James is my imaginative, creative child. At six years old, he’s the child who can become so engrossed in his personal fantasy worlds that he doesn’t hear anything anyone says to him until he’s brought back to reality by a tap on the arm. He can play for hours with a paper clip as he bends and shapes it into whatever he imagines it can be. And when I asked him once, after reading a scripture passage, what he would do if he knew Jesus was coming for a visit, he simply looked at me and said, “But he’s already right here with us. We just can’t see him,” with a childlike faith and acceptance that is one of the most wonderful fruits of his vivid imagination.
An imagination is a great gift from God. The human imagination gave birth to some of the greatest inventions the world has ever known; it can create a compassionate and sympathetic heart and allow the soul to accept without a doubt what the mind cannot comprehend. An imaginative spirit can open the door to a passionate and unbridled faith that believes with complete confidence and hope in God’s ability to do anything.
Like any great gift from God, the imagination can also quickly lead one down a treacherous path of unfounded fear, superstition, and sin. It must be guarded carefully against one who would love to see it used for evil rather than good and for our own personal glory rather than God’s.
As I continue to explore my unique and unrepeatable children’s dispositions with them, I try to remember to see them as God sees all of His great creation. “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” (Gen 1:31) Or, as Blessed John Paul II reminds us in the Theology of the Body, everything has “value.” (TOB 2:5) This simple yet powerful word, “value,” causes me to pause and reflect. Do I make sure my children truly feel that they have value every moment of every day? Cuddling and nursing a sweet-smelling newborn baby, praising a toddler for his first steps, and cheering on an older child from the sidelines of the soccer field are all ways to boost our children’s confidence in themselves, but parenting does not always consist of these relatively easy moments of recognizing their value.
Even in the most difficult moments of parenting, we must affirm for our children their inherent goodness, or value, so they will continue to grow in the knowledge that God truly created them for greatness. We are called to teach our children how to turn vice into virtue and to have patience when they are struggling in the midst of temptation. When we remain calm and encourage them to use their tendencies for good, we are demonstrating that we have faith in their ability to become the people God created them to be. As parents, we have the wonderful obligation to learn with our children how God intends to use their varying personality traits.
I love seeing my son James’ imagination take hold of his heart when he looks with awe at the Eucharist during Mass and whispers, “I love you, Jesus.” I see so much potential for unwavering faith that just wouldn’t be the same if his creative spirit were not allowed to thrive. So we work with James on discerning when it is appropriate to get a swept up on the wings of dreams and when that spirit needs to be channeled in a different direction. I try to remember to tell my child that I love a particular quality about him, but that God means it to be used in a particular way: to love and serve Him. I hope to never send the message that any of my children’s personality traits are bad, but that God made them that way for a reason, and that reason is good.
It is the vision of who God created each of us to be that will serve my children well throughout their teenage years as their interest in the opposite sex evolves into t emotions that they’ve never known or experienced before. I want my children to understand that God created them to have these feelings for a good and valuable reason. As a parent, by learning along with my children how to direct their impulses and desires along the channels God intended, I hope to convey that God created them to feel attraction and longing because they can see the value of their peers who were created in the image and likeness of God. God gave us these desires so that we might be reminded of the deep love we hold for Him–a love that can be so beautifully realized in the sacredness of the vocation of marriage or through a total dedication to God’s work in the single or religious life.
As I watch James’ eyes light up with joy while we ponder what heaven must be like, or his deep concern as he questions me about “the bad place,” I am reminded that his vivid imagination is not there to simply annoy me as I try to get him to finish his chores or get dressed for school without being distracted. God created this unique and unrepeatable child with qualities of great value that can be used to serve Him with a deep and unrelenting love. It’s up to me to make sure that flame is kept burning strong and fanned always heavenward.