Imagination can be both a gift and a curse.

“Last night, while I lay thinking here,
some Whatifs crawled inside my ear
and pranced and partied all night long
and sang their same old Whatif song . . .”

So begins a poem from Shel Silverstein, one that describes vividly for me how active my own imagination was (and still is). As a child, my imagination created many fun-filled days (let’s pretend!). However, after I was tucked in for the night, the imagined was coloured with fear and worry; what ifs kept me awake and frequently led me to seek reassurance from my sleeping parents. 

My post-secondary schooling took place in Michigan, and Sunday nights often found me traveling westward from Ontario. My friend Kevin and I would pass the time by imagining the clouds and fading sun rays to be another world, just beyond our reach, complete with mountains and lakes. The sunset game often led to deep musings over life and pursuit of good things to come.

Never imagined

Shortly after I was married, my mom was killed in a car accident, something I had never imagined. Consequently, for the first few years of our marriage, any time my husband Ralph was late returning home, the what ifs steered my imagination into dark places. I got so good at preparing for the unexpected, I had Ralph’s funeral planned in the few minutes he was delayed.

Respecting the imagined

Several years later, I learned from a fellow parent how important it is to acknowledge the power of my own child’s imagination, particularly with repetitive nightmares. Rather than dismiss the impossible scenario of a large monster chasing her son night after night through an endless tunnel, my friend would tuck him in with a banana, so he could use the peel to cause the monster to slip, providing an escape. 

Learning from the imagined

When I was pregnant with our third daughter Rachel and was made aware of the concerns with her development, my imagination helped me cope. It created several scenarios that I rotated thinking about, in an effort to plan for the unexpected. After the arrival of Janneke, our second daughter born with visible disabilities, I learned to imagine less about what the girls would never do and more about the practical present. I mapped out scenarios in my head, such as helping my tired brain think about what needed to be kept packed for the next hospital visit. I often use my imagination to understand the girls’ cues and create their voices inside my head.

I’m of the opinion that my imagination is both a gift, fueling my wobbly faith, and a curse, allowing what ifs to take over in my more vulnerable moments. Each day seems to hold opportunity for this tension. I recently picked up The Optimist’s Telescope: Thinking Ahead in a Reckless Age by Bina Venkataraman. She had me hooked within the first few pages: “Prediction is not that helpful for heeding future threats, unless it is paired with imagination. And if we can’t incite our imaginations to serve our purpose, today’s revolution in scientific forecasting might be in vain. When it comes to threats we cannot predict, moreover, we will be at a complete loss to plan ahead if we do not expand our view of the possible (27).” Though the book doesn’t bring into focus my Creator, it shares the truth that healthy wondering can help.

What have you imagined today?


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