many hours of frustration, I left my computer and drove to my friend Peg’s home for a spiritual direction session. We were in the middle of discerning my call to ministry when Peg looked me right in the eye and said, “Jesus wants you to turn around and look at the picture that is on the wall behind you.” I swung around in my chair only to see a sketch of Jesus tenderly holding a young lamb in His arms. Tears welled up in my eyes as I praised God and thanked Him for the gift of this image. Now I had the perfect image to build upon in my imagination. It’s incredibly sad that I needed an image placed in my mind, but when I left my precious stuffed animals behind, I also left behind my imagination.
In some Christian circles, using the imagination has gotten a bad rap. If our imagination is something to be wary of, then why did God create humankind with an imagination? God is in the continual process of creating good, not evil, so I contend that His intention is for us to use our imaginations as a way to connect with and adore Him.
In the first verse of Hebrews 11, we are told that faith is defined as “. . . evidence of things not seen.” Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘imagine’ as to form a mental image of something not present. There are interesting correlations here.
The whole of Hebrews 11 takes the reader through the faith journey of such great saints as Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Sarah who all had faith in what was unseen. Time and again, I see these men and women of God using their imaginations. Why would Noah build an ark if he couldn’t see with his mind’s eye the flood that was yet to come? As I think of Abraham, I think of Genesis 15:5 where God told him to “count the stars . . . So shall your descendants be.” God was telling Abraham to use his imagination to envision a promise that was, as yet, unseen!
Each person had used their faith imaginations to see what was not visible to others. I’m beginning to realize that faith is linked with imagination like wet is linked with water. The two are inseparable.
God, increase my faith in You today. Make what is unseen be visible to me today.
Kathy Milans is the lead member of the Soul Care Collective Steering Committee.