Imagination and the Importance of Bravery
When my oldest was little, I did my best to keep her playtime devoid of all conflict. “No!” I would say emphatically, “Don’t be meant to the bad-guy car! We love him. We should always be kind.” I was afraid that if I let her shout, “You’re a bad guy! Go to jail!” while she played, she would shout those same words to her brothers and sisters. Thus, by decree, there would be no conflict, no stress, no violence, and absolutely no bad guys during play time. It must be peaceful, happy, full of baby dolls, with the occasional train ride in the countryside.
Poor first child. To first children everywhere, let me apologize on behalf of your well-meaning mothers. You have borne your adversity well (by bossing everyone around the way we did).
Over the next several years, a transformation took place in our home. We had more children. Lots of them. With lots of children came changes that greatly impacted playtime:
- We had some boys. Boys like tea parties too, but have a slightly different take on the game (think monkeys in a tea room).
- I couldn’t hear everything they were playing anymore. I listened in, but many moments were lost under a blanket of noise. I also lost my ability to micromanage (Hallelujah and Amen). If they played without fighting, I was thankful, and unless I heard genuinely concerning themes or words (“idiot” or “shut up,” or “murder”), I let them be.
- The younger children’s play was informed by their older siblings. They had a greater pool of ideas to draw from. Faraway lands, colorful characters, and dangerous mythical creatures were added to the imagination trove. New (and louder!) slabs of creativity piled onto the foundation that was laid by the years of playtime before them.
- My younger children were more confident. (This is an understatement!) They not only had two parents that loved them and accepted them, but a whole house full of siblings to go before them: over fences, up the maple tree, into the neighbor’s raspberries. Their bravery came out in their play. Instead of the fun, but limited, “Let’s go to the store,” and “We’re puppies,” they also played, “Knock down the evil giant!” (Much to the dismay of their friends’ parents, oops. Sorry, not sorry.)
Simultaneously, I began to change. I began to value bravery, the courage to stand up to evil, and justice. I realized how important it is for men and women to be bold in their faith and not shy away from argument or adversity. I began to see that the types of play that scared me when my oldest was little (“Get the bad guy!”) were her way of expressing differences between right and wrong, righteousness and evil. She was brave! She valued justice! It was fantastic. And I had discouraged it.
Imagination is practice for real life. Who do we want our children to be when they grow up?
As Christians, my husband and I want our children to be like Christ. Christ loves the weak. He is kind. He gave up his life for people who didn’t deserve it. He is also a terrifying king who has victory over His adversaries. The Book of Revelation even depicts him with a sword coming out of His mouth. A sword, not a ribbon stick.
It’s true that we don’t want our children to be cruel. After all, kindness is a fruit of the spirit. I also love a rollicking game of “let’s be puppies.” But when your children make up stories about the evil one-armed tiger trapping the helpless platypuses in a rainbow cage, let them talk some smack. Don’t scold them for being hard on the bad guys. Don’t reprimand them for boldly sharing the truth with their teddy bears. Give them opportunities to be brave, because standing for righteousness takes practice.
Speaking of practice, how brave are you? It’s struck me recently how it’s not enough to encourage bravery in the lives of my children. I need to cultivate it in my own life as well. Am I trying to please people or God? Am I afraid of standing for truth because my friends on Facebook will look down on me? Am I jumping on political bandwagons because I think it will make me seem more compassionate? Am I letting my emotions lead instead of testing everything against scripture? On that note, am I reading the Bible? All of it, not just the comfy parts?
Let your children be brave. Let them fight epic battles with their stuffed toys. Let them climb impossible mountains in the back yard. Encourage them to put on the whole armor of God, so that “they may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. Ephesians 6:10-18