A few weeks ago, I was at an event with my daughters. We sat across the table from a parent and another teen. I sort of recognized the parent, and the kids quickly established that they had met previously, so we started a little conversation. At first the conversation was fine – the kids talking about something they all knew about. I don’t even remember what the topic was, but I turned to one of my daughters and asked, “Oh but what if you could [insert relevant-to-topic supposition – probably related to a cross-over in a book or movie series]…” My daughters eyes got really big, as they do right before she says “yaaassss” (seriously, the best kind of affirmation a mom can get from her teen). Then the other parent stepped in with “that’s just silly, that couldn’t happen.” He was forceful about it, and I was kind of shocked, and he expounded in a way that made it clear that asking “what if” was a pointless exercise in his mind. He shut down my daughter’s imagination (and mine) with a word, and expected us to be okay with it. I don’t have a full recollection of his exact words, but he clearly felt that his child (maybe all kids?) should be focused on the practical and the material instead of the mysterious “what ifs” of life.
Fast-forward a couple of weeks: I had hardly thought about this interchange until a few days ago, while I was brushing my teeth (yup, this is when I do my deep thinking). I pondered the conversation again, and I could kind of see where he was coming from, with respect to how he wants to raise his kid. But I couldn’t help but feel he was imposing his practical, here-and-now view on my extremely future-oriented children as the only right way to think. He is free to raise his kids with the views that are important to him. I have a right to prepare my kids for life in the way that seems right to me. At some point, we have to let them grow up. We can’t control every facet of their days, every interaction they will have. The best thing we can do is instill in them a love for God and His word, ground them in truth, and help them learn to handle hard questions and moral uncertainty, as these things will present themselves to them as they move forward in life.
I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt. But his insistence on practicality over daydreaming, even a little, bothered me immensely. I am, admittedly, also a future-oriented creative. Probably a little bit too much head in the clouds most days. But I tried to imagine what it would be like to live and think and move through this world without any imagination. And I couldn’t do it. I mean, the very act of trying to think that way required the use of my imagination. I had to pretend to be someone else in order to accomplish it. Even at work, I was not able to get to a point of focusing solely on practical matters without wondering where or how a particular point could be improved.
I know this is a function of how I’m wired, personally. But as a Christian and a creative, I can’t help but appreciate the imaginative side of God as well. We are reflections of His image, which means the drive to think of new things and come up with new ways to do things is a reflection of who He is as well. To ask someone to stop asking “what if” is to ask them to deny a part of them that connects deeply with who God is. Creativity is a part of His nature, and He’s given it to us in order to bring glory to Him.
Creative pursuits can be offerings for the glory of God. And we see countless times in the Bible that God is pleased by the creative offerings that would seem frivolous to the more practical people among us. I wrote a blog post about one example last fall. In Exodus, while the people were wandering in the desert, at a time when you would expect them to be focused on practical matters of survival, God gave the artisans a task – create beautiful objects for use in worship. Build Me a tent, a Tabernacle. Put all your training and effort into it. Offer it back to Me.
The very act of faith requires some imagination. Prayer itself is impractical. Application of truth involves abstract thought. Belief, at its core, is looking at a situation and clinging to “But what if God can/will/does…” The definition of faith is “being sure of what we hope for… certain of what we cannot see.” (Hebrews 11:1) We may see God work and move in the practical circumstances of life, but our assurance comes from someplace much deeper than what we can see or touch.
Asking what if is about being bold. Daring to daydream with God about what He will do next. Offering ourselves to Him as part of His plan. So, fellow dreamers, keep asking what if. Know that He is able to do far more than we could ever even think about imagining. I’ll leave you this week with one of my favorite descriptions about God’s power:
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask
or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,
to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all
generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
(Ephesians 3:20-21, NIV)